07 Jul: McRae Rally Challenge

… McRae Rally Challenge, 2/3 July 2022 …

The McRae Rally Challenge at Knockhill was originally scheduled for 2020 to mark the 25th anniversary of Colin McRae and Derek Ringer’s FIA World Rally Championship titles, but then Covid intervened. Two years later than planned, and with some slight changes to the theme, the tribute event took place over the weekend of July 2/3.

The 2022 gathering celebrated the ‘family McRae’ and their achievements as a whole together with a wider appreciation of British and World champions, and what a line-up. As well as three generations of McRaes taking part in the headline rally it was really good to see Gwyndaf Evans and Elfyn in Scotland. It was particularly good to see Elfyn, snatching a quick break away from the pressures of world rally competition, and looking relaxed and happy amongst the ‘home’ fans.

Created around a ten stage rally with five stages each on the Saturday and Sunday organised by Border Ecosse CC, the additional attractions had been planned by Knockhill and were inserted into the programme during rally breaks. There were on track parades and displays plus off track attractions including star interviews held on a specially created stage in the main Paddock with large crowds attending both days.

Garry Pearson and Ross Kirk won the rally in their Ford Fiesta Rally2 but that victory was not assured until the chequered flag fell as the Hyundai i20 R5 of Andy Scott and Laura Connell harried the Fiesta all the way. But even as he chased Garry, Andy had to keep an eye on his mirrors because North Yorkshire’s Joe Cunningham and Josh Beer finished only three seconds behind him in third place in their Ford Fiesta R5.

The Junior 1000 rally event also featured strongly in the entertainment providing the ideal platform to showcase entry level rallying. With so many families in attendance, youngsters had the perfect chance to pester parents for a rally car for Christmas.

Sitting beside Pearson in the Ford Fiesta Rally2 was long time friend and supporter, Ross Kirk. It was his first ever rally, and had a grandstand seat as Pearson put on an exemplary display of skill and attack finishing the opening stage three seconds clear of Scott in the Hyundai i20 R5 and Cunningham’s Fiesta which burst a steering pump pipe on SS3, those three crews going at it hammer and tongs all weekend.

However that first stage was stopped halfway through when John Paterson’s Ford Escort Mk2 thumped a chicane, reared up on two wheels, rolled over and slid 100 yards down the track on its roof. A spectacular crash although both Paterson and first time co-driver Allister McMillan climbed out OK. It was perhaps worthy of note that Paterson is a member of Coltness Car Club, and one can only imagine that someone in the heavens high above Knock Hill was looking down and feeling quite pleased that his car club’s motto was still to the fore – if in doubt, flat out!

Re-united with a car with which he was very familiar, Alister McRae was in a 2022 Hyundai Accent WRC with Ian Grindrod. McRae was going well in the machine up against the current spec Rally2 cars holding station just outside the top three till he lost boost with an EGR  clamp breakage and later the coil pack failed retiring the car on the last stage. Mark McCulloch and Michael Hendry also lost out on a top six placing with a burst power steering pipe in their Proton Evo.

A late spurt by Finlay Retson and Rhys Stoneman on their first run out in a Fiesta Rally2 saw them secure fourth place on an event which saw them getting quicker and quicker as they became more familiar with the car. That meant Gordon Morrison and Hannah McKillop lost out and they dropped to fifth in the Fiesta R5 having set a potential top three pace early on in the wet and blustery conditions on Saturday.

Ian Forgan and Chris Lees completed the top six in a ‘borrowed’ Fiesta Rally2 from David Henderson. This was their first outing since Forgan’s horrific crash on the Snowman but their somewhat cautious comeback was still just quick enough to hold off a charging young Max McRae and Macartan Kierans by one second in the youngster’s first run out in a Fiesta R2.

Jonny Milner finished seventh in a Toyota Corolla WRC owned by Colin Duncan McMath who was sitting in as co-driver for the weekend although McMath had cause to wince quite hard when the Toyota left the track at one point and headed for a gap between two earthmover tyre markers. Unfortunately the gap was not quite Toyota sized and much tank tape was called upon for repairs.

John Marshall and Craig Wallace were ninth in their Ford Fiesta Rally2 and might well have done better had they not been playing to the crowds with John Wink and Neil Shanks rounding off the top ten in their Hyundai i20 R5.

At the finish, Pearson was full of praise for the weekend and the rally: “As far as ‘single venue’ events go, this is as good as it gets. It’s been a brilliant weekend – it’s also been my first event win on Hankook Tyres!”

Just missing out on the top ten were Scott Beattie and Paula Swinscoe in the Evo7 complete with trailing blue smoke. Fortunately it wasn’t serious. This was the car’s first run out since the Speyside tumble and the transfer ‘box bolts had worked loose, so an easy fix. Going well in  12th place were Joe McKeand with Nikki Addison in the Subaru.

Highest placed 2WD car was the Escort Mk2 of Oliver and Steve Benton who finished 13th o/a although there were times when the spectators thought they were at a ‘drift’ event rather than a stage rally! Still there’s little better than watching an Escort employing the ‘sideways to victory’ approach to rallying, eh?

Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts were having another of ‘those days’ with the Focus WRC and when lesser mortals would have packed up and gone home, Bruce ‘drove around’ the car’s problems to finish 14th. The principal fault was with the gear selection electronics which was activating the clutch at times when it should giving the driving a choice of only three gears, but not necessarily the same three gears at the same time: “We’re just here for the craic, so we’re driving round the problem and trying to put on a show.” I don’t know how Bruce can be so cheery at times, because the power steering had a recurrence of its Argyll troubles. This time they knew what it was, a wee bearing inside the pump was losing grease so they packed it full of gear oil and carried on! On second thoughts, maybe I do know what gives him the energy to carry on – his Mum’s caramel tarts – I had two.

The second 2WD car home was the glorious blue Mk2 of Gwyndaf Evans with Phil Mills press-ganged into service and they finished just one second behind McComnbie. Only six seconds behind them was the third 2WD crew, also from Wales, Gavin Edwards and Caron Tomlinson first time out in their ‘new’ Mk2: “I had an accident four weeks ago in my old-tech 2 litre car, so this is new to me and it’s got a 2.5 Duratec with paddle shift. It’s an animal, I’m still trying to get used to the power!”

Then fourth 2WD in the top twenty was the Mk2 of Stephen and Darren Thompson finishing jus seven seconds behind Edwards and holding off the Evo9 of Angus Lawrie and Pal Gribben by five seconds although Angus might well have spent rather more than few seconds going sideways as he played to the gallery.

Tom and Andrew Blackwood were 19th overall in Tom’s gorgeous Ford Escort Cosworth with Andrew Gallagher and Bailey Callaghan 20th overall in a hastily assembled Subaru Impreza. He might have done better had he not had a misfire on one stage, the Launch Control stuck on for another and he bent a track control arm on another test.

Just outside the top twenty in 21st place were the top 1600 runners, Des Campbell and Craig Forsyth. As usual these two started the day with a ding-dong battle against the Vauxhall Corsa of Stephen Hay and Cameron Dunn. You’d have more chance of sliding a credit card between a Sumo wrestler’s buttocks than separating this pair. There was never more than 4 seconds between the two cars on Saturday but on the final stage on Sunday afternoon, Stephen got a maximum and plunged to 39th o/a. They had a bit of trouble on Saturday with gear selection and found that the whole gearbox top turret was loose and moving sideways!

At least they finished. Just as Saturday started with a bang, so did Sunday when Ian Paterson’s Subaru Impreza struck a chicane tyre, reared up on two wheels and flipped ending up facing the wrong way but clear of the stage. Young Archie Swinscoe had to retire the Vauxhall Adam but not for the want of trying. When the coil pack failed on Saturday morning, they sourced one at EuroParts in Dunfermline so Archie missed one stage as he jumped into the road car to go and fetch it. Then having fixed that they found a problem with the petrol tank, and that was it, game over.

In a hotly contested Historic class, Gwyndaf Evans was the victor in his Mk2 ahead of Wayne Sisson’s Mitsubishi Galant. In third place was the third part of the three-generation McRae entry, Jim McRae in another Mk2. Steve Bannister lost out with a broken distributor while Kenny Moore needed an axle change on Saturday afternoon in his Avenger.

Sam Pattison and Paula Swinscoe won the Junior 1000 event by nearly half a minute from  Kalum Graffin with co-driver Richard Crozier on handbrake duty as the youngster’s left hand was still not healed from his recent crash. Jack Ryan was third while the tie decider had to be applied to separate Fergus Chalmers and David Burden in joint fourth place.

1 Garry Pearson/Ross Kirk (Ford Fiesta Rally2) 45m  23s
2 Andy Scott/Laura Connell (Hyundai i20 R5) +25s
3 Joe Cunningham/Josh Beer (Ford Fiesta) +28s
4 Finlay Retson/Rhys Stoneman (Ford Fiesta Rally2) +35s
5 Gordon Morrison/Hannah Mckillop (Ford Fiesta R5) +44s
6 Ian Forgan/Chris Lees (Ford Fiesta Rally2) +45s
7 Max James McRae/Macartan Kierans (Ford Fiesta Rally2) +46s
8 Jonny Milner/Colin Duncan McMath (Toyota Corolla WRC) +1m  36s
9 John Marshall/Craig Wallace (Ford Fiesta Rally2) +1m 54s
10 John Wink/Neil Shanks (Hyundai i20 R5) +2m 09s

C1: Gwyndaf Evans/Phil Mills (Ford Escort RS1800)
C2: Des Campbell/Craig Forsyth (Peugeot 206)
C3: Oliver Benton/Steve Benton (Ford Escort Mk2)
C4: Gavin Edwards/Caron Tomlinson (Ford Escort)
C5: Pearson/Kirk 
Junior 1000
1 Sam Pattison/Paula Swinscoe (Skoda Citigo) 56m 00s
2 Kalum Graffin/Richard Morton Crozier (Skoda Citigo) +29s
3 Jack Ryan/Robin Nicolson (VW Up!) +1m 36s
4 Fergus Chalmers/Andrew Falconer (Toyota Yaris) +1m 45s
5 David Burden/Peter Williams (Citroen C1) +1m 45s
6 Oliver Phillips/Emma Morrison (VW Up!) +2m 12s
7 Rian Walker/Stuart McBride (Skoda Citigo) +2m 25s
8 Letisha Conn/Richard Stewart (Skoda Citigo) +3m 41s
9 Jack Birch/Mike Jode (Nissan Micra) +3m 50s
10 Evan Graham Findlay/Paul Tonner (Peugeot 107) +4m 19s
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