26 Sep: Galloway Hills – The Blethers

… Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally, Sat 14 Sept. 2019 …

The 9 stage planned format for this year’s joint BRC (75 miles) and SRC (45 miles) Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally would have worked well, had it not been for a couple of spectator issues which delayed matters during the day and led to the cancellation of the last stage. The BRC crews started first at 08.00 Hrs followed by the rest of the ‘National’ field just after 10.00 Hrs. After five stages, the 45 mile event crews finished first whilst the BRC crews contested one more stage before they then headed to the finish venue at the picturesque Threave Gardens.  

Eight ‘Scottish’ crews took part in the 75 mile ‘British’ part of the Rally, and therefore didn’t feature in the ever so slightly ‘biased’ main report on this event, but two of them finished in the top ten.  

Richard Dickson and Roger Alcorn finished 8th overall first time out this year in the Subaru despite a couple of ‘excursions’ in Glengap and admitted to “flying by the seat of my pants at times in Dalbeattie.” Finlay Retson and Richard Crozier were 9th overall and 3rd Junior after a sensible run. There was nothing Finlay could about the final BRC Junior championship places, after his recent Ypres and Ulster tumbles, he was dependent on Ruari Bell and James Williams striking trouble. As events turned out, Williams struck trouble but Bell didn’t and walked off with the 60,000 Euro Ford prize! If Bell had faltered too there would have been an awfy big party in the Retson household afterwards. Rallying can be such a cruel sport at times, eh?  

Angus Lawrie and Paul Gribben had a good and encouraging run into 12th place in the Citroen after his bout of over exuberance on the Dunoon Presents Argyll Rally when he lost a top 20 finish beaching the car on a ditch edge. Duncan Campbell and Shannon Turbull were 14th in the Subaru with Duncan commenting as he pulled into service: “Some of those BRC ‘lines’ are mental!” Linzi Henderson and Tom Hynd were 15th in the Fiesta despite a puncture and Ernie Lee and Patricia Milligan were 16th in the BMW but they were lucky too. “I had two huge tank slappers in Glengap,” said Ernie, “I did it first time through the stage and then on the second run exactly the same thing again in exactly the same place.” At his age, you’d think he’d learn, wouldn’t you? Grant Inglis and Robert Gray were final finishers in the Mk2 and the MG ZR of Keith and Mairi Riddick wasn’t – see below.  

Keith Riddick suffered a rather more severe setback. Having spent the last 12 months completely rebuilding his MG ZR he was forced out on the opening stage. When asked what went wrong, he handed over half of a con-rod! Sadly when the rod burst through the block, the oil ignited on the hot exhaust and scorched the engine bay. Fortunately the fire damage is not too severe.  

There was one other ‘Scottish’ crew in the ‘BRC’ event, Alex Laffey and Stuart Loudon who finished a very disappointed 13th overall in their Fiesta R5 which exited the second stage on 3 wheels. “I hit a rock in the long grass,” said Alex, “the impact sheared off a wheel and brake disc. We replaced the wheel OK but ran for the rest of the day with braking only on three wheels.”

Back to the ‘National’ event …

It was good to see Stuart Egglestone from Penrith (Yes, I know he’s English, but he’s nearly Scottish, and he’s a pal!) back behind the wheel in Galloway having been out of things for a wee while with a back problem. At one point he thought his competition days were behind him but following a wee operation, this was him back behind the wheel to get ‘seat time’ ahead of the Roger Albert Clark Rally in November. What a bluidy nutter, doing a 300 stage mile, 5 day event with a bad back. Anyway, he was fit and well at the end of the Galloway (although he wasn’t doing any Jock handstands or star-jumps) and surprisingly finished in an excellent 12th place overall and 3rd two wheel drive in his Historic spec Mk2. Not bad at all for an auld crock. But there’s more, he nearly didn’t start. He arrived at Rally Signing-on to find that he had left all his paperwork at home on the kitchen table. And there’s more. He has just moved into a new house so no-one had spare keys. Nevertheless he phoned a pal and told him to break into his house through the back door and photograph (on his phone) the necessary documents on the kitchen and text them to him at Dalbeattie before trying to make the door secure on his way out. The organisers were prepared to accept this and the job was done. Phew. Finally, a decent use for these bluidy smartphones.  

Keith Morris and Terry Mallin clinched the Albyn Garage SRC Challengers category win in the KNC Groundworks Scottish Championship at the weekend. When class leaders Thomas Gray and Harry Marchbank slid off the road on the final stage it meant that Morris took maximum points in his Lancer Evo9. Ian Baumgart and Sinclair Young finished second in their Subaru Impreza with Alan Dickson and Martin Forrest third in their Evo9.

Paul McErlean didn’t start the rally. He sailed through Scrutineering and Signing-on as any well-prepared rally crew does these days, and then drove the car out on to the public road towards his overnight hostelry. At this point, the Escort spat the dummy and burst the head gasket. Rather than strip the thing at night by the roadside, he and Niall McKenna and the boys headed to the pub to assuage and soothe their disappointment with a varied selection of brewed and distilled beverages. By all accounts, those that they remember that is, a merry night was had by all!  

The impending arrival of middle, and ever looming, old age brings its own additional anxieties (from personal experience!) even to those who believe in a second childhood and the enjoyment of mid life crises. Take John Rintoul for instance, who arrived at the Hills with a new gear cluster in his Skoda Fabia. The new gear set is still a 6-spd unit, but the ratios are higher which means he gets off the line in 2nd and then changes up to 3rd, although the gear indicator display shows, 1st to 2nd and so on as you’d expect. That’s pretty straightforward, but it gets complicated mid-stage, especially in such a tricky and twisty blighter as Dalbeattie. As you can image there were one or two occasions (or quite a few depending on who you believe) where the poor soul got confused and didn’t know which gear he was in or which one to select – “What gear am I in, and do I go up one or down one?” Fortunately, it’s a sequential gearchange which helped, but frustration and annoyance can be measured in so many ways, eh?  

One of the most popular features of the Armstrong Galloping Hills and greatly appreciated by the rally crews are the free tubs of Glen Urr ice cream handed out at the final Passage Control although there was one widespread complaint – the tubs are too wee! However, it does beg the question, if the organisers have ensured sufficient supplies to cover all rally crews who start the event, what happens to the leftovers of those who didn’t make the finish? Happy, but over-indulged, Marshals perhaps?

Northern Irish visitors Raymond Doyle and Kevin Duggan won Class 3 in their Vauxhall engined Toyota Corolla from the Skoda Fabia R2 of Jude MacDonald and Michael Cruickshank. However, MacDonald clinched the Junior title in the KNC Groundworks Scottish Championship and as part of his award is now looking forward to a day’s tuition with Tapio Laukkanen.

When Ethan Colgan took ill at Scrutineering before the Galloway Hills Rally, Paul McKenna was left without a co-driver until occasional rally driver Steven Clark stepped in, but they retired with engine problems in the Mitsubishi on SS4. On a happier note, Ethan quickly recovered but was too weak to take part on Saturday.  

John Wink was lucky to start the rally when the Hyundai spluttered to a halt just after it had gone through Scrutineering. There are five fuel pumps in the saddle shaped fuel tank and three had failed. Fortunately, the high pressure pump was still working and one of the lower pumps, so as long as the tank was kept fairly well topped up the crew were able to start the rally, only to retire with strut failure in SS3.  

And finally …  

On the Wednesday night before the rally a certain Mr Armstrong was out biking as is his wont and when he got back to the van, leaned the bike against it while he stepped inside to get out of his sweaty lycra (or whatever) and also spent some time on his phone. When he later stepped out of the van, his bike had gone. To say that he was annoyed is a bit of an understatement (livid doesn’t quite cut it either) but fortunately there was a CCTV camera nearby and the thief was caught in the act. After showing it to some folk, the perpetrator was identified, whereupon our hero visited him in person in his place of employment. Admission was made and location of treasured bicycle confirmed following which the local Polis not only retrieved said bicycle but also numerous other items belonging to other folks!