AM Phillip Trucktech Snowman Rally, sat 5th March
Rd01, KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship
Given the quality of the machinery lined up in Muir of Ord for the AM Phillip Trucktech Snowman Rally, few would have predicted a victory for a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9, but no-one told Michael Binnie and Claire Mole!
The ex-John Morrison Evo9 had been completely stripped and rebuilt over the Winter months, not in some state of the art workshops, but in a barn at the Binnie home farm. Admittedly, it’s a nice barn, but even so, the Evo9 dates back to 2005 when it was first launched. Of course, that hasn’t stopped progress and the Lancer continues to evolve but it was up against some stiff WRC level opposition.
Most of the pundits were predicting victory for five times Scottish champion David Bogie and Kevin Rae in the MINI JCW WRC with much speculation surrounding who would finish second. As events turned out, Bogie finished third behind Jock Armstrong and Cameron Fair in the Subaru Impreza while the Ford Fiesta R5 of Freddie Milne and Patrick Walsh which had actually been leading the rally, finished fourth. Quite a turnaround, eh?
Clear blue skies and a hard frost welcomed the opening round of the 2022 KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship to the far north as the crews assembled for the start, but thankfully there was no snow and little in the way of ice. In fact, perfect rallying weather with the Police already having to adjust their plans as crowd numbers were exceeding the anticipated 3,000 to 5,000 numbers, and reckoning it could be 6,000 to 8,000. Rather surprising considering Ross County were playing at home on the same day. In fact, while chatting to the local Polis at 8.20 am on the morning of the rally, he got a call to attend traffic issues at Glenurquhart and had to rush off.
As winner of the last Snowman to be held two years ago, Binnie led the field away from the Black Isle Showground. At the end of the 11 mile opening stage at Lochletter 1, eyebrows were raised, he was two seconds quicker than Milne. Armstrong was third, some 8 seconds down on the early leader: “I had trouble with the brakes. I don’t think I bedded the pads in properly and I boiled the fluid.” Scott Beattie and Paula Swinscoe picked up where they left off last year with the Evo7, near enough on the pace but 13 seconds down on Binnie with Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts (Ford Focus WRC), and Scott MacBeth and Daniel Forsyth (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) completing the top six.
Bogie appeared at the stage finish with a punctured o/s rear tyre and wheel lying at an odd angle. “I really don’t know what happened. It was more or less a straight piece of road into a right hander. I didn’t see anything, I just felt the bump,” said Bogie, but the impact had also bent a rear suspension arm leaving him to run through the second stage with the car steering from the rear as well as the front.
Donnie MacDonald and Andrew Falconer were off the pace too but for another reason. Second time out and first time on the loose with the Fiesta Rally2 Donnie said: “I don’t think the trip to Knockhill the other week helped much,” referring to his previous outing to familiarise himself with the new car, “driving a left hand drive car for the first time in a forest stage is really different. Andrew spent a lot of time in ditches and the trees and I managed to spin it once.”
In worse trouble were Angus Lawrie and Mark McCulloch. Angus pulled out in the first stage with an engine problem in the Lancer and Mark’s new Proton had a small underbonnet fire. It was actually the heat shield which caught fire and no other damage was done. Ross MacDonald didn’t even get that far, his Lancer’s engine failing on the way to the rally start earlier in the day.
Binnie was fastest again in SS2 at Boblainy 1, but his time was matched by McCombie. “I’m just happy to get it off the line and no disco lights flashing,” said Bruce referring to last year’s problems with the car’s launch control. Only one second behind this pair was another tie for second fastest between Milne and Armstrong! “I was just a bit too cautious in there, it was hard to read the road, but it’s feeling good, the new wiring loom seems to have cured last year’s problems and I’ve got a bit more confidence in the car now,” said Freddie.
Meanwhile the Buckley boys were grinding the Subaru’s brake discs and changing the pads back at first service. Fifth quickest, Beattie was busy too: “We found a stripped nut on top of the front suspension arm, so we’re checking them all!” Bogie with his rear steering MINI and MacBeth tied for sixth equal fastest.
The third test featured a visit to the nine mile Millbuie forest stage which comprises long straights punctuated with square lefts and rights. This was high power territory and Bogie stormed through it a full 15 seconds quicker than the Fiesta R5 of Ian Forgan and Chris Lees. “I’m surprised at that,” said David, “I overshot a junction and had to reverse and still got a good time!” Third quickest was Milne just two seconds adrift of the flying Forgan.
There was clear evidence of just how hard Binnie was trying with Claire’s door having been stove in against a chicane and they tied with McCombie for fourth fastest. Sixth fastest were Hugh Brunton and Drew Sturrock in the Fiesta R5: “That’s the pace I’m aiming for,” said Hugh, “we were down on power for the first two stages with a faulty turbo sensor.” Two seconds slower were Armstrong and MacBeth tied on seventh fastest time.
Beattie dropped over a minute in here and was lucky. There were just enough Marshals on hand to give the Lancer a push out of the ditch in which it landed. Not so lucky was the Hyundai i20 R5 of John Wink and Neil Shanks which had gone off at the previous corner to Beattie’s incident and was stuck fast. They had to wait for the breakdown crews incurring a stage maximum which put paid to any top ten hopes they might have had.
Fastest through the return visit to Lochletter 2 was the MINI but only four seconds quicker than a determined Milne who was now fully confident that all his electrical problems had been solved and he could simply concentrate on driving. Of more importance was the fact that he was seven seconds quicker than Binnie which promoted him into the rally lead by five seconds with one stage to go.
It wasn’t that Binnie had slowed down, just that Milne was going quicker. For his part, Armstrong was a full nine seconds behind the Lancer followed by Beattie and MacBeth.
Unfortunately, the stage had to be stopped. Ian Forgan’s Fiesta R5 struck a tree stump when it left the road and the crew required medical assistance. Both Ian and Chris were detained in hospital overnight and we wish them a speedy recovery.
A final tricky 6 mile run through Boblainy 2 lay ahead where earlier in the day mixed surface conditions had accounted for many ‘offs’ ensuring the top two faced a difficult decision – just how hard to push!
Five seconds behind rally leader Milne, Binnie went for the all-out approach: “I pushed as hard as I could.” At the stage finish it was Bogie and Bogie and Armstrong who topped the time sheets with Binnie third fastest, but where was Milne? Over a minute later a tight lipped Milne appeared: “The engine just cut out and stopped dead. No lights, no warning! Eventually it fired up again and we were able to make it to the finish.” He dropped to fourth place behind the podium line-up of Binnie, Armstrong and Bogie.
Scott MacBeth and Daniel Forsyth were an excellent and richly deserved 5th in the re-shelled Lancer Evo9, which had taken a tumble on the Galloway Hills and looked resplendent in its new white and blue livery. Beattie recovered from his earlier time loss with fourth fastest time in here which ensured he finished sixth overall behind MacBeth.
Bruce McCombie was heading for a top six finish until the latter two stages when the Focus’ gear selection started playing up and he dropped to seventh ahead of Hugh Brunton and Drew Sturrock scoring their best forest rally finish in the Ford Fiesta R5 with eighth place as the Subarus of Keir Beaton/Iain Thorburn and Duncan Campbell/Michael Cruickshank rounded off the top ten.
A disappointed Donnie MacDonald finished outside the top ten behind Scott McCombie and Bob Adamson with John Morrison 14th in the R5. But perhaps the ‘drive of the day’ was the 15th place earned by Peter Stewart and Harry Marchbank. The Peugeot 208 Rally4 set ultra competitive times on the twisty tests but lost out on the power stages. They finished top 2WD runners. First time out in the ex Mark McCulloch Escort Mk2, James Brims and Iain MacDonald were second 2WD ahead of ex motor cycle racing champion John Crawford having his first run in the forests for 12 years with Karen McLeod in his Escort Mk2
At the finish, a beaming Binnie admitted: “I really wasn’t expecting that. I was nervous about running first car on the road, but thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s the best way to start the season.”
Results 1 Michael Binnie/Claire Mole (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) 42m 00s 2 Jock Armstrong/Cameron Fair (Subaru Impreza) +19s 3, David Bogie/Kevin Rae (MINI JCW WRC) +30 secs 4, Freddie Milne/ Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta R5) +40s 5 Scott Macbeth/Daniel Forsyth (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +49s 6 Scott Beattie/Paula Swinscoe (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7) +1m 50s 7 Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts (Ford Focus WRC) +1m 57s 8 Hugh Brunton/Drew Sturrock (Ford Fiesta R5) +3m 29s 9 Keir Beaton/Iain Thorburn (Subaru Impreza) +3m 37s 10 Duncan Campbell/Michael Cruickshank (Subaru Impreza) +4m 14s Class Winners: C1: Jacob Harlington/Oliver Harlington (VW Polo) C2: Martyn Erskine/Kieran Hyslop (Peugeot 206 Cup) C3: Allan Smith/Sam Smith (Honda Civic) C5: Jordan Anderson/Clare Mackenzie (Subaru Impreza) H1: David McLeod/Eamonn Boyle (Chrysler Sunbeam Ti) H2: Donald Brooker/Ewan Lees (Subaru Legacy RS) M2: Justin Gunning/Stuart McBride (Ford Fiesta R2) M4: James Brims/Iain MacDonald (Ford Escort Mk2) M5: Thomas Gray/Tom Howie (Ford Escort Mk2) M6: Beaton/Thorburn M7: Binnie/Mole Pro2: Peter Stewart/Harry Marchbank (Peugeot 208) Pro4: Bogie/Rae