08 Aug: Tyneside win for Preston

… Glendinnings of Prudhoe Tyneside Stages Rally, Sunday 4th August …

It was a day of sun hats and sou-westers at this year’s Glendinnings of Prudhoe Tyneside Stages Rally. Warm and clammy for most of the day there was one brief heavy shower mid afternoon, but the roads dried remarkably quickly in the heat, then came the downpour which drenched the service area and the final two stages – but only for some of the runners. ‘Slick’ stages were instantly transformed to ‘full wet’ while the sudden-ness caught out quite a few crews already on their way out to the final loop of two stages.

Having taken over the withdrawn Peter Taylor’s vacant number 1 spot Tom Preston and Andrew Roughead were first on the road in their Fiesta WRC. Two thirds of the way through the stage, the cars come howling over a crest, slightly downhill and curving to the right into a square right, but right on the apex there was loose gravel across the road. Committed to what it thought was a tarmac line, the purple and back momentarily locked up and skittered across the gravel on to the grass narrowly missing a pole and a post. Preston gathered it up and was quickly on his way again with just a few seconds lost.

One of the Marshals actually pointed out a faint mark on the square post, a legacy of a similar misdemeanour by Taylor last year.

That meant Daniel Harper and Chris Campbell were fastest over the opener in their MINI WRC, 2 seconds quicker than Rory Young and Allan Cathers in their Fiesta R5 who were 3 seconds up on Preston. Harper and Preston tied on the next one with Young 2 seconds behind, but it was Young who went quickest in the third test. This time it was Harper’s turn to overshoot a junction and finished the first loop of three tests 9 seconds behind Preston who was 3 behind Young.

Best of the rest and leading 2WD were Andrew Kirkaldy and Don Whyatt in the white Escort Mk2 who were tied with Harper – until the 4th test: “I was too fast into a left and just too far over,” said Andrew, “the back wheel caught a rock in the long grass. The impact bent the axle and pitched us into a field and we had to wait till the stage was closed to get towed out!” Kevin Proctor didn’t even make it that far. Sitting on the start line of SS4: “It just went ‘ting’ and we had no drive,” said the Fiesta driver, “we think it’s the input shaft.”

Now it was Young’s turn to hit trouble and he dropped 6 seconds to Preston which put him into the rally lead for the first time, but after 6 stages, Preston still only had 3 seconds on Young as Rory fought back with Harper 9 seconds adrift. Kirkaldy’s departure meant that Ross Brusby and Sam Collis were now the lead 2WD competitor in their Mk2, with Alistair and Colin Inglis 16 seconds behind in the Lotus Exige and another crew about to depart the fray when a rear driveshaft snapped clean in two.

Preston started to ease out a bit more advantage over the next four stages as Harper closed on Young before Rory reacted and put some more air between them. With two stages to go, the leader had 11 seconds in hand over Young with Harper a further 13 behind.

Dark clouds appeared over the horizon as the cars left to start the final two stages, the first of which was run in the dry for the early runners. A sweat drenched, sorry, heavily perspiring, Harper said at the end of SS11: “I was flat every where,” said Daniel, “there was one little bit in the middle where you could draw breath. There was just nothing left, at one point the car was on its nose and all I could see was tarmac.” All that effort and he was still a second slower than Preston, “I simply couldn’t go any faster in there,” but a second up on Young.

The final stage was awash, and whether it was “divine inspiration” or more like black magic, Preston’s wet-shod Fiesta did the business to clinch victory. Young’s scary run on intermediates was a second quicker, but Preston did what he had to do with Harper securing the final place on the podium.

Victory was a bonus for Preston: “It was all about seat time,” said Tom, “the Fiesta is a lot different to my previous Skoda with more power and it’s a lot softer. Today was really good, I enjoyed the stages and Rory (Young) kept pushing me on.”

First time out for 10 months, Young was delighted with second: “It took me a wee while to get back into it,” said Rory, “I was going to do Solway but when it was cancelled so I decided to come here. That was great fun though, I really enjoyed it,” he beamed.

Gordon Morrison and Callum MacPherson finished a lucky fourth. Lucky because when the Subaru Impreza pulled up at a stage finish, the Marshal informed the crew that there was a chunk missing out of a rear alloy wheel, although there was still air in the tyre. Graham Coffey was 5th as he struggled to get to terms with the launch control on his new Fiesta S2000: “I was here 12 years ago in my N12b,” said Graham, “and I hit a bale! This is only my 5th time in the car and I still need to get my head around it. I even missed putting it in stage mode on one stage. How did I miss that?”

Andy Fenwick rounded off the top six first time out in his new Fiesta R5: “I just got the car three weeks ago,” said Andy, “it lacks the sheer performance of my ex-Higgins Pirelli S11, but it more than makes up for that in stopping and handling.”

As for ‘Drive of the Day’ that must surely have gone to the only 2WD car in the top ten, and it wasn’t Ross Brusby. The Mk2 had got caught out in the rain on the penultimate test and slithered off the road into the wet grass. Alistair Hutchinson therefore finished 7th overall in the Renault Clio which scooted round the ranges like a meerkat on too much Red Bull. Paul Kirtley was 8th in the Subaru but it bore the scars of contact, both front and rear o/s corner!

Another new car made its appearance at the weekend, the glorious looking red and white Fiesta R5 of John Marshall. “The Subaru is up for sale,” said John, “so I needed something for Mull. I got it on Wednesday, shook it down at Knockhill on Thursday evening,” and finished a cautious and careful 9th here at Tyneside.

Rounding off the top ten was the Evo of Richard Slinger and just missing out on a top ten finish was the Hyundai WRC of Stephen Petch which hit a patch of wet concrete in the final stage and jet-ski’d into a ditch.

Just outside the top ten in 11th place overall was the 1600c class winning Peugeot 106 of Barry Lindsay and Carline Lodge. As usual, the Peugeot defied the laws of gravity and physics on its way to a convincing win over the Ford Puma of Adam Hanner and Wayne Wood. Despite its thrashing, the Peugeot required little other than regular checks while Hanner was pleased with set-up progress third time out in the Puma despite a fuel filter blockage which hampered progress over the first loop of three stages. Neil Thompson and Niall Frost were third in the Corsa which smashed a wheel with 2 miles to go in SS4 but was changed at the end of the stage. Des Campbell was well in the hunt for class honours but made an uncharacteristic mistake: “It was a 90 Right into 90 Left, the rear end just stepped out and we went nose first into the ditch,” said Des, “I probably cut the 90 Left too much, when I turned on to the road, the front wheels were OK but the rears caught the raised edge of the road and it bounced out, at which point it lost grip.” There were spectators nearby but too much time was lost getting the car out. Kyle Adam was unusually out of the top order too, primarily because the Escort paddle shift was malfunctioning meaning he had to make a grab for the gearstick, usually at the most inopportune and awkward moments when he was otherwise engaged on steering duty.

Stephen Bethwaite and Ann Forster took the Class 1 honours in their Nova Sport, but they were lucky too: “We went out on slicks – when the rain came on,” said Stephen. John and Martin Cressey were 2nd in class in the Mini Cooper S with Nicky Cowperthwaite and Bruce Lindsay taking third in the Corsa having fixed a broken gear selector and changed a cracked brake disc. James Thomson retired his Nova which cut out and stopped twice and refused all sorts of persuasion to keep going and Cameron Craig’s Puegeot 205 was equally stubborn refusing all attempts to cure a misfire.

Hutchinson’s Class 3 win was a pretty solitary affair as second placed Greg Inglis and Cameron Dunn were way behind after limping through the final two stages with a worrisome ‘klunking’ from the rear end, reminiscent of the Lotus’ problem at Machrihanish, hence Greg’s wise decision to back off for a finish. Michael Harbour and Ian MacDougall were third in the Mk2 while Kenny Brown’s Civic was retired with electrical failure on the first stage of the day.

1 Tom Preston/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta WRC) 50m 30s
2 Rory Young/Allan Cathers (Ford Fiesta R5) +0.12s
3 Daniel Harper/Chris Campbell (MINI JCW WRC) +0.26s
4 Gordon Morrison/Calum MacPherson (Subaru Impreza) +1.31s
5 Graham Coffey/Chris Purvis (Ford Fiesta S2000) +2.46s
6 Andrew Fenwick/Daniel May (Ford Fiesta R5) +3.01s
7 Alistair Hutchinson/Andrew Hutchinson (Renault Clio) +3.10s
8 Paul Kirtley/David Jones (Subaru Impreza WRC) +3.17s
9 John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Ford Fiesta R5) +4.21s
10 Richard Slinger/Stuart Walker (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) +4.36s

Class winners
Stephen Bethwaite/Ann Forster (Vauxhall Nova Sport)
Barry Lindsay/Caroline Lodge (Peugeot 106 GTI)
Hutchinson/ Hutchinson
Willie Paterson/Euan O’Neill (Ford Escort Mk2)