… Grant Construction Knockhill Rally, Sun 24th Feb …
On a day when folks were searching for sun cream rather than applying waterproof anti-chafing salve it was hard to believe that this was February, this was Scotland, and this was Knockhill. Instead of midges buzzing around the fleshy bits, the sound of rally cars provided a soothing balm for the lugholes. For the first rally of the season it just seemed such a long, long time since last year.
Having said that, Knockhill was hard to spot on the approach and even once inside, the ‘island’ with its commentary tower remained invisible in the Scotch mist. It took the sunshine a wee while to burn through, but once temperatures had risen above essential bunnet and scarf levels, what a grand day it turned out to be.
In fact the sun was still shining as rally winners John Marshall and Scott Crawford crossed the finish line of this opening round of the 2019 Cobble Shop Scottish Tarmack Championship. Their winning margin over Nigel Feeney and Nikki Addision on the Grant Construction Knockhill Rally was a mere seven seconds, but going into the final stage it had been a three way fight which included Donnie MacDonald and Sam Smith.
Even so, Andrew Kirkaldy was fastest over the first 3 stages, but diff failure sidelined the Escort in SS4. That left Marshall with a 23 second lead over Feeney with Donnie just 2 seconds further behind. Over the afternoon’s final four stages Nigel’s MINI was the fastest thing on 4, and sometimes 2 wheels, around the circuit, but the Silver Fox was having none of it and he did just enough to ensure the top spot.
On paper, one might have thought that Nigel should have had an edge. He had been competing on the previous day’s PaceNotes Magazine Stage Rally in Northern Ireland and only phoned up for a late entry on the boat home so should have hit Knockhill on-form. Sadly, rallying ain’t like that. The car stalled on the start line of the opening stage, otherwise who knows what might have happened. As Nigel explained: “When the MINI stalls and cuts out, it goes into re-set Mode and won’t fire up again till it has completed the process – that took 19 seconds! You can’t rush it, you just have to sit there and wait.”
There was a problem in ‘DonnieWorld’ too, this time on the start line of the final stage. When the light turned green, he was ready in 1st gear and got off his mark quicker than spotting a needy punter in his showroom. Then he went for 2nd, tyres gripping and hurling the Lancer forward. Then 3rd – but there was nothing there. A wee bracket on the gear linkage snapped leaving the car stuck in 2nd and he had to do the whole final stage like that. So he was awfy lucky to hang on to 3rd.
Colin Gemmell was best of the Escort brigade. He was struggling for tyres: “I’ve only got full wets and softs, nothing in between,” said Colin, but he still managed to snatch 4th from Tom Blackwood over the four afternoon stages after Tom had got the better of him in the morning.
Rounding off the top six was the returning Scott MacBeth. After a couple of frustration filled seasons with a Citroen C2, he turned up at Knockhill with an Evo9. First time out in the new car he was slow on the first stage: “The car was for sale at the end of the first stage,” he said, but at lunch time added, “Now I’ve got it sorted, I like it!” To emphasise the point, the car was spotted approaching the hairpin fully broadside on, drifting all the way around while a black gloved hand was spotted waving through the driver’s door window hatch. Ahh, the exuberance of youth, eh?
Michael Robertson was equally spectacular in the Honda Civic till someone pointed out he was driving it all wrong, informing him that the car he was driving was actually front wheel drive, not rear wheel drive. Naturally, he paid no heed to such sage advice and finished 7th.
There was a dead heat for 8th place between Angus Lawrie and Robert Thomson. Courtesy of a faster time on the opening stage, Angus clinched the place and also scored the 1600 class win in his new Citroen C2 R2, leaving Robert to take 9th. Although he got off to a slow start, Robert was amongst the fastest times by the finish, but with only one outing last year at Crail, he was a mite rusty at the start of the day.
Ross Hunter scored 10th in the Peugeot which still has the elderly spare ‘temporary’ Xantia 2 litre engine in it but as the stages dried out, so the Peugeot lost out in the power wars.
‘Dangerous’ Des Campbell had been leading the 1600 class for most of the morning, but once he got used to his new car, Angus Lawrie started to reel him in. Even so, Des thought he had the measure of his rival till Angus popped in two real quickies on the final two stages leaving the Peugeot 206 driver with 2nd in class and 11th overall.
Which meant a rather subdued James Gibb finished 12th in the Lancer. There were none of the tyre smoking antics of previous Knockhill appearances, but it wasn’t down to a growing sense of maturity or environmental concerns: “The centre diff failed before the rally but we’re having fun,” he said, “It understeers like an Astra going in, and oversteers like a Mk2 coming out!”
John Rintoul might have done better than 13th overall had it not been for an altercation with a 1 tonne bag on the first stage which left the Fiesta with a sore nose, but no serious damage although the same couldn’t be said of Iain Wilson’s Mk2. It needed a towed lift out of the first stage after hitting a lorry tyre marker. First time out in his new Mk2, Robert Marshall was another non-finisher when the rear axle failed.
Cameron Craig took the 1400 class win in his Peugeot 205 ahead of the Peugeot 106s of Martin Farquhar and James Strachan.
1, John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Subaru Impreza) 39mins 41secs
2, Nigel Feeney/Nikki Addison (MINI Countryman JCW WRC) +0.07
3, Donnie MacDonald/Sam Smith (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +1.18
4, Colin Gemmell/Derek Keir (Ford Escort Mk2) +1.24
5, Tom Blackwood/Gordon Winning (Ford Escort Mk2) +1.33
6, Scott MacBeth/Dan Forsyth (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +1.34
7, Michael Robertson/Murray Milne (Honda Civic) +1.44
8, Angus Lawrie/Paul Gribben (Citroen C2 R2 MAX) +2.05
8, Robert Thomson/Kyle Mackintosh (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8) +2.05
10, Ross Hunter/Becy Morrison (Peugeot 205) +2.06
Class 1: Cameron Craig/Ewan Lees (Peugeot 205)
Class 2: Angus Lawrie/Paul Gribben (Citroen C2)
Class 3: Michael Robertson/Murray Milne (Honda Civic)
Class 4: Colin Gemmell/Derek Keir (Ford Escort Mk2)
Class 5: John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Subaru Impreza)