Saturday 31 March 2012

Rally - Hunter Wins - Just!

Peter Hunter in the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9 won the 2012 Chsarterhall Stages Rally, but only just. He went into the final stage with a 14 second lead over Dale Robertson. “I thought I’d blown it,” said Peter, “I spent all day trying to avoid punctures and, bugger it, I felt a tyre go down just after the start. We did most of that stage with the puncture. I was sure Dale would have got me.”

He didn’t, the winner’s margin was 6 seconds after six stages.

Even so, Dale Robertson was happy with second place but there was a tie for third between Dom Buckley and Michael Glendinning, with Buckley getting the place courtesy of a faster stage time on the first stage of the day.

Billy McClelland sorted out his throttle trouble and scored fifth ahead of Doug Brydon, but Chris Collie was denied a finish when the centre diff broke in the Lancer.

Top two wheel drive runner was Michael Horne in seventh place but Martin Elsdon retired with broken front steering. Des Campbell was top FWD car in 13th placed with the wee Peugeot 206 just 7 seconds in front of Garry Pearson with the Micra. But Des was lucky: “I went into the last stage with half a minute lead and thought I would just ca’canny, but I had a rush of blood to the head, hit a marker tyre and nearly got stuck.”

Top Junior 1000 driver was Alexander Vassallo, the son of1994 Charterhall Stages winner Peter Vassallo who was here watching his lad on his second rally. Harry Marchbank was second with 8 of the ten Juniors finishing.

1 Peter Hunter, 39m 27s
2 Dale Robertson, 39m 33s
3 Dom Buckley, 39m 39s
4 Michael Glendinning, 39m 39s
5 Billy McClelland, 40m 11s
6 Doug Brydon, 40m 24s
7 Michael Horne, 41m 10s
8 Ivor Clark, 41m 43s
9 Lee Hastings, 41m 55s
10 Stuart Baillie, 42m 02s

Rally - Hunter still leads

Peter Hunter in the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9 has extended his lead after four stages on today’s Charterhall Stages Rally. He was fastest again on the third stage, but on the fourth, both Dom Buckley and Michael Glendinning matched him, so the fight is not over yet.

In second place, Dale Robertson is still quite happy: “This is just a shakedown for the Jim Clark Rally,” he said “I blew the engine at Knockhill so it has just been rebuilt and its got new diffs. I’m really happy with the car.”

Buckley is 13 seconds behind Robertson: “I punctured in stage 2,” he said, “and I spun on stage 4, plus I’ve had a couple of overshoots!”

Stuart Paterson is out following his fire earlier on, there is too much damage to the electrics but it could have been a lot worse: “I thought I was going to lose the car when I saw the flames,” said Stuart. Big brother Ian Paterson is out too with either diff or driveshaft failure.

Billy McClelland has dropped a couple of places in the top ten: “The throttle jammed open in that last test,” he said, “and I’ve kind of lost confidence in it, wondering if it will jam open again at the end of that 100 mph straight in there!”

Jim Sharp is on his third radiator change of the day: “The bottom plug keeps melting,” he explained,” and we’re losing water.”

Billy Cowe has been off twice,  losing time but no damage, Duncan Wardrop has had two punctures on two different stages, and Colin Gemmell came out of that last stage with two front punctures.

Top two wheel drive runner is Michael Horne in 8th place with Martin Elsdon nearly a minute behind but Michael’s biggest problem is his Dad, Jimmy, he wants to borrow a couple of tyres from son Michael for his own MkII: “The two rears are knackered,” said Jimmy, “it’s awfy hard on tyres out there.” But Hamish Kinloch is out, the Escort’s propshaft has broken.

1 Peter Hunter, 27m 15s
2 Dale Robertson, 27m 29s
3 Dom Buckley, 27m 42s
4 Michael Glendinning, 27m 43s
5 Doug Brydon, 28m 01s
6 Chris Collie, 28m 06s
7 Billy McClelland, 28m 10s
8 Michael Horne, 28m 28s
9 Lee Hastings, 28m 49s
10 Ivor Clark, 28m 52s

Rally - Hunter leads

Peter Hunter in the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9 has taken an early lead after two stages on today’s Charterhall Stages Rally in Berwickshire. He was fastest by 11 seconds from Dale Robertson on the first one and 4 seconds slower than Dale on the second – but that was because he spun the Lancer on the slippery surface. That’s because it rained this morning, but it’s a good job it did, it was billowing dust clouds like the Sahara yesterday!

So those two share the fastest times so far, but not far back is young Dom Buckley Jnr Jnr, the third generation of rallying Buckleys. He’s driving the same Impreza he last used on the Jim Clark Rally so considering his limited outings, he’s doing no bad.  Michael Glendinning has got off to a cautious start and is holding fourth in his Impreza from the EVO3 of Billy McClelland and the Impreza of Doug Brydon.

But Doug is lucky still to be going. The clutch was slipping badly on the first stage and the crew set to taking the gearbox out while someone was dispatched to his home nearby to get the spare clutch and bring it back in time to get it fitted and out out for the second stage!

It looks as though Stuart Paterson is out. He finished the stage with smoke billowing from the engine bay. A power steering pipe had punctured and the fluid had caught fire, but the fire was put out on the Finish line before too much damage was done.

Stuart Walker lost 4 minutes on the first stage with a front wheel puncture. It happened early so the crew had no choice but to stop and change it.

1 Peter Hunter, 15m 26s
2 Dale Robertson, 15m 33s
3 Dom Buckley, 15m 47s
4 Michael Glendinning, 15m 50s
5 Billy McClelland, 15m 55s
6 Doug Brydon, 15m 58s
7 Chris Collie, 15m 58s
8 Michael Horne, 16m 08s
9 Lee Hastings, 16m 23s
10 Jim Sharp, 16m 24s

Friday 30 March 2012

Rally - Charterhall

The PJ Planthire and Groundworks Charterhall Stages Rally gets under way at 9.00 am tomorrow morning (Saturday 31st) with the first of six Special Stages round the old wartime airfield and post war race circuit.

The full entry list is up on the website at:

The event has attracted an excellent, full-house entry of 60 cars and crews, plus reserves, and there are ten Junior (under 17 years of age!) entries in the 1 litre category having their first outing in the full glare of the rallying public.

If I can get a signal, I'll put some info up during the day on the Blog.

Road - Fuel strike off?

Earlier today, the Unite union ruled out Easter strike action by tanker drivers. The announcement came as the union confirmed it was ready to start substantive talks through ACAS as soon as possible. So we can all breathe a little sigh of relief that our Easter hols will not be disrupted.

However, there is more to the dispute than wages, pensions and conditions, there is the matter of safety, and it is one that should concern all of us. In their bid to cut costs some tanker driver employers have been accused of reducing training for drivers, making transport and delivery schedules tighter, and cutting corners when making deliveries at fuel stations.

For instance a service station staff member is supposed to oversee a tanker driver making a delivery to ensure the right product goes into the correct tanks. But if staff are busy that doesn’t always happen.

The more responsible firms offer tanker drivers 10 to 12 days of training per year, but apparently there are some ‘cut-price’ operators out there who are putting out new drivers after a day’s training. That can’t be right, surely?

As customers and road users we have every right to be concerned. The next time you see a fuel tanker on the road, just ask yourself one question: “How much training has that driver had to be entrusted with, and responsible for, 38,000 litres of highly inflammable (explosive?) liquid?”

If that went up, it would singe more than your eyebrows.

Race - Ecurie Ecosse

Photo by: Xynamic Motorsport Photography
Is it just me, or is there something not quite right about Ecurie Ecosse’ return to the tracks this year? Is this a portent of things to come? Has Ecurie Ecosse achieved something about which Wee Eck can only dream? Have we finally become an independent nation that has embraced Europe?

With hot pies and pizza crunch under threat from the UK VAT man, are we about to embrace sauerkraut and bratwurst? Is this the beginning of the end – a Scottish-German partnership?

The news that Ecurie Ecosse will campaign, of all things, a German car this year will upset some of the diehards. The team which was synonymous with Jaguar and Le Mans, Aston Martin and Austin Rover, Mallock and Vauxhall will be running a BMW Z4 GT3 in the British GT Championship and pan-European Blancpain Endurance Series.

The team will debut the new car at Oulton Park next weekend (April 7-9) on the opening round of the British GT Championship. The following weekend they’re off to Monza for the opening event in the 2012 Blancpain Endurance Series.

Two Scottish drivers, Andrew Smith and Alasdair McCaig, will be joined by English drivers Oliver Bryant and Joe Twyman in the driver line-up.

The team has just concluded a deal with London's foremost historic automobile specialists, Fiskens, to run in their colours with Fiskens joining team supporters John Clark Motor Group, Cotton Tree, Bremont and Ragus.

But here’s the thing, Gregor Fisken actually drove for Ecurie Ecosse ten years ago taking third place in the Group C2 class at the 2002 Nurburgring 24 Hours - in a BMW M3.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Rally - Capito joins VW

Big news today, Jost Capito, Ford’s Director, Global Performance Vehicles and Motorsport Business Development has left the company to head up Volkswagen’s growing motorsports division.  

He will replace Kris Nissen who has been overseeing Volkswagen’s move into the WRC with the new Polo. He was also instrumental in VW’s one-two victory at the 2009 Dakar Rally and topped that with one-two-three victories at the Dakar Rally in 2010 and 2011.

Himself a former motor cycle racer and Dakar competitor, Jost Capito previously worked for BMW and Porsche where he became head of Porsche Motorsport Organisation. In 1996 he went to Sauber Petronas Engineering HG and then moved over to run the Red Bull Sauber Formula One operation.

Gerard Quinn will continue to work as Ford Motorsport director in Europe, but one wonders if this is why development of the next-generation Ford Focus RS has been delayed!

Blethers - Well plooked!

Back at the desk this morning. Been suffering badly since getting back from Spain last week, but it wasn’t Spanish tummy, it was Queasyjet backache. In fact the flight was so bad it would make me think twice about long trips in an Airbus A319 again.

The three hour trip from Glasgow to Malaga was bad enough, but the trip back was even worse. On the way out I was squeezed between a big bloke with asthma in the middle and the fuselage on the other side. Every time he breathed in I got squashed like a plook between a teenager’s thumbs. I couldn’t even twist in my seat to give us more room because my knees were jammed against the seat in front. On the way back, the plane was full of sunburnt, wailing weans all trying to out-scream each other.

It made me think though, if Health & Safety is so worried about Noise Levels that we need to control the glorious sound of rally cars with decibel meters at every rally, then they should take a look at, and listen to, an airyplane full of greetin’ weans.

Apparently there is a 124 seat standard version of the Airbus A319, but the ‘budget operators’ tend to specify the 156 seat version – but maybe that’s to make sardines feel at home.

It reinforced my view that the budget operators do not regard their passengers as customers or clients, just commodities. That view was reinforced by the in-flight snack menu. This lists the most expensive items at the top, and makes you wonder if it’s deliberate?

When the stewardess starts shouting above the din of the weans: “Whit dae yeez waaant tae eat?” - the harassed commodity just picks the item at the top of the page, and which just happens to be the dearest!

Thursday 22 March 2012

Road - Blue Miracle

The previous item about the Mercedes-Benz celebrations at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed reminded me of an article I wrote some years back (and I can’t find it now!) about a rather unique Mercedes-Benz vehicle. It was called the ‘Blue Miracle’.

In 1954 the company built a high-speed race car transporter for its Silver Arrows which it used that year and the following year. Its sole purpose was to provide rapid transport of spare cars to the race track or damaged cars back to the plant.

Based on a 300S saloon, the forward cab enabled a flat platform to be built behind it to carry the race cars. With a 3 litre/196 bhp engine, this 6.75 metre long machine was claimed to have a top speed of 105 mph!
Sadly it was scrapped in 1967 long before folks thought of transport museums and heritage, but in 1993 the Mercedes-Benz Museum commissioned an exact replica to be built and this is it.

Unfortunately, there were no drawings or specifications, so everything had to be worked out from pictures and notes that were still around. Apparently it took over 6000 man hours to build it and the machine was handed over to the Museum in 2001, but isn’t it worth it?

The hope is that this will be one of the surprises that Mercedes-Benz is planning for this year’s Goodwood. Fingers crossed.

Road - Just do it

The Goodwood Festival of Speed should be placed in every automotrivia lover’s list of ‘things to do before you kick the bucket’. 

I know it’s far away, but it’s always well worth the effort. I’ve been twice to Goodwood, and yes, it’s so close to France that you can smell the garlic wafting across the Channel. If it bothers you, take a clothes peg!

I know it has nothing to do with Scottish motoring or motor sport, but there is a Scottish connection this year, albeit a tenuous one – in the driver line-up.
Taking star billing at this year’s event from June 28 to July 1, will be Mercedes-Benz. 

Marcus Breitschwerdt, President and CEO, Mercedes-Benz UK, has also promised a few extra surprises: “We celebrate 60 years of our SL-Class with the latest model arriving in the UK just in time for the Summer.  There will also be plenty of new delights to see, in what is a very busy year for Mercedes-Benz in the UK.”
The theme for this year’s Festival is ‘Young Guns – Born to Win’ with the company bringing more than its fair share of young guns to prominence through the years, most recently Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton.

Four historic racing cars have been nominated to tackle the famous Goodwood Hillclimb with Mercedes-Benz celebrating 60 years of the legendary W194 300 SL, which was a highly successful racing car two years before the ‘Gullwing’ road-going model appeared.
One of the Mercedes-Benz ‘fin-tail’ saloons from the early 1960s, the W111 220 SE of 1963, will also tackle the course as will a 1997 CLK-GTR FIA GT racer.
The driver line-up is expected to include Klaus ‘King’ Ludwig, Jochen Mass, Bernd Schneider and our own Paul Stewart - Jackie’s boy!

Alongside the racers will be a slevveritious selection of current road going stuff including an SLS AMG Roadster, C 63 AMG CoupĂ© Black Series, CLS 63 AMG and an SLK 55 AMG plus the outrageous ML 63 AMG. Just make sure the wife doesn’t let you take the credit cards with you.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Road - Crafter follow-up

There are some good clips of the Crafter 4Motion in action, plus a couple of scary bits on the 'elephant steps' on YouTube at:

Road - Lost in Spain - well, nearly!

Well, there I was, steering wheel in one hand, gearshift in the other, and a map reproduced from the back of a pocket diary in the other. I was on the wrong side of the road and the signs were all in Spanish. And all I had to do was get myself from Malaga to a spot on the map in the Serrani de Ronda (and I thought Ronda was in Wales!) mountains to the west, a distance of some 120 kms! I got there, but had done 146 kms!

Because there was an odd number of British journalists (or a number of odd British journalists?) in the party, I was left on my own, and the English wonder why the Scots have a chip on their shoulders.

They were paired up in twos - a map follower and sign reader, and a driver - simples. But the vans had SatNavs, although I was told that on no account was I to use the GPS system which was inaccurate in the mountains.

Well, I cheated. I switched it on. At least the map showed the layout of the road ahead, most of the time. Working with the supplied map directions and the SatNav display I managed to set off the in the right direction, most of the time. Then came the new roads and the roadworks.  The little SatNav arrow was taking the van across virgin territory and the Spanish SatNav lady was having whale of a time trying to chat me up. I switched her off.

It was just a Spanish version of a regular British problem. Old maps and new roads. But here’s the thing. If Spain is broke and pleading with the Euro-ists for more help and support how come they’ve got so many new roads and well kept highways? It puts our lot to shame. Spend now, pay later?
Anyway, I was at the wheel of the new Volkswagen Transporter Rockton, a special edition model of the Transporter van, but it has the all wheel drive 4Motion system, raised suspension and a flexible interior. The van I drove had six seats, but the four in the back were on rails embedded in the floor so could be shuffled about to suit what was to be carried or taken out completely to leave a bare van. In other words, the ideal base camp bus, good for taking climbers munro bagging, or fell walkers to the Lake District.

Volkswagen are good at special editions. They know their market well and have a long standing, enthusiastic and loyal band of supporters and afficionados. Unlike the standard CV buyer more interested in price, running costs and resale value, the leisure lifestyle customer is more willing to pay a premium for what he wants, and if satisfied, will stick with it.

In other words, get the appeal of your vehicle right and you can win friends and influence wallets in all the right places.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Road - All conquering Crafter

As if some of the remote gravel roads through the mountains to the west of Marbella were not bad enough, the Volkswagen folk had laid on a pretty spectacular 4x4 obstacle course for journalists from GB and South Africa to try out their latest invention, the Crafter 4x4.

To access it, we had to drive off the main road south of Ronda down into the floor of a valley. That road twisted and turned like a drunk navvy heading home after a serious bevvy with some of the tighter hairpins requiring a bit of shunting to get round. On the way we passed a few bull pens and paddocks where some evil looking little black bullocks eyed us malevolently as we passed disturbing their peace and quiet. Apparently bull fighting is still quite popular in this part of the world and these beasties are bred for fighting, not for eating.

Eventually we got to the 4x4 course which clung to the side of the mountain and looked more like a training camp for the Dakar than an off road course for vans.

However, the biggest surprise is the capability of the Crafter. The Volkswagen 4Motion system has been enhanced with mechanical locking front and rear diffs, as opposed to the electronic system which the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter favours. But these are horses for courses, the Sprinter’s system is designed more for slippery conditions with camper vans and horsebox towers in mind, whereas the VW transmission has been designed to cope with more extreme conditions, so it would be unfair to compare the two directly. On the other hand, although prices have not been revealed, the AWD Sprinter system will be a lot cheaper than the more rugged Crafter offering.

As for the course itself, it was very dusty with lots of soft sand, and although there were no water crossings or boggy bits, it still looked as though the more sadistic Land Rover off-road team had planned the testing climbs, elephant footprints and cambered bends. It’s one thing sitting high in a Land Rover tackling this type of extreme off-roading, it’s quite another sitting higher in a big bleedin’ van doing the same things.

It was so steep on some of the descents that after selecting Low-Ratio 1st gear to creep down, the driver and passenger had to brace their knees against the dash to stop sliding off the seats on to the top of the dashboard. Wait till the wife sees my bruises from the seat belts, she’ll think I’ve taken a leaf out of Max Mosley’s book! Only once did we need the front diff locked and that was a longish, twisty, very steep uphill climb which was so steep the disturbed sand was running down the hill like rainwater on the windscreen. The Crafter took to it like a flea to a dog and trickled up it like a dozy old mountain goat. No sweat.

Making matters worse were the internally air-sprung seats which occasionally worked against the suspension strangling the crew when the seatbelts locked tight!

Why anyone would want such a device is open to question, but if there is a need to take a van and kit somewhere that vans are not supposed to go, this will do the trick.

( This should have been put up last night, but due to the limited reach of the wi-fi signal, my limited grasp of the Spanish language and my reluctance to leave the bar and barbeque in the Beach Club, it had to wait till we were on the road this morning! )

Monday 19 March 2012

Blethers - Staying out of Europe

Sitting here in Glasgow airport with a capuccino and chewing what passes for a French raisin pastry here in Scotland, I have just realised why France is so determined that we join them in Europe and why our Government is so keen to keep us out. The French have got our aircraft carriers and our illegal immigrants (many of whom are still waiting their turn to cling on to a northbund train!) but they are desperate to get their hands on our pastry recipes.

For years they have tried to master this dark art and failed miserably, instead they have to endure and suffer their own melt-in-the-mouth, light, delicate, flavoursome, pastry concoctions as made and sold in thousands of civilised little patisseries across France.

They can only look on in amazement and deep envy at us Brits as we masticate our way endlessly through the lump of spiralled, chewy dough with the consistency, taste and flavour of a pre-war mattress and marvel that we pay only £1.75 for the privilege.

Sadly, I have to eat here, cos it's even more expensive on the Easyjet flight!

Ahead lies two days of driving Volkswagen 4x4 vehicles in the mountains of Spain, but forget Touaregs and Passats, this will be 4WD versions of Crafter and Transporter vans. And people still think this is a glamorous job. Still, the overnight stop at a beach club sounds promising!