01 Mar: Knockhill Rally Report

… Grant Construction Knockhill Stages Rally, Feb 23 …

From the southern approach to Knockhill, the distant Ochil Hills looked like a Baker’s tray of Christmas puds with an icing sugar dusting. Fortunately the threatening snow didn’t come to much although it was cold. Bitter cold. Still, the 2020 Scottish rally season was about to get underway.

Alan Kirkaldy and Chris Lees scored a convincing victory on the opening round of this year’s Marshall Construction Scottish Tarmack Championship at Knockhill. They even had time to indulge in a bit of showboating with a chucked-in, full bore, four wheel, tyre smoking drift round the Hairpin on the penultimate test. Not to be outdone, Donnie MacDonald and Andrew Falconer did it too, the Lancer Evo9 every bit as impressive as the Fiesta R5.

Naturally Donnie denied showboating: “I was just trying to remember how to get the back end to break away ahead of the Snowman Rally,” he explained. Gawd, doncha just love a tyre smoking four wheel drift?

MacDonald finished second behind Kirkaldy with the much more sensible and circumspect Kyle Adam and Steven Brown completing the podium line-up at the end of this Grant Construction Stages Rally, which had started off the day wet and slushy. A dry-ish line started to appear after two stages and by close of play after 8 stages it was pretty much dry although damp patches lay in wait to catch out the unwary.

Having stripped and rebuilt the Fiesta during the Winter, Kirkaldy scored 6 fastest times out of 8 stages on his way to victory: “The car was a bare ‘shell on the 30th of January,” he said, showing me the pictures to prove it, “I did all the work myself, so if anything breaks I know how to fix it.” And he still fitted in time for two family holidays!

“I haven’t been in the car for months,” said Donnie, “so I just came down to re-learn how to break traction again ahead of the Snowman Rally next month.”

Even so it was Robert Marshall who was fastest out of the starting blocks with his Impreza. He was 2 seconds quicker than Kirkaldy but the front runners were hampered by conditions. It was slushy, wet and slippery as top seed John Marshall, running first on the road, found out all too early when cresting the hill on to the start/finish straight. There was water running right across the road and the Skodaru just drifted wide and on to the sodden grass. That cost him over half a minute. Donnie MacDonald fell victim to the same hazard although he didn’t lose quite as much time, but it left the two of them with a big fightback on their hands.

Which kind of puts Kyle Adam’s opening run into perspective. The rear wheel drive Millington powered Escort visibly twitching but always pointing in the right direction as he set 7th fastest time. If that was impressive then 3rd fastest provided more of a shock as Michael Cruickshank set 3rd fastest time in his 1 litre Micra ahead of the Mk2 of Allan Mathieson and the 1600 Corsa of Steven Hay. David McIntyre was 6th quickest in his 1600 Nova, while matching Kyle Adam’s 7th quickest time was Drew Barker in another 1600 Corsa.

Some sort of sense was restored on SS2 where Kirkaldy blitzed the opposition, one of only two drivers under 5 minutes for the stage. After an off-track excursion on the opening stage, Andrew Kirkaldy was the other sub 5 minute driver in his Mk2. John Marshall was back in business 3rd quickest ahead of Joe McKeand in the Subaru and Scott MacBeth in the Lancer sharing 4th fastest time. Only 1 second adrift of those two was the Peugeot 206 of Des Campbell.

Things settled down a bit after that as the dry-ish line started to appear and by half distance the leading order was Kirkaldy (Alan) from Kirkaldy (Andrew), MacBeth, Adam, Hay and Robert Marshall. Trevor Gamble called it a day at the lunch break. His Fiesta R5 was showing signs of overheating and he didn’t want to risk the engine, so packed up and headed for home – and a warm fire!

On the first stage after lunch, the leading Class 2 runner, Steven Hay lost out on 5th place in spectacular fashion. As the Corsa swept down the hillside test, the engine let go. Big time. Great plumes of oily white smoke billowed out the back and underneath the wee car. I’ll bet the locals in Saline village thought it was thunder clouds rolling over the horizon! Not long after that, Scott MacBeth disappeared from the leaderboard. A turbo pipe blew off on the 6th stage and that was him out.

Meanwhile MacDonald had closed the gap on 3rd placed Adam to 13 seconds while John Marshall was up to 6th but hampered by a car which was geared for only 98 mph. Things weren’t settled yet – as Andrew Kirkaldy plunged from 2nd place to 7th when the Escort got both rear wheels on soft, boggy grass.

That pitched Adam into 2nd place but on the 7th test, and despite his showboating, MacDonald closed the gap further to just 5 seconds with one stage to go.

As a measure of how seriously he was taking things, MacDonald was all set for another big drift round the Hairpin on the final stage to please the frozen ranks of onlookers, but just as he caught the car ahead, it spun, at the wrong place at the wrong time – at the Hairpin. Even so, MacDonald took 8 seconds out of Adam to clinch the runner-up position.

Playing to the gallery, Alan Kirkaldy was all set to outdo his earlier drifting escapade with a final flourish at the Hairpin but with the temperature gauge rising, he suspected the head gasket might be on the way out and wisely opted for a more cautious, but still convincing, conclusion to his victory.

Likewise, John Marshall moved up a place on the final test, displacing brother Robert from 4th and although Andrew Kirkaldy tied with Robert on the final stage it was Robert Marshall who took 5th overall courtesy of his fastest first stage time.

Joe Mckeand’s improving pace carried him to 7th place overall ahead of Class 2 winning Des Campbell with Jock Threadgall 9th and young Harry Chalmers rounding off the top ten. Mention must also be made of the Class 1 winner’s overall result. Michael Cruickshank was 11th o/a in the wee Nissan Micra.

The expected scrap in the 1600 class between Steven Hay and Des Campbell was living up to its billing till the spectacular demise of Hay’s Corsa. That meant Drew Barker took 2nd in class after David McIntyre got the Corsa stuck in the sheuch on SS5 with Stuart Waite in his bog standard road going Peugeot 206 placed 3rd.

Cruickshank was a deserving Class 1 winner from Eamonn Kilmurray in the Citroen and the Nova of Chris Smith while Marc McCubbin took Class 3 in his Focus ahead of the Escort of Alister Watson.

Of more concern was the fact that the event attracted barely 30 entries to the season opener. However, entries for the second round at Ingliston are looking much more healthy, and if you haven’t got your entry in yet, time is running out.

 1. Alan Kirkaldy/Chris Lees (Ford Fiesta R5) 40m. 36s
 2. Donnie MacDonald/Andrew Falconer (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) 42m. 53s
 3. Kyle Adam/Steven Brown (Ford Escort Mk2) 42m. 56s
 4. John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Skodaru) 43m. 03s
 5. Robert Marshall/Lewis MacDougall (Subaru Impreza) 43m. 12s
 6. Andrew Kirkaldy/Peter Carstairs (Ford Escort Mk2) 43m. 12s
 7. Joe McKeand/Callum Shanks (Subaru Impreza) 43m. 27s
 8. Des Campbell/Craig Forsyth (Peugeot 206) 43m. 44s
 9. Jock Threadgall/Keith Atkinson (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) 44m. 53s
 10. Harry Chalmers/Emma Muir (Subaru Impreza) 45m. 07s. 
Class winners: 
 Michael Cruickshank/Connor Gardiner (Nissan Micra)
 Des Campbell/Craig Forsyth (Peugeot 206)
 Marc McCubbin/Andrew Blackwood (Ford Focus)
 Alan Kirkaldy/Chris Lees (Ford Fiesta R5)
 John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Skodaru). 

Tales that didn’t make the headlines – [Knockhill Notes]