… Knockhill Stages Rally, Sun 9 Dec …
If you thought the idea of ‘circuit stage rallying’ was an abomination then a trip to Knockhill last Sunday for the Knockhill Stages Rally might just have sorted out your opinions. Although last year’s winner of this inaugural event, Chris West did it again this time, the outcome was in doubt till the finish. Second placed John Marshall was only 7 seconds behind West, while Andrew Kirkaldy finished third, just ONE second behind Marshall. And that’s not all, Donnie the Ditch was leading till trouble struck and Taylor Gibb was on a charge by the finish. Crikey, you just didn’t know where to look. There were spins on the ice, lost souls in the darkness and both fire-works on and off the track!
This was the third round of the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship so quite a few of the contenders had made the long trip north to be greeted by the colourful celtic hordes who normally inhabit the Cobble Shop championship series plus a few interlopers who were there just for the craic.
The first couple of stages were really icy in places, then the sun came out for the next four, then we had a couple of wee showers of frozen rain and finally the last two tests were run in bitterly cold darkness. All of Scotland’s seven seasons in one day.
Speaking of ice, there was one patch in particular which claimed at least three crews on the opening test. It was on the approach to a chicane at the far side of the circuit. Running number 2 on the road, Alan Kirkaldy was first to fall victim to its dark, hidden menace. The Fiesta locked up and hit a tyre marker. The damage was repairable, but the radiator had been punctured. End of outing.
Next to strike trouble was Nigel Feeney in the MINI. He managed to carry on but a drive pulley belt had been damaged and it was shredding. Another for an early bath. Then Ricky Wheeler blunted the nose of the Escort and he too retired from the fray with a punctured radiator.
Perhaps running at number 9 was of some benefit to Donnie MacDonald as he could see what was happening up ahead. Regardless of that, the harsh staccato of the Mitsubishi made its intentions clear. He was fastest over the first two stages of the day to snatch an early lead.
After a cautious start and with the sun rising, Chris West was able to put down the fearsome power of his 2.5 litre Peugeot Maxi and he was fastest over SS3. He beat MacDonald by a second, and then lost out by two seconds over SS4 allowing MacDonald to extend his lead.
John Marshall in the Subaru was also in the hunt at this early stage, although he too opted for a cautious start over the first two tests, separating the top two, and completing the first four stages in 3rd place overall.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the pace of 4th placed Allan Smith. First time out in Brian Watson’s Lancer he was setting quick times and staying out of trouble. Behind him Taylor Gibb and Andrew Kirkaldy, on only his second rally, were holding 5th and 6th places.
It all started to go wrong for MacDonald over stages 5 and 6. The Lancer’s clutch started to fail allowing Marshall to nip ahead into the lead while third place West closed the gap. Gibb too was on the move, displacing Smith for fourth while 6th placed Kirkaldy set fastest time of all on SS6 serving notice of his intent and closing down the gap on those ahead.
Despite clipping a couple of tyre markers, Ross McFadzean was in good form too with the Subaru, but right on his tail was the 1600 Nova of Stephen Hay. The progress of the wee Nova was a treat to behold with Hay leaning hard on his rubber and finding grip where others were chickening out. Tenth placed Ross Hunter was providing a similar visual treat with the Peugeot 205, both of these drivers making the most of wet and slippery conditions. Between these two was Colin Gemmell in the Escort Mk2 in 9th place.
The lead changed again over stages 7 and 8 with West powering past Marshall to take the lead as MacDonald was forced out with clutch failure, but fastest over both those stages was the red Mk2 of Kirkaldy and he moved up to a threatening 4th place ahead of Gibb. Game on, eh?
After the bonfire and fireworks, the final two tests took to the circuit in pitch blackness. I don’t know what Kirkaldy was eating but the carrots must have been supercharged, or maybe it was just down his past Sportscar racing and Le Mans experience. He was impressively quickest over the final two tests and he, oh, so nearly caught the top two. West hung on to victory by 7 seconds from Marshall while the Subaru had one second in hand at the finish over the Mk2.
Gibb was 4th ahead of Smith while Hunter snatched 6th away from McFadzean and Hay. Barry Morris finished 9th in his Mk2 with Mike Taylor rounding off the top ten in his Sunbeam Lotus.
And just as Hunter and Hay were impressive, so too was Kyle Adam. He scored his best result to date with 12th overall and 2nd in class behind Hay in his Escort 1600.
Tom Blackwood debuted his awfy smart new Mk2 but the gearbox started getting noisy and by the end of the 5th test, Tom called it a day to save any further damage. Brian Watson was another forced out by mechanical failure. In this case, a pipe above the gearbox fractured and sprayed oil which then caught fire. Who’d have thought Brian could move so quick? He was outa there quicker than Superman in a greased up phone box. The car is OK but the electrical wiring got a good scorching, so that was the end of his day.
Craig Aston’s Toyota Yaris looked quick as he sped to 1st in the 1400 class just ahead of Innes Mochrie in the Metro with Johnnie Mackay an exceptional 3rd, only 4 seconds behind Mochrie, in his Nissan Micra.
Hay and Adam took the honours in the 1600 class ahead of Paul Sheard in the Mazda MX5 while Hunter was the 2 litre class winner from Richard Wells in his Fiesta R2T and Jim Rintoul driving the family Fiesta after regular pilot Graeme opted for a boozy works night out the night before and was reckoning he would be in no fit state to drive the car on Sunday!
1 Chris West/Keith Hounslow (Peugeot 306 Maxi Kit Car) 48mins 54secs
2 John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Subaru Impreza STi) 49:01
3 Andrew Kirkaldy/Peter Carstairs (Ford Escort Mk2) 49:02
4 Taylor J Gibb/Jane Nicol (Mitsubishi Evo9) 49:15
5 Allan Smith/Craig MacIvor (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo) 49:52
6 Ross Hunter/Chris Lightfoot (Peugeot 205) 51:18
7 Ross McFadzean/Andrew Blackwood (Subaru Impreza STi) 51:43
8 Steven Hay/Scott Smith (Vauxhall Corsa) 51:55
9 Barry Morris/Declan Campbell (Ford Escort Mk2) 52:14
10 Mike Taylor/Martin Haggett (Talbot Lotus Sunbeam) 52:14
Class A – up to and including 1400cc
Craig Aston/Matt Walk (Toyota Yaris SR) 58:34
Class B – 1401cc up to and including 1600cc
Steven Hay/Scott Smith (Vauxhall Corsa) 51:55
Class C – 1601cc up to and including 2000cc
Ross Hunter/Chris Lightfoot (Peugeot 205) 51:18
Class D1 – 2001cc and above 2WD
Barry Morris/Declan Campbell (Ford Escort Mk2) 52:14
Class D2 – 2001cc and above 4WD
Taylor J Gibb/Jane Nicol (Mitsubishi Evo9) 49:15