… Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally, 11 Sept 2021 …
Although David Bogie and John Rowan won the Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally, much attention was paid to the battle for national honours in this year’s KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship. This was the penultimate round and with four scores to count out of the shortened five round series, there was little to choose between the top three point scorers so far, Jock Armstrong, Freddie Milne and Garry Pearson.
With only one score from three to his credit, Bogie was technically out of the running, but a storming drive from Garry Pearson and Niall Burns in the Skoda Fabia R5 pitched them into pole position for the title. They finished the rally in second place over half a minute clear of the Ford Fiesta WRC of Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson. As for Pearson’s two main title rivals, they both struck trouble on the day.
And perhaps that was the story of the rally. Of the 91 starters, 32 failed to reach the Finish line. That was all down to the conditions of the three forest stages, each run twice. Fast, flowing and fabulous just about sums it up with one Irish crew earnestly asking, “Can we take these roads back to Ireland with us!”
A couple of light rain showers in the early morning had dampened the stage surfaces making Stage 1 in Cairn Edward forest unpredictably slippy in places. That called for a degree of caution for Bogie in the same MINI WRC with which he scored his record 7th win on the recent RSAC Scottish Rally.
Jock Armstrong and Cameron Fair equalled Bogie’s time in their Ford Fiesta R5 but there was no such inhibition from the previous weekend’s Woodpecker Stages winners Garry Pearson and Niall Burns. The Skoda Fabia R5 crew simply went for it and were rewarded with a faster time from the tying Bogie and Armstrong, albeit by just one second!
Also going for it was the Fiesta R5 of Freddie Milne and Patrick Walsh, but their title hopes were scuppered when the Fiesta got a wheel on the grass at a hairpin, spun, and beached! Stuck fast, and not a mark on the paint.
County Tyrone crew, Jason Mitchell and Peter Ward were 4th quickest in their Ford Fiesta Rally2 just ahead of the Fiesta R5 of Vivian Hamill and Andrew Grennan. Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson rounded off the top six in their Fiesta WRC. However there was a wee surprise behind them, two Mitsubishi Lancers in the top ten mixing it with the ‘world’ cars. Of course Michael Binnie and Claire Mole were up there, but beating them by two seconds were Scott MacBeth and Daniel Forsyth and this despite damage to a front bottom arm. There might have been another Lancer up there, but the Keith Morris/Terry Mallin machine crashed out of the running.
As for ‘lucky white heather’ Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts, they were on for a good time, till the Focus WRC got stuck in 6th gear. On investigation at the roadside after the stage they found a blown fuse; “We think we fixed it,” said Bruce. Also in trouble was the Fiesta R5 of Ian Forgan and Chris Lees: “The boost pipe blew off the turbo on the start line, ” said Ian, ” we cruised through the stage in road mode!”
Pearson was in ‘attack mode’ again through Stage 2 at Fleet, another second clear of Bogie and 6 up on his other main rival, Armstrong. Hamill was 4th quickest this time ahead of Petch who had tied on 5th quickest with that man Binnie. Mitchell lost out with a rear puncture halfway through the test but worse befell MacBeth. Having earlier damaged a front bottom arm, the Lancer clouted something on the road and bent a rear bottom arm which pitched the car off the road. Game over.
The mood changed in Stage 3 at Dunharberry. No more pussy footing around, Bogie hitched up his breeks and was 8 seconds quicker than Pearson with Armstrong third quickest tying with Jason Mitchell. Hamill was 5 seconds behind but 3 seconds up on another tied duo, Petch and Binnie.
Rory Young gave Allan Cathers cause to have a sharp intake of breath at the hairpin near the finish: “We were in a ditch just after the hairpin,” said Allan, “if it had been the driver’s side, we’d have gone off!” Scott Beattie and Paula Swinscoe stalled their Evo7 at the same place while Liam Regan and David McElroy lost time in their Evo9 with a rear puncture and were also coping with a misfire. Having set a top 10 time in the previous stage, John Wink and Neil Shanks exited this stage with a grumbling bearing in the Hyundai i20 R5 but made it to service where King Ken was waiting with his magic wand.
Not so lucky were Sean Devine and Martin Forrest who had set top ten times in the first two tests but suffered a sore one in here. “It was a long fast corner,” said Sean, “the car was sliding but still under control. Unfortunately it hit a big hole and it was over and out.”
The first stage after service featured a rerun of Cairn Edward for Stage 4 and Bogie was now in command, 4 seconds up on Pearson. Petch was now making up time and he tied with Niall McCullagh and Ryan McCloskey for 3rd quickest, now that Niall was gaining more confidence in the Fiesta R5: “It’s my first time in LHD,” he said, “we’ve been in lots of co-driver ditches!” Binnie was 5th quickest and Milne, although now out of contention was bagging some more ‘seat time’ and was 6th fastest. Behind them were another four Scots filling the top ten times, McCombie, Wink, Beattie and Forgan.
Sadly, no Armstrong. The Fiesta eventually limped out of the forest with gear selection troubles although Rory Young’s Fiesta Rally3 didn’t. It was parked in another ditch. Another good run was spoiled when Jason Mitchell parked up with Stephen Dickson and Patrick McCrudden also calling it day when their Evo9 also expired.
Even a leaking brake pipe couldn’t stop the leading 2WD runners, Mark McCulloch and Michael Hendry in the Mk2, as their main rivals for that award, Shane McGrirr and Darren Curren had a puncture in their Toyota Starlet.
Bogie was fastest again through Stage 5, a re-visit to Fleet, with Pearson just 8 seconds adrift of the World car. Petch was next up ahead of McCullagh, Forgan and Martin Cairns/Kenny Bustard in their Fiesta WRC. McCombie, Wink and Beattie were again maintaining pace in the top ten, but Binnie wasn’t. The Mitsubishi had blown a turbo and he was out. Vivian Hamill’s R5 also ground to a halt and although he eventually got it going again, a podium finish was long gone.
As for Jock Armstrong, he was gamely hanging on despite his gear selection problems but he was haemorrhaging time.
The final test, Stage 6 at Dunharberry brought things to a close and confirmed Bogie’s mastery of the conditions, 11 seconds up on Pearson who tied with Petch for 2nd fastest. Getting quicker as the day progressed, Scott Beattie was 4th fastest ahead of Ian Forgan and Bruce McCombie. McCullagh, Devine, Wink and Cairns completed the top ten quickest drivers through here.
Even though he finished the stage with a puncture, Liam Regan spoke to an officiating Kirsty Riddick at the Stop line saying: “That was the best rally ever.” An opinion shared by quite a few others as well.
Sadly there was no High Street or town centre finish this year, although perhaps more fittingly, the champagne spraying was held against a backdrop of sunlit trees and blue skies with Bogie and Rowan celebrating another victory. As for Pearson and Burns their smiles were surely even wider than those of the winners, their 2nd place overall had scored sufficient points for them to assume the unofficial title of ‘favourites’ for this year’s championship crown. However, as Garry observed, this is rallying, it ain’t over yet.
In third place at the finish were Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson marking their first return to the podium in over a year. In fourth place were a fortunate Niall McCullagh and Ryan McCloskey, fortunate because even a 30 second penalty for striking a chicane didn’t cost them any places.
Scott Beattie and Paula Swinscoe sealed an excellent run with 5th place overall just ahead of John Wink and Neil Shanks finally getting the result they have long deserved. Ian Forgan and Chris lees finished 8th doing their championship hopes a fair bit of good and mention must be made of Angus Lawrie and Paul Gribben’s 10th place finish first time out in Angus’ self built Lancer Evo9. The former Citroen C2 pilot showed that all he needed to mix it with the front runners was a car capable of doing so. He should give Binnie and MacBeth a run for their money next year.
Although he finished just outside the top ten, in 11th place, Armstrong still tops the KNC Groundworks Scottish Championship points table although he will have a score to drop which puts Pearson in the driving seat. Also just outside the top ten, in 12th place overall were the top 2WD winners, McCulloch and Hendry, just ahead of McCombie and Coutts with Bruce still smiling: “We fixed our problem, but we haven’t cured it,” so there is work yet to be done.
Ian Baumgart and Dave Robson were 14th in the Subaru while one of the stars of the show (again!) was Peter Stewart in the Peugeot 208 Rally4. With young Marchbank on foreign duty he had roped in one Kevin Rae Esq for co-driving duties and it was nice to see David Bogie’s former co-driver back in action. They finished a quite superb 15th overall on a day which favoured the fast and committed.
That said, there was no doubt about the day’s winner, Bogie averaged 65 mph over 40 miles in the Galloway ‘Grand Prix’! That’s some going.
1 David Bogie/John Rowan (MINI JCW WRC) 36m 57s
2 Garry Pearson/Niall Burns (Skoda Fabia R5) +29s
3 Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m 11s
4 Niall McCullagh/Ryan McCloskey (Ford Fiesta R5) +2m 07s
5 Scott Beattie/Paula Swinscoe (Mitsubishi Evo7) +2m 25s
6 John Wink/Neil Shanks (Hyundai i20 R5) +2m 30s
7 Martin Cairns/Kenny Bustard (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m 31s
8 Ian Forgan/Chris Lees (Ford Fiesta R5) +2m 42s
9 Niall Devine/Liam McIntyre (Mitsubishi Evo9) +2m 51s
10 Angus Lawrie/Paul Gribben (Mitsubishi Evo9) +3m 04s
C2: Fraser Smith/Steven Brown (Honda Civic)
C3: Peter Stewart/Kevin Rae (Peugeot 208 Rally4)
C4: Brian Ross/Jamie Mactavish (Ford Escort Mk2)
C5: Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry (Ford Escort Mk2)
C6: Paul McErlean/Niall Mckenna (Ford Escort Mk2)
C7: Michael Renton/John Shepheard (Subaru Impreza GC8)
C8: Niall Devine/Liam McIntyre (Mitsubishi Evo9)
C9: Scott Beattie/Paula Swinscoe (Mitsubishi Evo7)
C10: David Bogie/John Rowan (MINI JCW WRC)
C11: Stanley Orr/Graham Henderson (Ford Escort RS1600)
C12: Richard Spink/Nigel Hutchinson (Ford Escort RS 1800)
Provisional Championship leaderboard after 4 (of 5) Rounds:
1 Jock Armstrong, 107 pts
2 Ian Forgan, 97
3 Mark McCulloch, 92
4 Garry Pearson, 85
5 Scott Beattie, 71
6 Ian Baumgart, 68