Wednesday 31 October 2012

Blethers - Spot the Tumshie

Well there I was on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond trying to take a picture of the seaplane taking off, when along comes a tourist family.

Their inane and excited chatter drove me round the bend, to the point of the peninsula where I was already standing, to get a better view.

They followed me. 

And then just as the plane drew level, the male adult eedjit stepped in front of me and stood in the water, spoiling my view and my carefully framed photograph.

Livid? If he hadn't already been standing in the water, I would have pushed him in. By that time the shot was gone, and all I could manage was a quick shot as the plane sped away.

Naturally I thanked the gentleman most profusely for his thoughtful and considerate act.

He didn't even say 'sorry', he just looked at me and walked away - or maybe the eedjit is not actually from 'Effen' after all!

Road - Jag with a fridge

Another car launch, another exotic location - North Berwick, in the rain, the cold and the murk.

This time it was Jaguar with their new Sportbrake, more hatchback than estate car, more Whitechapel than Morse, and definitely more style than other load luggers.

It's also pretty deceiving and to call it a hatchback is to do it an injustice. The shape is an optical illusion. The roofline is actually higher than the saloon which means more headroom for the rear seat passengers. 48 mm more to be precise.

But it's not the roofline that tapers down towards the rear, it's more that the waistline rises. So although the glass area is shallower the further  back you go, it does not restrict the space in the back or the rear door aperture.

In fact tomorrow, the Jaguar hosts are taking us to a handling track and putting a Smeg fridge in the back to demonstrate not just its load capacity, but the ability of its rear air suspension to cope with heavy weight behind and above the rear axle!

Apparently the fridge weighs around 45 kgs, but its not full of porridge, bacon, eggs and Tennents.

Today the Scottish journalists, plus a contingent from Ireland, drove the 2.2 litre, 4 cylinder cars with a 200 PS diesel under the bonnet, but tomorrow, it will be the 3 litre twin turbo diesel with 275 PS - and a fridge!

Monday 29 October 2012

Road - Riding the Steed

It doesn’t have the most exciting or evocative of names, but I drove a Great Wall Steed down to Castle Douglas for the Galloway Hills at the weekend and I was really quite surprised by this latest Chinese import.

As far as 4x4 pickups go, it certainly looks the part while the interior is remarkably well equipped. You get the feeling that the marketing men have thrown a confectionary bag of accessories at the cabin. Some have stuck better than others, but even so, the kit hit-list is mighty impressive for a capable and practical vehicle in this price range. It’s got full leather trim and it even has heated front seats!

Running in 2WD mode as standard, the 4WD transmission and diffs are controlled electronically at the push of switch and it also has a lo-ratio setting. Ideal if stuck in a boggy forestry ditch!

The 141 bhp, 2 litre turbo-diesel engine won’t crick your neck under acceleration, but with a six speed gearbox it will pull a 2 tonne trailer. On the round trip to Castle Douglas, it was getting somewhere in the region of 35 mpg cruising quite happily at the legal limit with a remarkably pliant ride.

The only downsides are more niggles than seriously critical. The steering is low geared and more hopeful than directional, the seat cushions are bit short for the longer legged and the load-lashing loops in the loadbox sidewall have been covered up by the canopy clamps. So there’s nowhere to tie down the trolley jack and toolbox!

It comes with a 3 year/60,000 mile Warranty which is not quite industry leading, but here’s the clincher. All in, it costs 16 grand plus VAT and that includes the alloys and reversing sensors, plus a full size spare wheel - and none of this compressor and spray-goo nonsense.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Rally - McRae wins in China

Although he won the China Rally Longyou in the Zhejiang province of China today, Alister McRae just missed out on the 2012 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship title. Former Proton team-mate Chris Atkinson clinched the title for Skoda.

However, this was Alister’s second win from three rallies and his third podium from four rallies in the works Proton Satria-Neo S2000 which was running on DMACK tyres.

Alister, and his Australian Co-driver Bill Hayes, also became the first crew to complete a hat-trick of wins in Longyou.

Rally - Sweet victory

Six bottles of fizz disappeared faster than cats in a kennel when the winners of this year's Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally skooshed a bedraggled and rain-sodden band of spectators at the champagne finish in Castle Douglas.

Pictured clutching their empty bottles are Jock Armstrong and Kirsty Riddick (centre) scoring their fourth Galloway Hills win, from second placed Dave Weston Jnr and Kevin Rae (doing a bit of moonlighting while David Bogie was out spectating - left) and last year's Hills winner Mark McCulloch with new co-driver Elliott Edmondson (right) who finished third overall.

Rally - Jock nearly doesn't win!

Although Jock Armstrong and Kirsty Riddick won their fourth Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally, they nearly didn’t.

“Just before the start of the last stage, we stopped to clean out the boot, it was full of water,” said Jock, “we pulled everything out to try and dry it off with paper towels.Wheels, tools and my jacket, they were all sodden wet. Then we drove into the first stage and as we pulled up to the start line I said to Kirsty ‘Where’s my helmet’ and suddenly realised we had left it behind with all the wet stuff and the boys had put it in the back of their van. We were nearly out at that point but Ian Paterson gave me his helmet. So it’s thanks to Ian that we’re here.”

Ian was having troubles of his own, the Subaru having a persistent brake problem, so he was thinking of stopping anyway because it was getting dangerous: “That was all the excuse I needed,” said Ian, “just glad to help Jock out.”

Dave Weston made a push on that final stage and although he took 9 seconds out of Armstrong’s time, it wasn’t enough: “We made some changes to the car at service,” said Dave, “it felt a lot better so we had a good push on in there.”

Mark McCulloch, last year’s winner, was delighted with third: “Anywhere in the top six would have done me this year,” said Mark, “given the quality of the entry but I couldn’t go any quicker in that last stage, it was getting silly at times. I really didn’t think I would catch Wayne.”

Wayne Sisson was happy enough with fourth ahead of Craig McMiken while young Arron Newby got himself back into sixth place after his double puncture earlier.

Fraser Wilson was seventh despite losing the back silencer box off the Lancer in the final test and Iain Haining was an excellent class winner and top 2WD runner in his wee Nova in eighth place just pipping the Renault Clio of Joseph McGonigle by 14 seconds in the final test to clinch the award by 3 seconds.

Iain Wilson was equally impressive in tenth place in his Nova beating Haining by 4 seconds in the final stage but it wasn’t enough.

David Wilson was flying in the MkII but on the final stage: “We were about 8 miles in and just going a bit hard. I think the tyres were going off because we were losing grip. It just stepped out ona  corner and the back wheels slid into a ditch and just dragged us in.” Matthew Robinson also lost out on the 2WD class when the Escort punctured two tyres - on different stages.

A similar fate befell Andrew Gallacher: “It was a downhill into a tight Square Left and we just slid off backwards. The front wheels were still on the road, but there was no-one around to help push us out!”

Matthew Calderwood failed to finish when the Lancer lost drive: “We broke the fourth gear on the Scottish Rally and this was the first run out since the gearbox was rebuilt. It felt OK through the first stage, but on the second it started to feel odd and I couldn’t get 3rd, 4th or 5th. It’s not fourth gear this time, I think it’s the main shaft.”

Leaderboard after 5 (of 5) stages:
1, Armstrong, 41m 13s
2, Weston, 41m 32s
3, McCulloch, 43m 34s
4, Sisson, 43m 46s
5, McMiken, 44m 33s
6, Newby, 46m 04s
7, F Wilson, 46m 07s
8, Haining, 47m 02s
9, McGonigle, 47m 05s
10, I Wilson, 47m 07s

Rally - Still Armstrong

Jock Armstrong still leads the Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally with one stage to go with Dave Weston 28 seconds back in second place after his off on the third test.

Wayne Sisson is thoroughly enjoying himself first time out this year in his Lancer and reported: "The first stage was shitty and horrible, the second one was better, but they were both better with more grip second time through."

In  other words, the stages are standing up to the second usage very well, no doubt helped by the dreich, wet conditions, with wheelspin much more common than wheel grip!

Winner last year, Mark McCulloch is fourth having survived a wee fright yesterday when hydraulic steering fluid leaked on to the hot turbo and started a small fire. "We were just testing the car," said Mark, "so we were lucky it didn't happen on the stages today. In fact that might have been the cause of my problem on the Colin McRae Rally earlier in the month."

Arron Newby has had a bad start to his day in the Galloway Forest Park: "We had a double rear puncture in the second stage," said Arron, "I felt the car loose half way through and think a tyre must have rolled off the rim, then the other one punctured!"

It looks as though Blair McCulloch is out, the Nova spotted parked up in SS1. It has two wheels in the ditch and two on the road, so it looks as though it has beached itsef rather than damaged itself. Graeme Schoneville is off too, the Honda going off on Raider's Road following a Left/Right kink.

Provisional Leaderboard after 4 (of 5) stages:
1, Armstrong, 27m 06s
2, Weston, 27m 34s
3, Sisson, 28m 54s
4, McCulloch, 29m 00s
5, McMiken, 29m 27s
6, D Wilson, 30m 31s
7, F Wilson, 30m 38s
8, McGonigle, 30m 56s
9, Newby, 30m 57s
10, Haining, 31m 07s

Rally - Armstrong leads in Galloway

Jock Armstrong has taken an early lead in today's Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally from Dave Weston Junior. Jock was faster by 3 seconds on the first stage but Dave took 3 back on the second to leave them tied on times after two stages, but it all went wrong for Weston in Stage 3.

"I just slid off on the slippery surface," said Dave, "my own fault, I just need more time in the car, it's the same one I used on the McRae." He was running a WRC Impreza while Armstrong was in his usual Subaru: "The stages are good, but there are some straights in that last one where the lorries have packed the clay surface hard, but there is  slither of mud on the surface. The car was just sloshing about on the straights, so I'm just going as hard as I want to, not as hard as I need to."

Steve Petch retired his Lancer on the third stage: "The diff went bang on the startline - you'd think I should know better by this time." Out on the first stage was Martin Craik, the Subaru suffering a centre diff problem.
But providing a real treat for the eyeballs are the MkII Escorts of David Wilson and Matthew Robinson. The surfaces are so wet and treacherous this morning, that the RWD cars are spending more time sideways than going forward. Magic.

Provisional Leaderboard after 2 (of 5) stages:
1, Armstrong, 13m 36s
2, Weston, 13m 36s
3, Sisson, 14m 37s
4, McCulloch, 14m 38s
5, McMiken, 14m 58s
6, D Wilson, 15m 04s
7, Robinson, 15m 32s
8, F Wilson, 15m 36s
9, Petch, 15m 40s
10, McGonigle, 15m 41s

Friday 26 October 2012

Road - Rest and Be Hopeful

My wee story and picture on the 'Rest and be Thankful' near Arrochar the other day generated quite a bit of interest. When I passed the Argarten (lower) end of the Glen, there was a lot of road making plant and equipment still on site. The bottom end of the single track road has been re-surfaced like the top end and hairpin, but the bit in the middle is still as it was.

Apparently, Argyll and Bute Council want to re-line and re-surface the old road (the original hillclimb in effect) to create a relief road for the main A83 road which is prone to avalanches and mud-slides. According to my informant (one Mr. Pye as he likes to be called): “Assuming it's completed, traffic will run on a convoy basis for half an hour each way, so if you miss your slot you could be waiting there for an hour - an excellent opportunity to buy a meal at the burger van at the top of the hill.”

At the present time, the parts of the road owned by the Forestry Commission at the top and bottom of the hill have both been resurfaced, but the bit in the middle is owned by a classic car enthusiast who is seeking assurances that the line of the old road will be followed. This would present difficulties for road users such as 44t artics and tourist coaches who would not get around some of the corners or over the culverts so the Roads Authority would need to straighten and strengthen parts of the old road to accommodate modern traffic.

Here’s hoping a compromise can be struck whereby in exchange for allowing new alignments to be constructed the old road can be repaired and retained, and the original character maintained.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Rally - Galloway Hills Spectator Guide

The organisers of this weekend’s Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally have posted Spectator details on their website (see link below) so if anyone is planning to attend, take note and stick to the rules. And for those who can’t work out map references, they have even printed a map!

Sad to see the entry is not great hence the last minute re-jigging of the stages, but where other teams might have cancelled in light of the limited numbers, the organisers should be congratulated.

This will be the last chance to see cars in Scottish forests (apart from the Roger Albert Clark Rally which runs through southern Scotland on Saturday / Sunday 24 / 25 November after the Yorkshire loop on Friday 23) until the new season kicks off in February 2013.

08:31 -  Start, Market Yard, Castle Douglas
09:04 - SS1, Cairn Edward 1
09:17 - SS2, Barney Water 1
10:09 - SS3, Cairn Edward 2
10:22 - SS4, Barney Water 2
10:28 – Service, Market Yard, Castle Douglas
12:13 - SS5, Cairn Edward 3
12:55 – Finish, Karcare, Castle Douglas