10 Dec: Knockhill Stages report

Knockhill Stages Rally, Sun 8th Dec …

Frank Bird and Jack Morton proved uncatchable at the Knockhill Stages Rally where a number of end of season Scottish crews joined the regulars from the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship for this 3rd round of the English based series and final thrash of the Scottish season.

Bird’s clean sweep of fastest stage times was ruined when the Focus WRC stalled on the start line of the 4th test and then an over enthusiastic attempt to catch up resulted in a grassy moment at the stage finish – but only after he gone through the Flying Finish, so no more time lost!

He still dropped only 3 seconds to John Marshall and Scott Crawford on that stage, so his overall lead was secure. As for Marshall, he was struggling to get his Fiesta R5 to turn in. He tried Michelins in the morning and Pirellis in the afternoon: “When it did turn in, the back end just didn’t want to follow. Usually I can manage to dial that out, but not today. It’s just been too wet,” said Marshall. Bird reported similar trouble too: “The tyres are still stone cold at the end of each stage!”

Holding third place all the way were Richard Wells and Calvin Houldsworth in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo proving that the atrocious wet conditions favoured the four wheel drive brigade, or at least most of them!

Neil Roskell and Jonathan Kennedy finished 4th in their Subaru Impreza but in a sensational 5th place overall was the Escort Mk2 of Kyle Adam and Fiona Moir. Considering this was Kyle’s first time out in the 2.5 Millington engined machine (having replaced his 2019 title wining 1600cc unit) this was stirring stuff. He finished top 2WD car just ahead of the Darrian T90 of  Barry Morris and Tom Hutchings, and the Lotus Sunbeam of Mike Taylor and Martin Haggett.

But by goad it wis close. Kyle took 9 seconds out of Morris on a dark, streaming wet final stage to clinch the overall position by ONE second while Morris tied with Taylor and these two had to be separated by the tie-decider at the finish.

Stephen and Jack Tilburn finished 8th overall in their Mk2 just ahead of the Subaru Impreza of Barry Groundwater and Sean Donnelly. Barry was driving a Brian Watson car while the Sheriff himself and Eddie Kelly were out in another Impreza – but not for long. Brian’s car blew its turbo on the first stage prompting gritted sympathy from an unconvincingly concerned Barry!

Paul Murro and Callum Cross completed the top ten in their Mk2 but one name was missing. The number 3 seed, Josh Davey had been sidelined very early on with gearbox trouble in his Darrian and once that was fixed, he actually set fastest time on SS3 ahead of Bird and Marshall before electrical problems then intervened, so he went home cold, wet and unfulfilled but lives to fight another day.

Freddie Milne was another expected front runner who failed to feature. Having missed out on the Grizdeale Stages the day before (having to attend a funeral) he didn’t manage to get a shot of his Fiesta R5 ahead of the Knockhill event. However, he did manage a 5th equal fastest time on SS4 but conditions caught him out on the 5th test and the car slithered off the circuit.

At the finish, Frank Bird said: “It’s been a really good day. Visibility was really bad all day, the rain never stopped and the car was aquaplaning at times. I’m really glad to get the win.”

Amongst the class winners were Ashleigh Morris and Jamie Mactavish in the Fiesta R200 taking a 26 second Class B victory over the Opel Corsa of Chris Ruck. Paul Sheard won the Mazda MX5 Class navigated by Kirsty Mochrie with Dad Innes wandering about fidgeting all day like a wee dug with no ball!

Eamon Kilmurray and Derek Cassells finished 2nd in Class A in their Citroen C2 behind the Nova of Nathan Hogg. Cameron Craig was only 6 seconds behind class winner Hogg at the halfway point but retired the Peugeot at the lunch halt with a broken rosejoint at the bottom of the front strut – but there’s more, see end of report!

Mike English took the Class C win  ahead of Johnnie Mackay and Lewis Haining in the Fiesta ST. Just 14 seconds separated the twosome although it might have been closer but for a lurid moment on the 4th stage: “We were approaching the chicane at the back of the circuit,” said Johnnie, “and the car was just floating on top of the water. Turning the steering wheel one way and the other made no difference but I managed to get it to slide on to the gravel at the side of the circuit to slow it down and then bounced out of the gravel over the kern and back on to the circuit.” A lucky escape.

It wasn’t a very comfortable run out for Lewis either. He was sitting in for Emily Easton Page, only he wasn’t. He didn’t fit Em’s seat. His bum cheeks rather more perched on the side bolsters than between them! Graeme Rintoul had been leading the class at the half point (and lying 14th o/a!) in the old shape Fiesta but a recurrence of the electrical battery/alternator problems he had at Crail re-surfaced and put him and Jim out on with two stages to go. Chris Haw missed out on the podium too after breaking a driveshaft in the Peugeot 309 but recovered to finish 4th – although there was drama to come!

As mentioned above both Cameron Craig and Chris Haw had their troubles on the day, but each of them was navigated by one of the brothers Lees.  Ewan was with Cameron and Chris was with Chris. Anyway, it seems the two cars had an unintentional coming-together at the Merge resulting in a bit of body damage. Naturally both crews had an entirely different version of events, but having a cowardly disposition and being undiplomatically suited to referee-ing your roving reporter took a backwards step, or two!

Whatever, it seems the aftermath prevented the traditional after rally ‘family’ gathering in the Chinese restaurant on the way home with faither Lees observing: “It’s a good job the boys don’t share a bedroom at home.”

  • Results
  • 1, Frank Bird/Jack Morton (Ford Focus WRC) 38m 43s
  • 2, John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Ford Fiesta R5) 39m 58s
  • 3, Richard Wells/Calvin Houldsworth (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo) 41m 24s
  • 4, Neil Roskell/Jonathan Kennedy (Subaru Impreza) 41m 31s
  • 5, Kyle Adam/Fiona Moir (Ford Escort Mk2) 41m 40s
  • 6, Barry Morris/Tom Hutchings (Darrian T90 GTR) 41m 51s
  • 7, Mike Taylor/Martin Haggett (Talbot Sunbeam Lotus) 41m 51s
  • 8, Stephen Tilburn/Jack Tilburn (Ford Escort RS) 41m 55s
  • 9, Barry Groundwater/Sean Donnelly (Subaru Impreza S11 WRC) 42m 05s
  • 10, Paul Murro/Callum Cross (Ford Escort Mk2) 42m 50s