07 Feb: Snowman Rally Preview

… Coogie Urquhart Snowman Rally, Sat 9th Feb …

At the start of any really season there are always two schools of thought. There are the cynics who say the man with the best car will win and put it down to money, completely ignoring the fact that no matter how much money is spent on car and tyres, the shiny, noisy bit still has to be driven. Of course a fast car helps, but it can also get the inexperienced, or the not so competent, into trouble an awfy lot quicker.

Then there are the optimists who scrutinise the entry list and say this is the most open
championship in prospect for years.

Up to a point both opiniosn have some vailidity. In the case of this weekend’s Coogie Urquhart Snowman Rally few would bet against 5 times Scottish champion David Bogie. He might have the most modern and best car in the field, but he is also widely regarded as Scotland’s top rally driver. Arguably he has the most up to date and best car, but many reckon he is also the most gifted driver. Not only that, he comes to the 2019 season almost match-fit after a full season last year in his Skoda Fabia R5.

On the other hand, he is the standard by which all others will set themselves. That means he will start Saturday’s rally with a big target on his back and the rest will be gunning for that.

Given the unpredictability of the Snowman and its weather, David won’t have things all his own way. Who would bet against Jock Armstrong? If Bogie is the hare, then Armstrong is the cunning and wily old fox. He can do things with his Impreza that can bamboozle an R5 driver. There is yet another imponderable here, Jock might have a ‘new’ car. TEG Sport are beavering away in the depths of Lancashire to complete their first ‘Skodaru’ in time for this weekend. There may not be any time to shakedown the Subaru engined Fabia, but in Jock’s hands and with unpredictable weather conditions, who would bet against such a combination?

And surely the greatest threat to these two stage rivals will come from the R5 brigade. Garry Pearson, John Wink, Mark McCulloch and Lawrence Whyte. John had a terrific run on Rally Wales GB and it won’t take Garry long to get back up to speed as he’s familiar with the car albeit lacking recent miles. We all know Mark is quick but was plagued mechanical issues last year, and who knows, running in the teens might just benefit newcomer Lawrence depending on the weather.

Andrew Gallacher proved that a well driven WRC machine can give the current generation R5 jobs a run for their money which pitches both Euan Thorburn and Bruce McCombie into the game. Bruce has just had one run out in his new machine whereas Euan will be a mite rusty after a year out, but remember he won his first title with such a car!

As for Freddie Milne, there’s no WRC Subaru at the moment. Instead he’ll turn out in the Lancer, but that could be an inspired move if the weather turns foul. Other Lanceteers include the ever improving Michael Binnie with Barry Groundwater, Simon Hay and a returning Chris Collie. Now there’s a recipe for top ten mayhem, eh?

And then there are the visitors. Most unpredictable of the lot must be Peter Taylor. He was the star turn on the Cheviot late last year, but that was tarmac. Can the Fiesta WRC driver repeat that feat in the far north? And what will Ian Bainbridge make of the Highland forests, this won’t be so much a baptism of fire as a ceremonial plunge into an icy initiation of Highland hospitality.

And an outside bet? If Donnie MacDonald can build on the form he showed last season then he will be a title contender too. However, his pre-season warm-up last year consisted of a run-out on the notorious ‘Strathpuffer’ 24 hour mountain bike race. Umpteen laps of frozen forest wastes including 17 hours of darkness racing through Torachilty Forest near Strathpeffer – which is even further north then Inverness.

The organisers of this annual tortuous intoxicating binge proudly proclaim: “Miles upon miles of gruelling terrain in freezing temperatures – A brutal mix of ice, wind, hail, mud and snow!”

No wonder Donnie was fired up for the season. Even seasoned mountain bikers call this one of the toughest mountain bike races – in the world.

Anyway, the point is that Donnie missed out (and not deliberately!) this year leaving the likes of co-driver Andrew ‘Snakey’ Falconer, Scott MacBeth, Calum Swanson and Dougal Brown to uphold rallying’s honour in this two-wheeled, leg-powered festival of masochistic stupidity and pointlessness. Nutters. Every last one them. But boy, what an event.

Of more concern to rally fans is the lack of numbers in the entry list. The quality is most definitely there, but not the quantity. Last year the Snowman had 91 entries and 96 the year before. This year, just 76. That means the organisers have had to cut a stage reducing the five stage format to just four forest tests. They were also running a bit light on Marshals and that posts an even bigger challenge for rally organisers these days. Gone are the days of thrusting a list of map references at a navigator and telling the driver just to get on with it. For sure, rallying is much safer for all concerned, but at what cost?

Oh, and just one more thing. Thanks to Brexit and Government’s diesel U-turn, Jaguar Land Rover have decided not to enter a pre-production Land Rover Defender after all. A surprise late entry was originally intended to be driven by the Duke of Edinburgh and co-driven by Diane Abbott.

Apparently there was one other factor in this decision. They only have one pre-production prototype. Despite the engineering feedback such a demanding test drive in arduous conditions would have generated, they didn’t want to risk their prized possession coming back in a plastic bag. That is if it came back at all and didn’t get lost forever out there in the frozen boondocks as the co-driver tried to work out distances and directions from Lucky Sturrock’s Notes! Ach well, who knows, they might make a late entry on the Border!

Coogie Urquhart Snowman Rally – [Entry List]