… McDonald & Munro Speyside Stages Rally, Sat 20 April …
Round 3 (of 7) – KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship …
After the rain, sleet, snow, hail and even more rain on the Border Counties, not to mention the freezing bluidy temperatures, sodden socks and footrot, the McDonald & Munro Speyside Stages Rally offered the complete opposite. Bare arms and peelly waally legs were the order of the day as the sun shone on Elgin. The sun also smiled on Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton. This was their fifth rally of the season so far, and it provided their fifth straight win. It may have been a bit of a surprise victory, but: “I’ll take that,” said a quietly delighted Thorburn at the rally finish.
There is one downside to sunshine and warmth – stoor. There were great billowing clouds of the stuff trailing the cars in the north east which caused a problem although there was sufficient breeze to sweep most of it away between cars. However, there were occasions where it hung in the trees giving some of the crews a wee fricht when the clear air and sunshine turned instantly into thick sandy fog. There was one more thing to consider. Given the weather some of the drivers thought they were Spring lambs skipping and jumping into the heather, bushes and ditches at times. Sometimes just finishing a rally can be even harder than winning it!
The first two short blasts on the tarmac around the Elgin ‘city centre’ Cooper Park proved little by way of competition, but provided the local populace and bemused Easter visitors with a taste of the action before the cars headed out to the first of the day’s 8 forest tests.
At first it looked as though there would be a right royal battle in the woods. Thorburn was fastest on SS3, Bogie on SS4 and Pearson on SS5. First to suffer from the outbreak of ‘Spring fever’ was Simon Hay who rolled the Lancer in the first forest stage of the day at Teindland: “I was braking too hard for a corner,” said Simon, “it spun out, clipped some stones, and we were over.” This stage also caught out Marty Scott when he wrinkled the Lancer’s front o/s corner in a ditch.
Donnie MacDonald struck trouble in Ordiequish, although he lost ‘only’ 13 minutes: “I was just carrying too much speed into a long downhill left hander,” he said, “got two wheels on the loose and slid into a ditch.” Michael Binnie was a shade luckier: “There was a straight stretch, 300 yards and over a crest and nothing but dust – Claire said it was flat, so it was flat!” In the next stage at Malsach Burn, John Wink ruled himself out of the fight when the Hyundai R5 punctured a tyre while Iain Wilson ended his run with a broken clutch in the Escort.
At first service David Bogie/John Rowan were leading Thorburn and Beaton by 13 seconds with Garry Pearson and Dale Bowen a further 7 seconds adrift. In 4th place were Jock Armstrong and Cammy Fair another 10 seconds behind, but ahead of Freddie Milne/Patrick Walsh and Michael Binnie/Claire Mole. Exactly 60 seconds covered the top six!
Looking a bit glum in the service park was Scott MacBeth: “We’ve got no diff pressure. We tried everything last week – new pump and new electrics,” he explained, “you can feel it losing time, it wants to push on in the corners and just won’t pull out of them, and the brakes aren’t much good either.” Slightly happier looking was Thomas Gray: “We’re worried about a noise from the rear diff pump, but we’ll keep going,” he said, and added, “the dust is not as bad as I thought. It’s hanging in the trees and I’ve missed a couple of corners!”
Bruce McCombie’s approach to the ‘dust problem’ was rather different: “If Michael (Coutts) says it’s flat, it’s flat! But we have a weird problem with the car. The temperature keeps rising on each stage but each time we change the fuse, it’s back to normal. It’s definitely electrical but it’s still concerning.”
Thorburn turned up the wick to go fastest again in SS6 before Bogie and John Rowan got down to business in the Skoda Fabia, faster by 2 seconds in SS7, as Thorburn limped out with a punctured tyre, but Pearson and Dale Bowen lost out big time. The Fiesta R5 dropped 10 minutes: “We were just a mile or so from the stage finish,” said a disappointed Garry, “and got on the ‘marbles’ on a 90 Left and the car slid on to its side in a ditch,” and added, “the car drives OK, it’s just cosmetic damage to the front o/s corner.” In less trouble was Chris Collie: “We burst a brake pipe, but that’s an easy fix, although we also buckled a wheel on a bad compression.”
As the cars drove back into 2nd service, it was still Bogie in the lead by 12 seconds from Thorburn, but Bogie was having to push hard: “I’ve cleaned out two ditches so far,” he quipped. Armstrong was up to 3rd just over half a minute behind and was busy with the tank tape at service. Covering up damage? Nope. He was trying to seal the windows (on the frameless Subaru doors) with tape: “The windows don’t seal well at high speed, ” said Jock, so the car is just filling up with stoor and it’s hard to see out, never mind see where we’re going.” Milne and Binnie were 4th and 5th with Wink fighting back into the top six.
More drama struck on SS8 at Balloch. The lead Skoda broke its steering, but it happened on a particularly narrow stretch of road and as the out of control car spun it blocked the stage holding up the next 8 cars before it was moved. Clerk of the Course Neil Shanks applied a ‘Notional Time’ based on the fastest stage time, set by Donnie MacDonald and shared by Thomas Gray, once the road was clear. As for MacBeth, he was going no further: “On the stop line of the stage, it puked all its oil out,” said Scott.
That put Thorburn into a clear lead for the first time with Jock Armstrong and Cameron Fair now second in the Subaru Impreza with a good gap back to third to 3rd placed Milne in the Lancer Evo7, but he was now coming under threat from Binnie’s Lancer Evo9 and the Hyundai i20 R5 of John Wink and John Forrest.
Milne was working hard, but the fast improving Michael Binnie and Claire Mole were giving him a hard time. Milne was just 2 seconds quicker than Binnie on the penultimate test and they tied on the final stage which allowed Milne to claim the final podium step by just 5 seconds: “That was an exciting finish,” said Freddie, “I was having to keep an eye on Michael, John and Bruce behind. A stone flattened the exhaust in Stage 3 so we were down on power through Gartly but I’m delighted with the result. That’s my first ‘real podium’ as the Border Counties result was 3rd in the SRC but 4th on the road. I couldn’t be happier.” If fortune favoured Thorburn, then it smiled on Binnie too – a front driveshaft broke just half a mile from the finish of the final stage! “That’s my best SRC result yet,” said a delighted Michael.
Meanwhile Wink was back on a charge and despite a return of the boost sensor problem which afflicted the Hyundai on Wales Rally GB managed to overhaul Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts for 5th place. Even so, McCombie was pleased with a top six finish fourth time out in his Focus WRC: “Coming after two non-finishes on the Border and Malcolm Wilson, I was needing that,” he said, adding, “we made a mistake on Stage 9 when we stalled it on the start line, that’s 3 stalls in one day! But we’re still learning more about the car.”
Considering it’s some 3 years since Chris Collie was out regularly in a Lancer, his return this year in a hired Evo8 was mighty impressive with a 7th place finish despite the burst brake pipe and a flattened exhaust. Equally impressive was Thomas Gray’s 8th place just third time out in his newly acquired Evo9, but he was lucky: “I had a big moment in that last stage,” said Thomas, “we were doing 120 mph in 5th gear going into a Left hander. I was heading for the trees – I still don’t know how we got here.” In 9th place was occasional visitor to the Scottish Championship Martin Scott who set folk wondering just what he could achieve with more frequent outings, and then admitted: “Shh, don’t tell anyone, but we’ve been running the last 3 stages with a ratchet strap holding the rear axle in place because of broken bolts in the mountings.” (OK Marty, I won’t tell anyone, Ed.)
Rounding off the top ten was Keith Morris in his Evo6: “I was delighted with that,” said Morris, “although the gearbox was haemorrhaging oil and we had to keep topping it up.”
The blue and white Focus arrived back first at the Elgin finish where a surprisingly cool, calm and sweat-free, but dust streaked, Thorburn with 5 wins in a row allowed himself to smile and reflect: “The car was new at the start of the year and we didn’t expect to win first time out, let alone this, but four wins in a row then a lucky break like this. I’ll take that.”
1 Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton (Ford Focus WRC) 39m 46s
2 Jock Armstrong/Cameron Fair (Subaru Impreza) +0:41s
3 Fred Milne/Patrick Walsh (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7) +1:29s
4 Michael Binnie/Claire Mole (Lancer Evo9) +1:34s
5 John Wink/John Forrest (Hyundai I20 R5) +1:40s
6 Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts (Focus WRC) +1:44s
7 Chris Collie/Gary McDonald (Lancer Evo8) +2:02s
8 Thomas Gray/Harry Marchbank (Lancer Evo9) +2:35s
9 Martin Scott/Daniel Forsyth (Lancer Evo9) +2:38s
10 Keith Morris/Terry Mallin (Lancer Evo6) +3:47s
11 Ian Baumgart/Sinclair Young (Subaru Impreza); 12 Alan Dickson/Martin Forrest (Lancer Evo9); 13 Duncan MacDonald/Neil Ross (Ford Escort Mk2); 14 Matthew Thomson/Ian Graham (Subaru Impreza); 15 Kevin Crawford/Andrew Stevenson (Lancer Evo9); 16 Robert Adamson/Jane Nicol (Skoda Fabia S2000); 17 Keith Robathan/Steven Brown (BMW M3); 18 Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry (BMW E30); 19 Stuart Irvine/Marc Irvine (Lancer Evo7); 20 Paul McErlean/Aaron Mawhinney (Escort Mk2)
1 Scott Peacock/Robin Neil (MG ZR)
2 James Campbell/Kenny Foggo (Talbot Sunbeam)
3 Jude MacDonald/Michael Cruickshank (Skoda Fabia R2)
4 Colin Patterson/Gary Clark (Ford Escort Mk2)
5 Tom Coughtrie/Ian Fraser (Mitsubishi Galant VR4)
6 Carl Tuer/Rob Tuer (Suzuki Swift Maxi 2000)
10 Collie/Gary McDonald