KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship
McDonald & Munro Speyside Stages Rally, April 23
The AM Phillip Trucktech Snowman Rally served up a belter of a start to this year’s KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship and the McDonald & Munro Speyside Stages Rally maintained that exciting momentum. Yes, the top seeds won, but they had to come from behind to do it.
David Bogie and Barney Mitchell won the McDonald & Munro backed event but two different crews had a shot in the lead before the MINI JCW WRC hit back. By the rally finish Jock Armstrong and Cameron Fair secured the runner up spot in the Subaru Impreza with Snowman winners Michael Binnie and Claire Mole taking third in the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9.
Despite promises of sunshine and stoor, a cold damp sea haar cloaked the northern tests for most of the day although it did lift slightly during the afternoon. Even so it failed to dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of spectators who flocked into the forests for the long awaited return of ‘the Speyside’.
There was stoor of course, but the biggest challenge facing the crews was the dust, sand and pebbles which coated the gravel roads after long months of dis-use. Grip was the big stranger for most crews and going ‘off-line’ was to prove disastrous for many. The seven forest tests provided a real test of skill and bravery as the stages were smooth and fast with everyone revelling in the conditions.
The rally started as usual with two short, mostly tarmac, blasts around Cooper Park in Elgin town centre but the gravelly finish caught out quite a few of the triers.
Eyebrows were raised when Co Durham’s David Henderson and Chris Lees set the fastest time, but really his pedigree is tarmac rallying and circuit racing. On the other hand he’s still adapting to his new Ford Fiesta R5 and the last time he was here was some 20 years back in a Ford Puma!
It’s often been said that the rally can’t be won at Cooper Park but it can be lost. Kevin Crawford and Andrew Stevenson demonstrated that rather well when the Lancer struck a kerb and broke a wheel. The spokes parted from the rim forcing the crew to stop and fit the spare and check for further damage as in the ensuing ‘incident’ the car had assaulted a junction box and lamp post!
This spectator treat then gave way to forest action with Armstrong hitting his personal ‘hurry up’ button to set fastest time through Teindland by seven seconds. Bogie suffered a recurrence of the MINI’s Snowman troubles when the car momentarily stuttered at one point costing the crew a few seconds before it cleared. Strapped into a new Fiesta Rally2, Freddie Milne and Patrick Walsh were understandably cautious first time out but still quick enough to record third fastest time ahead of Binnie tying for fourth with Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts in the Ford Focus WRC. Equal sixth fastest were the Lancers of Scott Beattie/Paula Swinscoe and Scott MacBeth/Daniel Forsyth.
Putting things into perspective was John Wink: “Four corners into the stage I found out just how loose it was. We were barely off-line but slid wide into a ditch. However luck was with us this time. On the Snowman we got stuck, this time we drove out!”
The MINI was back on song for Ben Aigan, but Bogie was only a second quicker than the orange Subaru of Armstrong who was well up for the fight. Five seconds slower were Binnie followed by Milne, MacBeth and Henderson who seemed to be adapting to gravel awfy quickly!
McCombie was seventh quickest having dropped time with a puncture and then had to replace a cracked brake disc at service. John Morrison and Peter Carstairs posted a slow time through here as well with the Fiesta R5 overheating and it was retired at the stage finish while Keith Morris and Terry Mallin lasted one stage more before the Lancer broke a timing belt.
Using part of Balloch Wood, the Coachford stage saw Armstrong back at the front by a second from Bogie. Armstrong’s impressive times were setting tongues wagging: “I’ve got a new diff map and I’m driving slightly differently which seems to help. Also, I’m respecting the loose surface and trying to keep it straighter and tidier which seems to work.” As for Bogie, the MINI had stuttered four times costing valuable seconds each time. Fortunately first Service was next and hopefully the problem could be fixed. Milne was third quickest this time ahead of Binnie with MacBeth tying with Henderson for fifth quickest time ahead of McCombie.
As the MINI pulled into Service, the McGeehan lads got to work. They had replaced the fuel regulator after the Snowman troubles but failed to replicate the ‘stuttering’ problem trying the car out at home, so it had been a case of fingers crossed, it’s fixed! As Bogie observed: “It seems to happen when the engine is really warm and if it has a hard landing or bump in the stage, but not every time, so we’re puzzled. Anyway, the lads changed the fuel regulator again and the car ran faultlessly over the day’s final four stages.
After Service at the excellent Keith Showground facility, the crews headed towards that green and forested cathedral of speed and bravery called Gartly Moor. A forest in which the ghosts of stars-past haunt the venue such as Clark, Pond, Makinen, Vatanen, Airikkala, Walfridsson and of course, McRae, Gallacher, Heggie and the Samsons and many, many more.
Armstrong started the stage with a five second lead over Bogie and was determined to improve on it, but he slipped up, outbraked himself and clattered a chicane bale. There was no stopping Bogie now, eight seconds quicker than Amstrong and back into the lead of the rally with Milne a further four seconds behind and Henderson just getting quicker and quicker on gravel only a second behind him. Binnie’s Lancer was still hanging in there too, fifth quickest ahead of a tying McCombie and MacBeth.
Scott Beattie and Paula Swinscoe were in the hunt for top honours but succumbed to the high speed perils of Gartly. The Evo7 finished its event in a ditch one corner beyond the scene of Garry Pearson’s accident four years back.
Same again in the longest stage of the day at Balloch with Bogie putting more distance between himself and the pursuit. Henderson was third quickest this time despite an excursion up a grassy banking, but so was Binnie, the Evo tying with the R5. “That was a wild ride,” said Binnie, “I thought it would suit the car so I pushed as hard as I dared.” MacBeth was storming along too, his Lancer six second slower than Binnie’s but two seconds quicker than McCombie’s Focus.
Milne missed out on the top six times with a puncture in here but he was finding there was a big difference between the Mk1 and Mk2 Fiestas as he played himself in cautiously with his new car. That puncture was costly and he dropped five places as Henderson swept past. Mark McCulloch had a lucky escape: “I ran wide on a very slippy Left 9, I was on full lock in a ditch and probably slid along for 100 yards or so before it eventually popped out.”
With two stages to go this was still anyone’s game, which dropped him to third quickest behind Bogie and Binnie. Henderson was still enjoying himself with McCombie picking up pace fifth quickest ahead of the tying MacBeth and Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry in the self-built Proton Satria Evo getting in on the top six times for the first time today.
Bogie was well into his stride now, the MINI a full nine seconds quicker than the Binnie Lancer over the seven mile Knock More test with Armstrong a further two seconds adrift. Henderson was fourth quickest through here just a single second clear of McCombie with MacBeth and McCulloch tied for sixth fastest.
Sadly, the final test at Ordiequish had to be shortened due to nesting Capercaillies, but there was no let up in the Bogie camp with fastest time from Henderson and Armstrong, Milne and McCombie all sharing third quickest times. McCulloch rounded off a satisfying day with another sixth fastest time and now that the heatshield issue has been solved promising more to come!
There was no sign of Binnie in the top six fastest times: “I saw a lot of blue smoke in the mirror and thought ‘Oh no!’ and started worrying about what was wrong and whether we’d finish or not, rather than concentrating on the stage. But it cleared up as we approached the stage finish!” He dropped six seconds to Henderson but just managed to hang on to the final podium position.
And so ended one heckuva entertaining battle in the Speyside forests with Bogie scoring a 20 second lead over Armstrong at the finish and Binnie taking third place and a decent bagful of points!
Henderson was well chuffed with fourth, and revealed that he has registered for the KNC Groundworks Scottish Championship, with Milne fifth and MacBeth sixth. The rest of the top ten was completed by McCombie, McCulloch, John Wink/Will Atkins in the Hyundai and Angus Lawrie/Paul Gribben who had been gradually working their way up the stage time sheets as the day wore on in the Mitsubishi as Lawrie adjusted to his new, quicker engine after it’s Snowman demise.
At the finish Bogie said: ” That was fantastic. It was a long day, but it was a good day. Just what you’d expect with nine excellent stages, it kept you busy. I wasn’t planning a full championship season, just pick and choose and see what happens – but I’ll be doing the Jim Clark and Reivers!” Is that a warning shot across the bows of the other front runners?
1 David Bogie/Barney Mitchell (MINI JCW WRC) 37m 15s
2 Jock Armstrong/Cameron Fair (Subaru Impreza) +20s
3 Michael Binnie/Claire Mole (Mitsubishi Evo9) +1m 06s
4 David Henderson/Chris Lees (Ford Fiesta R5) +1m 10s
5 Freddie Milne/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta R5) +1m 26s
6 Scott MacBeth/Daniel Forsyth (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +1m 29s
7 Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts (Ford Focus WRC) +1m 34s
8 Mark McCulloch /Michael Hendry (Proton Satria Evo) +2m 00s
9 John Wink/Will Atkins (Hyundai i20 R5) +2m 14s
10 Angus Lawrie /Paul Gribben (Mitsubishi Evo9) +2m 31s