Thursday, 13 August 2020

Rally - Knockhill tales

Empty terraces, empty tums and nae tread ... Although those who were at Knockhill last Saturday enjoyed their day out, it was sad to see the empty spectator terraces overlooking the Hairpin. Normally abuzz with chatter and excitement, the place was almost bereft of life under the current Covid19 restrictions.

There was however one bright spot, an abundance of essential supplies from a certain south west bakery firm. Naturally, and purely, in the interests of quality control, they had to be sampled. Empty cake boxes all round. Does a strawberry tart count as one of your five healthy fruit portions per day? If so, then a certain Mr Bunnet will be healthy for a full week!

Speaking of the south west, an ex-rally driver appeared as part of The Sheriff's support team. This was the first timeout for the Mk2 and said ex-rally driver was apparently offering some constructive criticism and 'helpful' driving hints to the car's new owner. In return for his pre-rally prep on the new machine, The Sheriff turned to his 'crew chief' and said: "Away ye go an' use up these auld tyres!" And use them up he did!

There was  a healthy turn out of Marshals too and it was good to see some current rally drivers there helping out at the stage finish waving the chequered flag. No doubt the Highland town would have been a quieter place last weekend as the 'Trio from Tain' descended on the Kingdom of Fife.

The trio included the driver of a certain black and yellow Vauxhall engined Suzuki and former Subaru pilot now converted to Mk2 runner. They had driven down on the Friday and spent the night in the nearby historic tourist resort of Tillicoultry - on the basis that the name of the place made it sound quite attractive.

The first pub they visited generated the view that: "Some sawdust on the flair would have upgraded the premises," so another hostelry was sought. It must have passed muster, it was sair heids all round on Saturday morning.

And there they were, sticking resolutely to their post, with the sun blazing down on their hat-less, follicly challenged nappers and dehydrated bodies and wishing for some of Knockhill's reputedly cooling rain. You'd think they'd learn, eh?

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Rally - A strange day out

The sound of rally car engines firing up generated excitement and expectancy, tinged with a little bit of nostalgia, they had been silent for over 4 months. As the sun beat down on Knockhill, the tarmac shimmered in the heat with dust spirals swirling off the gravel in the cooling breeze. But this wasn't a rally.

This was a 'Practice Day' organised by Alan Kirkaldy who had hired the circuit and then phoned around to see who was interested. He was a wee bit surprised at the result. Knockhill had allowed a maximum 50 'entries' and although 50 did indeed express interest, 47 actually turned up yesterday to blow the cobwebs out of their intakes and burnish the seized-up rust in their oxters.

Run on a 'Track Day' format, the 47 cars and drivers, had four runs of the Knockhill Special Stage (Track plus Hillside) one way and then 3 runs in reverse direction. There were no Marshals with clocks at Stage Start or Stage Finish and no Timing beams, the cars were just flagged of from a standing start and then waved down with a chequer at the finish. There was no Scrutineering and no Stewards either. Sadly, no spectators. This was a closed-gate event with a limit on numbers attending with the drivers.

Race suits and crash hats were required, but there was no requirement for co-drivers which allowed 'guests' and family members to have a ride in the hot seat.

The result was a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere although social distancing meant that the usual banter between crews was rather more difficult as folk stood apart and shouted at each other.

The day was well named a 'Practice Day'. Having watched those deprived rallyists it was obvious that some were indeed in dire need of practice, whilst others were there to try new cars, test 'lockdown' rebuilds, or play with suspension settings and just let off steam.

Having accused Donnie MacDonald of showboating the last time he was here, and been criticised for it, I make no apologies for doing so again. Tyre smoke accompanied the Lancer's progress as he braked into the Hairpin, powered round and out of it, using the throttle to steer it. He wasn't alone, Alan 'Drift King' Kirkaldy was at it too, and not just on the Hairpin as a lurid spin on the Hillside early on proved. Greg McKnight was back behind the wheel of his newly finished Mk2 on which he commenced the build some 4 years back! Using Mark McCulloch's 'old' Vauxhall unit, there was still sufficient power to get the tail out and hold it out. And whereas these guys looked mostly in control, Colin Gemmell looked mostly out of control getting the Mk2 up to some wild angles. As expected, the Mk2s of Ricky Wheeler, Ross Marshall, Ross Auld, Kyle Adam, Alex Adams and Brian Watson, were up to similar tricks as was Kieron O'Kane's Opel Ascona.

John Rintoul and Tom Blackwood were the tidiest of the 4WD brigade in their Fiesta R5s as were the Subarus of Ian and Stuart Paterson while Graeme Sherry proved that he is now getting to grips with his recently acquired Subaru.

Stuart Irvine gave his Hyundai Accent WRC  its first run out since he got it and Ross Hunter was trying out the ex-Greg McKnight Lancer which he purchased in Ireland two weeks ago. Well, not exactly it's first run out: "I took it round the industrial estate last night!" said Ross. Robin Hamilton also took the opportunity to try out the historic spec Mk1 Escort he bought from Gordon Boyd with the plan being to keep it for show and use his Talbot Sunbeam on events like the Lombard RAC Rally - when it returns! Another driver who went shopping in Ireland was Jim McDowall. He was there yesterday with the Mk2 he bought late last year with Jamie giving the Focus a run out. That meant Charlotte was back at base running the breakdown business while the boys were out to play!

There was of course much more to see, watch and chat about, but even as a 'non-event', the day out was magic, pure magic. Just one downside - it left us all wanting more.

Given the success of the day, Knockhill is giving serious consideration to running more Track Days just for rally cars, allowing them to use both the track and Hillside. If I hear of anything, I'll let you know.

As for the last word, that comes from Ian Paterson, who took Mrs Paterson out for two runs: "That's the quietest Claire has been in the 25 years we have been married," he said. I'll bet she made up for it on the run home, eh?

Oh yes! I have a couple more pics and stories to tell - - - if I dare.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Rally - Films & Forums

The Internet has made a huge impact on modern life, but not necessarily in a good way. Like all good things, there is a downside. Although rallying has benefited greatly with on line news, action film clips, event results and on-line chat, it has killed off the club night. Even worse, it has killed off the Rally Forum.

In the days before Zoom and Facetime, car club members actually met up face to face in pubs and clubs around the country on a regular basis. The highlight of many monthly club nights was the arrival of the latest Castrol film. These 16mm films were professionally produced reports of rallies (and race meetings and speed events) and were the only way to see rally cars in action in far off, and not so far off, places. The films were posted out or sent by British Rail Red Star (and returned) which meant a club member had to be delegated to assume responsibility for this task, hire a projector and screen, and hope someone could operate them!

TV coverage of the sport was hopeless. The Black & White screen (colour was still a rarity!) was full of baggy shorted wee men kicking a ball up and down a grassy field between a couple of fishing nets strung over poles at either end.

The only time we saw rally cars on screen was Lombard RAC rally time in November. That was why the film nights were so popular. It wasn't only Castrol who produced these films though, other companies and sponsors did so too, like Champion spark plugs, Dunlop and Goodyear tyres while car manufacturers also produced films but these were usually biased!

Forums were another way of seeing the stars. These professionally staged shows toured the country showing a film or two during the evening and also had an invited panel of guests and a host who indulged in on-stage chat for the information and entertainment hungry audience.

At their height, rally forums could attract huge audiences. The Rothmans Roadshows in the early 1980s took things to a new level. The fag company really put the colour, pizzazz  and professionalism into these Roadshows with high profile guests and star presenters, and quizzes and prizes to get the crowd going. Often the star prize was a Rothmans rally jacket. Worth more than their weight in gold at the time!

The idea quickly caught on with many individual national and club rallies and car clubs staging their own Forum nights. Pre-rally Forums were a staple of Scottish Championship rallies in the early days with raucous nights in the Mercury Motor Inn  in Inverness, the Altens Skean Dhu in Aberdeen and the Cartland Bridge Hotel in Lanark among many popular venues.

Forums were also used to attract audiences to awards nights. For instance, Jim McRae and Ken Wood were the stars of a rather special Forum night at the end of season Association of West of Scotland Motor Sports Clubs (AWSMSC) awards night in Motherwell Civic Centre way back in 1984. Jim and Ken also had the job of handing out the prizes to the AWSMSC's navigational rally, autotest and speed event winners.

Although such get-togethers have gone out of fashion, there are still some clubs and events which host Forums, the principal one of which in Scotland must be the notorious Thursday night Forum in the Aros Hall in Tobermory before the Mull Rally each year. Remember the flying tee-shirts? If you haven't been, you won't have a clue!

Although this might not be the time to re-introduce the concept, maybe when this Covid19 business is under control, it would be a good way of getting back together again.

At least when you're face to face with someone, pint glass in hand, the person you are talking to is not going to freeze mid chat and then disappear into an inky blackness leaving you sitting there talking to a blank screen and feeling a right chookie - as in a recent Zoom call!

Aye the Internet has many advantages, but there's nothing to beat the human to human interface, is there?

Monday, 3 August 2020

Brian Patterson, 1944-2020

Irish rallying lost its sparkle at the weekend with the passing of Brian Patterson after a short illness. And not just Irish rallying, right across the UK the double act of Brian & Liz Patterson brought enlightenment and entertainment to the masses with their mobile on-event Rally Bulletin service.

Long before the smartphone, there was only one way to find out what was going on during a rally, get yourself a 'RallyNews' bulletin.

Brian was a regular sight at stage finishes and service areas gathering news from drivers, co-drivers and officials which was then passed to Liz who typed it up, cut the duplicator skins and then ran off thousands of copies of their one page summaries on hand cranked printers. In the early days, the bulletins were tucked under the windscreen wipers of their Volvo estate for fans and crews to pick up in passing, but such was the demand for information that volunteer crews were called upon to distribute them around car parks, spectator areas and anywhere else along the route of a rally.

Far from making the job easier, the arrival of portable generators, photocopiers and laptops simply meant they could do more. And they never let up. The pair of them seemed to flit from one rally to the next and were probably one of the most frequent users of the ferry service between Ireland and the UK as they hopped backwards and forwards covering events right across Ireland and all rounds of the British Championship plus Britain's WRC counter and many other events in between. Their pace and commitment was relentless, and their output genuinely informative, prolific and humorous.

That was why Brian had such an encyclopaedic knowledge of the sport and the personalities, but he was just as interested in the tales of those at the back of the field as he was those at the front.

His knowledge and insight also came from his early career exploits as a driver and that background was used too when he established the Patterson's Pacenotes service.

That was perhaps another reason for the speed at which bulletins were distributed. The Volvo gave way to a Mercedes estate which was hussled mercilessly around the lanes in Ireland and Wales and the back roads of England and Scotland in pursuit of the cars and the stories. And when you consider the amount of hardware and paperwork that was carried in the back of that long suffering wagon one can only marvel at how the suspension and tyres coped on that overworked beast of burden which seemed to spend most of its life on its bumpstops with an engine which was never cold!

The whole sport will miss him, the bunnet and the ever present cigarette, but none more so than Liz and the boys. Our condolences to them right now and their many friends right across the globe.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Rally - Proposed 2021 SRC Dates

The KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship has revealed its proposed calendar for next year with the best 5 scores from 7 to count:


Scottish Rally Championship 2021 calendar:

Rd01, March 6, Snowman Rally, Inverness

Rd02, April 17, Speyside Stages, Elgin, Moray

Rd03,May 30, Jim Clark Reivers Rally, Duns

Rd04, June 25/26, Argyll Rally, Dunoon

Rd05, July 24, Scottish Rally, Lockerbie

Rd06, August 14, Grampian Forest Rally, Banchory

Rd07, September 18, Galloway Hills Rally, Dalbeattie

**October 23, Carlisle Stages, Carlisle

(**reserve event)