… Grampian Forest Rally, 14 August, 2021 …
Matthew Wilson came, competed and conquered. The end. Of course it wasn’t quite that easy, he just made it look easy. Driving the latest spec Ford Fiesta Rally2, he and Elliott Edmondson completed the 42.5 miles of Grampian Forest Rally stages in 38 mins 49 secs. Mighty impressive.
In fact there were 25 Fords of the R5/Rally2/WRC persuasion, 3 Hyundai i20 R5s, 2 Skoda Fabia R5s and 2 VW Polo R5s in the entry list – and they say there is no money in rallying. Mind you, the very same thing was said when Group 4 Ford Escort Mk2s first started permeating down to the clubman ranks – and that was over 55 years ago!
But that’s by the by, only 20 seconds behind the leaders was the VW Polo R5 of Osian Pryce and Noel O’Sullivan with Rhys Yates and James Morgan fighting back to gain a podium finish after an early setback with another Ford Fiesta Rally2.
The Scots didn’t do quite so well this time. Five finished in the top ten on last month’s RSAC Scottish Rally, but only two made it on this outing with the Skoda Fabia of Garry Pearson and Niall Burns finishing in 6th place ahead of 8th placed Jock Armstrong and Cameron Fair in a Ford Fiesta R5 which looked a bit battle scarred by the finish.
Oddly enough there was dust, but it wasn’t a problem this time. Unlike conditions in Dumfries & Galloway, the North East forests didn’t produce anything like the great choking clouds of stoor that were such a feature last time out. And yet it was dry and mostly sunny, with a light breeze to keep things cool and stop the midges from getting too Marshal-friendly. And not just midges, apparently the clegs were active!
Wilson opened the scoring on the first stage of the day at Durris 1 with a 3 second faster time than Pryce although the difference might have been a tad greater had it not been for a wee half spin! Matt Edwards/Darren Garrod in their PoloR5 were equal third fastest with Yates who had lost time with the turbo pop-off valve ‘popping-off’ five times! He was still quicker than an impressive Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin in their Fiesta R5 getting back up to speed after their 3 year lay-off. Rounding off the top half dozen quickest were Armstrong in 6th, just 4 seconds faster than Pearson.
As for Freddie Milne and Jamie Edwards, they dropped nearly 20 seconds to their rivals as Freddie dolefully explained: “We were off three times in there. Trying too hard to soon,” he reckoned, “the first one was a wee off and on, the second was in a ditch and the third was another off and on.” Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts were well down on time too. The Focus WRC punctured a front tyre half way through with Michael saying: “We always get a puncture in Durris,” while the ever so parsimonious Bruce added: “It was a brand new tyre, and we punctured a brand new tyre on the Scottish Rally in the first stage as well.” Scott MacBeth and Dan Forsyth were lucky when the Lancer slid off and smacked a tree picking up a puncture in the process but they lost only 15 seconds or so.
Going no further was the Lancer of Donnie MacDonald and Andrew Falconer. A circlip had come off the clutch inside the gearbox and although they got through the first stage, the car was stuck in gear and there was no chance of fixing it by the roadside. As for Keith Morris and Terry Mallin it was game over pretty quick. The Lancer was comfortably hunkered down in a ditch a mile into the first stage. According to Keith: “The speed was good – but the corner was too tight!” Joining them was the Lancer of Willie Paterson and Tom Hynd which broke a driveshaft on the start line of the first stage.
Leading 2WD runners Mark McCulloch and Michael Hendry had a narrow escape. “I need to get my *rs* in gear. There was a Right5 tightens to Right8,” said Mark, “Michael called it but I heard it as Left8. We were in a ditch but just scrabbled out and away again. At the end of that stage I was in 6th gear – that thing (he was referring to the car) is never in 6th gear. It’s seriously quick in places in there.”
Into Fetteresso 1 for Stage 2 and Wilson opened the gap a little more, 6 seconds quicker than Edwards, and Cronin second fastest ahead of Pryce, Armstrong and Yates still coping with an over eager ‘pop-off’ valve and Pearson only a second slower, 7th fastest. As usual Michael Binnie and Claire Mole were aiming for best of the ‘non WRC/R5’ entourage with their Evo9 and the difference showed in here. “It was an uphill start and we sat there watching the R5s just sit down and get away whereas we struggled for traction with the Lancer.” Even so they were still putting up a decent fight.
It was Barry Groundwater’s turn to lose out. He and Sean Donnelly were having their first run out in the Subaru on gravel and it wasn’t going too well: “We’re having trouble selecting gears,” he explained, it seems to be an air pressure problem with the accumulator.” His troubles were further exacerbated by the presence of ‘The Sheriff’ who was offering advice based on his years of experience and mechanical expertise!
Also in trouble was the Hyundai of John Wink and Neil Shanks when the anti-lag system stopped working and the crew were furiously trying to trace the cause.
The 2WD competition lost a front runner in here when Keith Robathan and Phil Sandham had to retire the Escort with differential failure.
Drumtochty 1 was the first stage after first Service and Edwards hit the front, 5 seconds up on Wilson ahead of a tying Yates, now with his pop-off valve replaced, and Pryce who survived a massive moment: “It was a long 6th gear corner and the tail just stepped out, but we’re here”. Cronin was 5th quickest ahead of the Fiesta WRC of Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes with Armstrong 9th quickest and the Fiestas of Milne and Elliot Payne/Dale Bowen tying on 10th quickest.
Just outside the top ten fastest times was Garry Pearson shaking his head: “Jock was off in there – and he still took 4 seconds out of me!” As for Jock, the Fiesta was looking a bit second hand around the front end as he ruefully surveyed the o/s corner: “My fault – I’m just not used to left hand drive cars yet.”
A return visit to Fetteresso 2 was next with Wilson and Edwards sharing fastest time despite the fact that Edwards was concerned about a misfire. It seemed to be a recurrence of his Nicky Grist Rally gremlins but had hopes of getting it fixed at service. Pryce was 3rd quickest ahead of Cronin and Yates with Pearson sharing 6th equal fastest with Cathan McCourt/Liam Moynihan in another Fiesta Rally2 but Armstrong was only a second slower than Pearson setting 9th quickest time.
This time Milne was missing from the top times. “We lost all the brakes in there,” he said, “we were a minute slower than first time through – but we’re still good for SRC points. It just looks as though a caliper seal failed and we lost all the fluid.” Bruce McCombie’s luck didn’t get any better: “I stalled it off the start line – again, and lost about 5 seconds,” referring to similar problems when he first got the car, “I got the red mist after that and probably gained about 10 – and didn’t crash.”
Lying 6th in the SRC points standings prior to this event, Ian Baumgart and Dave Robson lost out on another high scoring points finish when the Subaru punctured the rear o/s tyre 3.5 miles into the stage. That caused some suspension damage as well and they finally finished outside the top ten points scorers.
Stage 5 at Drumtochty 2 was next after second Service with Wilson back at the front by 5 seconds from Pryce, Yates and Pearson who tied with Cronin for 4th fastest. Moffett was 6th fastest with Armstrong and Milne tying for 10th fastest and Edwards was out of it. The misfire got worse and although he finished the stage he was 2 minutes down on his rivals.
Michael Binnie was still holding station as top Lancer but had run out of tyres: “They were melted after the first four stages,” he said, and pointed to the ‘new’ set on the car which had been fitted at service for the last two stages saying, “they did the last stage on the Snowman Rally which we won 18 months ago.”
Over the final stage at Durris 2, Pryce hit the front 2 seconds quicker than Wilson. They were followed by Yates, Cronin and Pearson who now had the scent of victory in his nostrils. His main rivals for SRC points were Armstrong and Milne both of whom had struck trouble earlier and both of whom were slower than the Skoda driver through this final stage. Moffett, Payne and McCourt rounded off the top six times with Milne 10th fastest and Armstrong 27 seconds slower than Pearson in a Fiesta which was still bearing the scars of his earlier bump.
Pearson not only finished the day top SRC points scorer, but also now leads the BRC National Cup series although Armstrong and Milne are still very much in the hunt for the overall Scottish title. Armstrong has scored on all three rounds so far whereas Milne and Pearson only have two apiece. Close, eh?
Results: 1, Matthew Wilson/Elliot Edmondson (Ford Fiesta Rally2) 38m 49s 2, Osian Pryce/Noel O’Sullivan (VW Polo R5) +20s 3, Rhys Yates/James Morgan (Fiesta Rally2) +38s 4, Keith Cronin/Mikie Galvin (Fiesta R5) +39s 5, Josh Moffett/Andy Hayes (Fiesta WRC) +1m 28s 6, Garry Pearson/Niall Burns (Skoda Fabia R5) +1m 28s - 1st SRC 7, Cathan McCourt/Brian Hoy (Fiesta Rally2) +1m 49s 8, Jock Armstrong/Cameron Fair (Fiesta R5) +1m 53s - 2nd SRC 9, Sam Moffett/Keith Moriarty (Fiesta Rally2) 1m 55ss 10, Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta WRC) +2m 08s 13, Freddie Milne/Jamie Edwards (Fiesta R5) - 3rd SRC 16, Michael Binnie/Claire Mole (Lancer Evo9) - 4th SRC 18, Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts (Focus WRC) - 5th SRC 19, Ian Forgan/Chris Lees (Fiesta R5) - 6th SRC 21, John Wink/Neil Shanks (Hyundai i20 R5) - 7th SRC 25, Scott MacBeth/Daniel Forsyth (Lancer Evo9) - 8th SRC 28, Scott Beattie/Paula Swinscoe (Lancer Evo7) - 9th SRC 29, Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry (Ford Escort Mk2) - 10th SRC Class Winners: C3: Allan Smith/Paul Beaton (Honda Civic) C5: Michael Renton/John Shepheard (Subaru Impreza) M1: Peter Stewart/ Harry Marchbank (Peugeot 208 Rally4) M2: Niall Cowan Jr/Callum Shanks (MG ZR) M3: Ewan Tindall/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta R2T) M4: Paddy Munro/Dave O'Brien (Ford Escort Mk2) M5: Johnnie Mackay/Emily Easton-Page (Ford Fiesta ST) M6: Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry (Ford Escort Mk2) M7: Paul Mcerlean/Niall Mckenna (Ford Escort Mk2) M8: Chris Collie /Gary McDonald (Subaru Impreza) M9: Michael Binnie/Claire Mole (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) P1: Garry Pearson/Niall Burns (Skoda Fabia R5) SH1: Andy Kelly/Roy Campbell (Ford Escort Mk1) SH2: Donald Brooker/Tony Booth (Subaru Legacy RS) Provisional Championship leaderboard after 3 (of 5) Rounds: 1 Jock Armstrong, 84 pts 2 Ian Forgan, 72 3 Mark McCulloch, 69 4= Freddie Milne, 57 4= Garry Pearson, 57 6 Michael Binnie, 51