Monday 31 October 2016

Rally - Confirmation

Just in case there was any doubt, Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts won the Dayinsure WRGB National Rally. It wasn't a dream, and no they didn't nick the trophies or drive the car on to the ramp when everyone had gone home. Their victory ensured that the Saltire flew over Wales as it did in the past two years thanks to Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy who unfortunately failed to score a hat trick of wins while the year before that (2013) Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton scored the win. 

Mind you the win has left Michael with a dilemma although Bruce sees it differently. "I was given a bottle of cask conditioned 21 year old Balvenie a couple of years back and I was keeping it for a special occasion," said Michael. 

Yes, you've guessed, Bruce reminded him of it and reckoned this is a special occasion. Makes you wonder if that was why Neil Shanks was keeping in with Michael too, maybe he's hoping to be invited to the grand uncorking as well.

But before anyone else invites themselves, I reckon Michael needs it more than anyone else. He didn't admit to it, but Bruce told me: "Mike hurt his back on the first stage yesterday. There were some pretty bad holes and ruts in places and we hit one pretty hard. It was a real bad compression and Mike suffered worse than me because he didn't see it and I was braced with the steering wheel."

But perhaps a word of advice should be offered here to Michael. Don't use it as embrocation and rub it in to the tender area - apply it internally.

And did you know, Bruce was the first driver he ever co-drove for all those 19 years ago, and he's stuck with him ever since. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

Rally - McCombie wins

Marvellous, simply marvellous. When the Dayinsure WRGB National Rally finished yesterday evening under the bunting and banner bedecked Mostyn Street in Llandudno, it was Kermit, the green Mitsubishi which led the mud streaked cavalcade into view. Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts had won their first outright victory on a special stage rally. And what a stage on which to do it.

Next year both Bruce and Michael celebrate their 20th year of rallying, but this was their first victory. Both looked stunned, delighted and really quite emotional. I don't think it had quite sunk in as they appeared at the final control.

What was really nice to see in this sport was that second placed Luke Francis and John Roberts and third placed Roger Duckworth and Alun Cook were first out of their cars at the Finish line to congratulate the victors. Nice one boys, nice one sport.

McCombie and Coutts started the final day with a 32 second lead over Francis. Ahead lay 3 stages, Glocaenog (4.78mls), Alwen (6.47mls) and Brenig (4.93mls) a total of 33.29 miles. In other words, the Welshman only needed to find a second a mile and the leaders would be under serious threat. And remember, the Internationals had already been through them twice!

At the late Sunday morning start some observers heard what sounded like the Santa Claus overture - Jingle Bells, but different. Bruce explained: "My nerves were jingling this morning. I said last night that I would drive today as I had done yesterday. The worst bits today was the waiting. At each stage start we had to wait because of delays and accidents ahead. We were 2 up on Luke in  the first one, but he got 6 back on the next."

There was a sharp intake of breath as Bruce recalled: "We had a BIG moment, we nearly hit a wall in that second one. The last stage was just a matter of getting through it, and we took 9 out of Luke. I texted the wife at the finish - 'We've done it'. We're just so chuffed."

Equally impressive were Iain Wilson and Keith Riddick's 4th place finish. Holding fifth place last year when  they went off, they were back and finished the job this year: "That last stage was a nightmare. It was so slippery, but overall it was really good."

Wee brother Scott McCombie and Mark Fisher completed the family domination of the National event with a superb fifth overall on their first visit to Wales: "Don't ask me how we did that. I can't believe we took time out of Wug on the last day to move up to fifth. I suppose I just got into it more as the rally progressed." Was that jubilation etched on their faces? Relief, more like!

The fourth Scot in the top ten was Fraser MacNicol with his Irish co-driver Aaron Johnston, and Fraser's smile lit up the whole street. Disbelief was etched on his face too: "Last night the plan was to hold on to 8th, but we got 7th. We just pushed on today and managed to take a bit of time out of Paul Walker and Rudi Lancaster." Like Bruce there was a sharp intake of breath when he recalled: "We nearly threw it all away in that last one. We had two wheels fully in a ditch and thought that was it. All over. But she pulled out. I still don't know."

Tenth overall was just a stretch too far for Robert Thomson and Steven Kerschat. Nevertheless they moved up a place on the final day to finish 12th. And with a smile that would light up Blackpool seafront, Robert said: "We just lost out on 11th by 6 seconds, but we're delighted. We lost the intercom on the final stage but just so glad to be here."

Jim McRae and Pauline Gullick were 16th in the Firenza: "It was getting rough in places so I didn't stick my neck out. We were lucky though. We got a puncture in that last one but it was only a mile from the end."

Simon Hay and Calum Jaffray made it 7 Scots in the top 20 when they finished 20th on their first visit to Wales, but there was some cracked fibreglass around the bumper: "We hit a chicane bale head-on, but it wasn't our fault. An earlier car must have hit it and left it in the middle of the road," but as he pointed to the substantial new underpan, remarked: "it did its job."

Tom Coughtrie and Calvin Coolidge fished 29th overall in their Escort ahead of Ian and Kathryn Forgan in the Subaru in 31st place. They had a busy weekend, and that carried through to the Sunday run too: "W did the clutch on Friday, the diff yesterday, and cracked the windscreen and got a puncture today."

And after their bad starts to the event, the 'come back kids' did well too. Kevin Robertson and Murray Strachan finished 42nd, Geoff Goudie and Keegan Rees were 45th and Lee Hastings and Chris Robertson set some cracking times over the final stages but after their accident on the first day, had to settle for 50th."

But there was one sad tale. Carl and Rob Tuer put the MG off in the final stage. They had been coming under pressure from a closing Gee Atherton in a Fiesta R2 which had the legs of the MG. A valiant fight but a bitterly disappointing conclusion.

On the biggest stage of their careers, the boys and girls dun good, eh?

Sunday 30 October 2016

Rally - Reunion

The Master still has it. Whenever the Firenza pulls up in service at WRGB, the crowds gather instantly. I reckon the V8 monster is only part of the attraction, the main attraction is the Master himself, one James S McRae Esq. He’s still got it. Driving the most difficult car out there – too much grunt and not enough grip – and he’s just outside the top ten. The crowds love him and the fans adore him.

He had cause to reminisce when Alex Strathdee turned up. Alex used to look after a rather more modest Firenza plus sundry Chevettes and Mantas in the early days. Anyway, Jim found out one of the causes of his troubles last night. A plug lead had come off: “It doesnae matter, I’ve still got 7 cylinders left,” he quipped.

He added: “Last year I said I wasn’t coming back!” Anyway he cheered up a bit when Alex turned up with his son Jack.
Meanwhile not too far away there was a flurry of activity under the Hastings tented encampment. Colin Telfer was bolting a bike rack to the back of Iain Wilson’s Subaru. He tried to tell me it was actually his tracking gauge system – but I still reckon it was a bike rack.

Rally - Meeke still 5th

Day two of Dayinsure Wales Rally GB proved to be a tiring, somewhat deflating experience for the Abu Dhabi Total WRT and not only because it started well before dawn! Intending to battle for a podium spot, Kris Meeke’s hopes of a top-three finish were dashed after picking up two slow punctures. The team’s lead driver therefore had to settle for fifth overall. Stéphane Lefebvre remains ninth, whilst Quentin Gilbert ended the day in seventeenth position.

Once again, alarms were set very early in Deeside, with the morning service starting at 5.45am! The crews headed south west for today’s stages, nearer to Tywyn and the coast of the Irish sea. The day featured two runs on a loop of three stages: Pantperthog, Dyfi and Gartheiniog. On the way back to the service park, a slight detour over the border into England was planned, with a short final stage held around Cholmondeley castle. Covering a total of almost 100km, these seven stages would be contested with no service and no mid-leg tyre change, meaning crews could only use whatever spare tyres they took with them. Like their rivals, the Abu Dhabi Total WRT crews chose soft compound Michelin LTX Force tyres, including for their two spares.

As was the case on Friday, fog and damp patches awaited the drivers in the Welsh forests. In addition to being handicapped by their starting position of ninth on the road, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle found they had two slow punctures on the road sections after SS9 and SS10! With no spare tyre left for the end of the day, the British-Irish crew had no margin for error on the remaining stages. Whilst trying to manage wear on his four remaining tyres, Kris continued to push. However, third place gradually slipped out of reach and the home crowd’s favourite ended the day having lost almost a minute to his direct rivals.

Ninth at the start of this second leg, Stéphane Lefebvre and Gilles de Turckheim held onto this position throughout the day. Quentin Gilbert and Renaud Jamoul reached the service park in seventeenth place.

Kris Meeke: “What happened this morning was fairly unusual! After the first stage, we had a slow puncture on the road section. And then we had the same problem after SS10… I don’t understand what happened, but in any case it dictated – at least in part – the rest of the day. I kept pushing but I had to cope with early wear on my four remaining tyres. Apart from my misfortune with the tyres and our difficult starting position, I think we were just short of speed on this surface.”

Stéphane Lefebvre: “We did our best to try and improve in conditions like these. Our set-up was much better than yesterday, although I still felt short of traction. In terms of the gap per kilometre, I got a bit closer to Kris and that’s the key thing for me. Once again, I didn’t have any moments and I felt comfortable in the quickest sections. It’s another positive point, although I would have preferred to be close to the front. One step at a time, though!”

Meanwhile Sebastien Ogier continues to lead the rally but that man Ott bTanak is still there. Ogier is continuing to manage the gap to around half a minute with Tanak more than a minute up on third placed Thierry Neuville.

1. Ogier / Ingrassia (VW Polo R WRC) 2:43:25.3
2. Tänak / Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +33.8
3. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:34.5
4. Paddon / Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:47.1
5. Meeke / Nagle (DS 3 WRC) +2:29.5
6. Sordo / Marti (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:36.0
7. Østberg / Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:15.0
8. Latvala / Anttila (VW Polo R WRC) +4:22.2
9. Lefebvre / de Turckheim (DS 3 WRC) +6:52.7
10. Camilli / Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +7:35.6

Saturday 29 October 2016

Rally - Day 2 in Wales

At close of play on Day 1 of WRGB National Rally, there were 4 Scots in the top ten. At the end of Day 2 the same 4 Scots were still in the top ten. And since all good things come in threes here’s hoping there will be 4 Scots (or more!) in the top ten in Llandudno on Sunday.

Topping the leaderboard for the second day were Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts in the Mitsubishi Lancer half a minute clear of second placed Luke Francis in a similar car: “It’s still overheating,” said Bruce, “but there was only one really long stage today. The tyres were shagged going into the last stage. The roads are down to bedrock in places but they’re still great stages. We’re just doing the same today as we did yesterday and we’ll do it again tomorrow.”

Second of the Scots and moving up from fifth to fourth are Iain Wilson and Keith Riddick: “No moments today,” said Iain, “we were worried about punctures after yesterday. The aim now is to hold position, the top three are really going well. If It hadn’t been for the puncture –who knows?” He added: “We saw the tree in Gartheiniog that we hit last year – it was looking well! We both gave it wee wave as we passed. Bad tree!”

Scott McCombie was third placed Scot in 6th place and happy enough: “We have a wee issue with the shift light, it doesn’t always show the gear we’re in, or the gear we’re going into. At least the anti-lag is now working. It was just a wiring fault that we found last night. Had we known it was that simple earlier we could have fixed it sooner.”

Fourth Scot in the top ten is Fraser MacNicol going really well in 8th place and happy with his handiwork from yesterday: “The fan has been working all day - I fixed it myself last night. The low cloud wasn’t a problem this morning, I could still see. Yesterday I couldn’t see.”

Lee Hastings had a better day: “Last night I felt sh*t, but I can smile tonight. Conditions were better today, it wasn’t as guttery. There was one strange thing today though. We came round one corner to find a bit of tree on the road with a beer can on it!”

Not quite so happy was Jim McRae with the Vauxhall Firenza: “It wouldn’t fire up at the start f the second last stage today,” said Jim, “and we had to push it back and bump start it in reverse. By the time we got back to the Start we were 2 minutes late and got a penalty. It did it again when we were re-fuelling. It just turned over on the starter, but wouldn’t fire up and we had to get a push start again.” He still managed a smile when Alex Strathdee turned up in service. Alex used to work for SMT in Perth, one of Jim’s first sponsors, and Alex serviced for him in his Vauxhall and Opel days.

Anyway, Alex was watching from the Hospitality area at Cholmondley Castle where the cars had to do a 360 round a bale. The master executed a perfect doughnut in the V8 Firenza prompting one observer to comment: “That’s a real driver” with Alex confirming that he was better than that chap Ogier!

Carl Tuer is just outside the top ten in his MG and has got passed Jim but he is more concerned about his 1600 class leading position. Both Gee Atherton and Mike Harris are just a sniff of exhaust fumes behind him.

But the guy on the move tonight, is Robert Thomson up to 13th today from 26th yesterday: “Today was our first day. After our problems yesterday we pushed on today. There’s still a wee bit more to come tomorrow if we need it.” Last night the two service crew changed the gearbox and prepped the car in 2hrs 45 mins.

Simon Hay made ground today after his drive shaft failure yesterday and he goes to bed in 28th place but he also had a wee problem with the gearbox last night and the boys had to drain it and flush it twice finally getting to bed at 2am. Tom Coughtrie got his Escort’s electrics sorted out too. Not just the ignition pack was changed but there was a loose bolt inside the distributor which was confusing the timing light. The lads fished it out with a magnet. Ian Forgan lost a bit more ground with a puncture today and a cracked rear brake disc and Kevin Robertson got back out this morning after his gear linkage was repaired. And just when things were looking good for Geoff Goudie, a front strut collapsed on the day’s penultimate stage and he opted to miss the last stage and come back to service.

Quote of the day came from Iain  Wilson who was worried at the start of the Cholmondley stage about how to tackle the 360 spin in front of the crowds. He asked Keith: “Should we do a Ken Block or a Ken & Barbie?” Whatever, when it came to the crunch he couldn’t make up his mind: “and we did a Cindy!”

Oh, and he didn’t like his fotie last night. He looked like a meerkat caught in the headlights. So here’s a better one.

Pics show Scott McCombie chatting with Wayne Sissons and young Luke Barry (SRC PRO) listening in, the shy and retiring Fraser MacNicol, Robert Thomson with a pint, and Iain ‘tea-boy’ Wilson with a mug of 2 sugars and milky tea.