Carlisle Stages Rally, 23rd October 2021
That wasn’t sunshine that was glinting through the murk and the gloom at Kielder Castle, that was the big toothy grins of Garry Pearson and Niall Burns. They had just won the final round of the 2021 KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship in Kielder Forest. A determined and dominant performance in their Skoda Fabia R5 had also earned them the title of Scottish Rally Champions.
Jock Armstrong and Cameron Fair were never far behind in their Ford Fiesta R5 but on the final stage their hopes were scuppered by an engine seizure. That immediately promoted Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson in the Fiesta WRC to the runner-up spot. Scott Beattie and Paula Swinscoe finished 3rd overall and best of the Lancers when Michael Binnie and Claire Mole struck trouble on the second stage bending a rear wishbone before recovering to finish 4th.
If the opening 13.71 mile stage through Wauchope acted as a wake-up call to the more experienced crews, imagine what it felt like for the newcomers. With 2WD and reverse seeding leading off the 87 car field, the first car on the road was the awfy smart Peugeot 106 of Campbell and Donald McColm on their second forest rally while first time driver Meghan O’Kane was right behind them with faither John in Meghan’s ‘new’ Ford Fiesta. Both crews spent over 18 minutes driving through a stage where ‘the fast & the furious’ were doing it in little over 12 minutes.
In fact ‘the fastest & most furious’ were Pearson and Burns, dispatching the wet and slippery gravel in just 15 seconds over 12 minutes. James Wilson and Arthur Kierans were 10 seconds slower in the Hyundai and 4 seconds ahead of Armstrong and Fair. Petch and Wilkinson were 4th quickest in the Fiesta WRC ahead of David Henderson and Peredur Davies in their Fiesta R5 with Niall Devine and Liam McIntyre the best of the Lancers in their GroupN car ahead of Binnie and Mole.
Although John Wink and Neil Shanks made it through the stage setting 10th fastest time, the decision was made to go no further. The Hyundai had suffered a return of its electrical gremlins and the car was cutting out, often at the most inappropriate moments, causing the crew to decide that safety was the better part of valour and they withdrew.
Four seconds covered the top four through the second stage at Florida with Armstrong fastest but by only a second from Pearson with Wilson a further one second behind and Petch another single second adrift. This time Scott Beattie and Paula Swinscoe were the best of the Lancers as Binnie’s service crew readied a new bottom arm for replacement at service. Binnie had dropped over half a minute to his rivals as he limped out having struck something rather solid in the road.
After a promising start on the opening test where they were 5th quickest, David Henderson and Peredur Davies fell victim to the slimy surface at the third corner in SS2 and the Fiesta was out.
At Service after the first two stages a rather subdued Freddie Milne was spotted deep in discussion with Dom. He and Patrick Walsh had been expected to threaten the front runners but Milne had a serious ‘off’ day in the Fiesta R5: “The car was snapping sideways. It usually just digs in and grips but I had no confidence in it today.”
Yet a third different driver claimed fastest time on the third stage at Ogre Hill, this time Wilson outpacing a tying Armstrong and Pearson by 3 seconds whilst Binnie put in a stormer of a time taking 6 seconds out of Petch’s fifth fastest time with Beattie 5 seconds slower than the Fiesta.
The fourth stage at Hyndlees saw yet another driver take fastest time, this time it was Petch by one second from Pearson with Armstrong still in the mix but 3 seconds slower. Binnie was again quick but matching him second for second was Beattie as they tied on fourth fastest,11 seconds quicker than Devine. Sadly, Wilson’s impressive run came to an abrupt end in here when the Fiesta R5 succumbed to the treacherously slippy conditions and plunged off the road.
Going into the final stage at Riccarton, Pearson had a 16 second lead over title rival Armstrong. Ahead lay just over 10 miles of shimmering wet gravel and some pretty fast stretches of road. Too far, too late? We’ll never know.
Approaching a downhill right hander, the engine in Armstrong’s Fiesta seized and the car clattered to a halt. Over and out. Pearson was home and dry – apart from the rain that is. Behind him Binnie and Beattie were going at it again, tied on identical times, some 11 seconds quicker than Petch with an almost brakeless Devine a further 15 seconds behind the battling duo. Ian Forgan and Chris Lees made it into the top six fastest times with a late splurge through the final test with Forgy looking a bit puzzled: “I don’t know what it was but I just couldn’t get in the groove today”.
Not so Pearson, he was well in the groove from the start: “I think we won it on the first stage. We took 14 seconds out of Jock on the first run through Wauchope and then just tried to manage that gap all the way to the finish.” He added: “The second stage at Florida was tricky and technical so we backed off a bit.”
Armstrong’s disappearance left Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson in a rather solitary second place in the Fiesta WRC: “I seem to spend most of the time on my own rally these days,” said Stephen reflecting on recent performances where he hasn’t been quite on the leaders’ pace but well clear of everyone else.
Three Mitsubishi Lancers filled the next three places with Scott Beattie and Paula Swinscoe taking the final podium position in their Evo7 after another quietly impressive drive. The Michael Binnie/Claire Mole Evo9 bent a rear wishbone in SS2 which cost them half a minute while the Group N Evo9 of Niall Devine and Liam McIntyre finished 5th overall despite a few hairy moments with fading brakes.
Ian Forgan and Chris Lees were 7th in the Fiesta R5 while no-one was more surprised at the 8th placed finishers than the crew themselves, Willie Paterson and Tom Hynd in another Evo9. “We were completely off the road in both the first two stages,” said Paterson, “but it just pulled itself out both times.”
Rounding off the top ten were the Subaru Impreza of Ian Baumgart and Dave Robson and the Fiesta R5 of Bob Adamson and Jane Nicol with Adamson wryly commenting: “The only reason I was on the right tyres today, was the fact that I only had these four tyres anyway!”
It was perhaps fitting that Kielder Castle formed the backdrop to the rally finish, as yet another ‘Border Reiver’ had swept over the border to raid and plunder the region. This time there were indeed riches to be won, Scotland’s rallying crowns. Pearson initially looked a little bemused as realisation slowly set in. He hadn’t just won the rally, he had clinched the title.
Although he had a 16 second lead going into the final 10 mile stage, Pearson was only too well aware of the Armstrong threat behind him. He couldn’t afford to back off, and admitted: “We did have a couple of wild ‘slidey’ moments near the start before taking it a bit more cautious to get to the end. That was a tricky day in challenging conditions, but commiserations to Jock and Cammy, it was a good battle all year.”
1, Garry Pearson/Niall Burns (Škoda Fabia R5) 38m 11s
2, Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m 19s
3, Scott Beattie/Paula Swinscoe (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7) +1m 56s
4, Michael Binnie/Claire Mole (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +2m 12s
5, Niall Devine/Liam McIntyre (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +2m 32s
6, Freddie Milne/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta R5) +3m 01s
7, Ian Forgan/Chris Lees (Ford Fiesta R5) +3m 17s
8, William Paterson/Tom Hynd (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +3m 53s
9, Ian Baumgart/Dave Robson (Subaru Impreza) +4m 04s
10, Robert Adamson/Jane Nicol (Ford Fiesta R5) +4m 09s
Class Winners: 1: Pete Gorst/Phil King (Vauxhall Nova); 2: Fraser Smith/Steven Brown (Honda Civic); 3: Peter Stewart/Harry Marchbank (Peugeot 208 R4); 4: Bobby Mitchell/Craig Wallace (Ford Fiesta ST); 5: Paul Thompson/Josh Davison (Ford Escort); 6: Steve Magson/Kevin Bardon (Mercedes-Benz 190e 16V); 7: Michael Renton/John Shepheard (Subaru Impreza GC8); 8: Niall Devine/Liam McIntyre (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9); 9: Scott Beattie/Paula Swinscoe (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7); 10: Pearson/Niall Burns (Škoda Fabia R5); 11: Hugo MacMillan/Arthur MacMillan (Ford Escort Mk1 RS1600); 12: Steve Bannister/Callum Atkinson (Ford Escort Mk2)
Carlisle Stages – [Top 10 Fastest Times]
Carlisle Stages – [Class Roundup]