24 Mar: Snow-balls from Inverness

… Snow balls … from Inverness …

Perhaps one of the most encouraging things to come out of the recent Coogie Urquhart Snowman Rally was not just the decision to host a Regroup in Dingwall Main Street, but the reaction and response by the local townsfolk. They turned out in their dozens, if not their hundreds, with one local remarking that he’s never seen the High Street so busy in all his time there. Not only that, the local MSP Kate Forbes (The Cabinet Secretary for Finance indeed) was there to flag the cars off again. It has to be said the crews did their part too, chatting with the weans, teens and parents in an inspiring act of bringing the sport to the people. At a time when motor sport needs more friends and allies this was indeed a worthwhile gesture.

Playing musical cars ahead of the Snowman was Fast Freddie Milne. He was on course to hire the McKinstry Subaru WRC when he heard about the snow so then thought he should hire Barry Groundwater’s Lancer. Then Barry phoned to say the snow had gone, so Freddie got back on the phone to Northern Ireland, but the Subaru had been committed elsewhere. A last minute phone call to Kelso resulted in an RSC Ford Fiesta R5 prepped by Dom Buckley. Third overall was not quite the target but it provided a good solid start to his season.

Andy Horne had an odd problem on his return to the driver’s seat. Having borrowed Dave Tennant’s Subaru for the day he had one serious issue: “I couldn’t hear it. I had to keep looking at the rev counter to see if the engine was still running.” Nope, the auld lad isn’t quite going deaf but after years with a Metro 6R4 V6 revving its nuts off just inches behind his head he wasn’t used to such sounds of silence.

John Rintoul’s on-rally discomfort wasn’t fully revealed till after the rally when he reached for the Tramadol. “I’ve trapped a nerve in my right shoulder,” said John. Old age? Nope. “I fell off my mountain bike in Pitmedden Forest two weeks ago,” he admitted. Still, a finish just outside the top ten was just reward for his valiant (?) effort.

To put Hugh Brunton’s performance into perspective, the Snowman Rally was only his third ever outing in an R5. He finished 6th o/a on the Jack Frost Stages at Croft earlier in the year first time out in the car and didn’t finish the Cambrian when the car’s radiator burst. He had a couple of incidents early on in the Snowman’s wintry conditions but recovered to finish 18th o/a, and given how hot the competition is up here these days, that’s no’ too bad at all. Subsequently on the Malcolm Wilson he didn’t finish again after losing a wheel.

The engine in Steven Wood’s RWD Ford Fiesta has been rebuilt by John McKean since it’s blow-up on last year’s Speyside. Using a Millington 2 litre block which is lighter than the standard Ford unit, Steven is hoping for a bit more power. The rebuilt engine was installed at the workshops in Invergordon a couple of nights before the rally but when Steven went to trailer it home, noticed one of the trailer lights was bust, so he drove the car the 25 miles home. Ahead of the rally all he would say was: “It felt good on the drive home, but that could just be a mental thing.” Perhaps not. Steven and Mary were leading the 2WD class after the first stage but then lost it in the second when Steven (“I Blew it!”) spun the car on the ice and dropped a minute. Still 17th o/a wasn’t too bad. Not too bad at all.

Last Winter Scott Peacock spent some quality time building a 170 bhp engine for the MG ZR then took it to the rolling road to get it set up professionally. It blew up! Since the time quoted to get a new set of con rods was six weeks, Scott borrowed Niall Cowan Jnr’s 50 quid spare for the Snowman. And there was more. On the morning of the rally the water pump failed before the start so Angus and Derek swooped in to change it in time. Nice one boys.  All that effort and the car slithered off the road on the ice on the first stage and bent the cross member. Back to the workshop, eh?

Although pleased with 2nd in class in their Ford Fiesta ST Johnnie Mackay and ‘Esmeralda’ Easton-Page were hoping for better, but lost time with a couple of incidents and also survived a massive bump in the final test which knocked the tracking out. Earlier in the day they wrong slotted: “Em called a 5 Left, so I took a 5 Left but it was the wrong one. Some ‘No Entry’ tape at a junction had been broken and was blowing across the road! By the time I realised I had to stop and reverse back out,” said Johnnie.

After his troubles at Knockhill first time out with his new Subaru Impreza, Graeme  Sherry had his second run out in the car at the Snowman. Electrical problems plagued the car’s debut last month but these were mostly fixed by lunch time. However, once back at base it was realised that the car had originally been fitted with a Pectel ECU which had been replaced with another. Anyway, it was all sorted out and spirited off to Sweet Lamb for a test session. 26th o/a at the Snowman was therefore a most welcome and satisfying result.

Ross McSkimming (son of ‘Mad Mentul’) appeared at the Snowman with the ex-Keith Morris Evo6 resplendent in its new livery. First time out in the car and first time in the woods (and first time with his ‘new knee’ after a recent operation!) he was dead chuffed with 40th o/a and 7th in class when the pre-event target was simply to finish.

Looks like the south west of Scotland is gearing itself up to join the Scottish Borders and to create the South of Scotland centre for closed road rallying. The news that Machars Car Club have permission to run a closed road rally (in July) should be an attractive and popular move since both it and the nearby Jim Clark Rally are close to Ireland and the North of England. That should further encourage Solway CC who are currently hampered by restrictions to the MOD facility that is usually home to the rally circus for the Solway Coast Rally. However, if they can secure a road closure order for one or two sections of road in the vicinity then they could be back on track providing the area with three possible venues for ‘closed road, pace note’ rallying.

Apparently Doc Harrington has become the latest retired GP to be struck down with ‘B-DOCS’. Nope, nothing too nasty or threatening, it refers to ‘Boris’ Doctors Old Codgers Scheme’. In other words he has been called up and re-licensed to practice medicine as  this ‘licence to dispense medical nurture and aid’ is automatically withdrawn when a Doc retires. So it looks like he and Deirdre will once again be spotted wandering around with stethoscopes decorating their necks instead of rally lanyards! Mind you he will need a wee bit of re-educating. He initially thought Corona Virus was an infatuation for a certain brand of beer!

And finally …

Apparently some concerns have been expressed regarding the personal safety of Alan Dickson and Martin Forrest whilst competing. It was therefore with much relief that they returned to the Finish of the Snowman Rally in sound (relatively speaking) mind and hearty health.

These concerns have been raised recently surrounding the surreptitious activities of the service crew who have allegedly resorted to a novel and ingenious method of making their charges go faster. It would appear that in the hope of encouraging Alan to drive harder and brake later, they have resorted to a rather novel, but still experimental, method.

Alan is now seriously suspecting that ‘the boys’ have been employing this new ‘Tweak of the Week’ when they think he isn’t trying hard enough. Suspicions have now been aroused regarding their tactics. It would appear that when his times are not what they were expecting, ‘the boys’ are applying a liberal dose of WD40 to the brakes before sending him back out onto the stages. Surely not, eh?

Equally of concern to all is that this new practice, if indeed it is true (subject to investigation and verification) appears to be effective. Alan and Martin equalled equalled their best result on a Scottish Championship (Argyll last year) round for some time!!

And finally, finally ….

Quote of the month … Michael Binnie’s first words to the waiting press as he arrived back at the Inverness finish in the Mitsubishi Lancer Exocet 9 were: “I thought I drove sh*t* in that last stage!” And yes, it did take a wee while to sink in.

Snowman - [Main Report]
Snowman - [Fastest Stage Times]
Snowman Classes - [2 - 8]
Snowman Classes - [9 - 11]