Tuesday 11 April 2023

Rally - 40 Years ago

In just over a week’s time the McDonald & Munro Speyside Stages Rally will take to the forests in the far north, but exactly 40 years ago, the month of April meant the Granite City Rally. Sponsored by John Clark BMW, that event was a counter in both the Shell Oils Autosport Championship and the Esso Scottish Rally Championship.

It was quite a rally. Over one hundred crews had been attracted to the event which offered 80 miles of tests split up into 16 Special Stages – for an Entry Fee of £120. There are folk who reckon “some things never change”, but in Scotland there is one sure fire, dead cert feature of rallying that does change, and constantly changes – the weather.

In late April 1983, the protagonists were treated to snow, rain, dense mist and glaur, lots of sticky, wet glaur! In these conditions, Darryl Weidner was the hot (cold?) favourite in his Audi quattro. One of the first of these cars to reach private hands, Weidner had been the man to watch last year as he grappled with the fearsome turbocharged beast. And with that under his belt, conditions suggested that he should walk away with the spoils this time.

Another ‘certainty’ in rallying is that nothing is ever certain. Enter George Marshall in a rear wheel drive Vauxhall Chevette.

Weidner and Doug Hart took an early lead but at the halfway point in the rally it was Marshall and Ken Wilson who were leading by 23 seconds. An absolutely heroic, sphericals-out effort through the 12 mile Clashindarroch test saw the Chevette take almost a minute out of the Audi.

Over the next eight stages, the Audi was eating into the Chevette’s heels and clawing back vital seconds. On the penultimate test, Marshall spun losing 12 seconds, and losing the rally lead in the process. At the finish, just 16 seconds separated the top two on a day which should have been dominated by the four wheel drive machine. But this was a day for heroics and true grit and Marshall rose to the challenge. What a fight.

Forty six seconds behind the Chevette was the Ford Escort Mk2 of one David Llewellyn, with Martin James, giving us a glimpse of the Welshman’s growing prowess. Terry Pankhurst was 4th, Phil Collins 5th and Allan Arneil 6th whilst other entries included the likes of Bill Dobie, George Hill, Ian Cathcart, Roger Chilman and Jeff Churchill along with many of our own pre-event favourites including Donald Heggie and Ken Wood.

Also taking part was Andrew Wood with John Robinson in a front wheel drive Ford Escort XR3 Turbo. This was a new one-make rally challenge for Ford’s latest Escort derivative. These were basically Group N machines so unlikely to threaten the leaderboard, but Wood finished an impressive 21st overall that day behind a certain Mark Lovell (12th) and Trevor Smith (17th).

The long range weather forecast suggests a heatwave in the north for the Speyside this year, so best pack your wellies along with your gutties if you’re going, just in case.

Happy days, eh?

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