Tuesday 27 June 2023

Rally - Puddled reflections

Commenting purely as a spectating outsider (who kens damn all about rallying) Mull CCs Dunoon Presents Argyll Rally provided a serious splurge of speed, drama and commitment. This is not meant to be a rally report, just a few comments from a wistful onlooker.

Joking aside, the Sheriff can drive, but that bluidy Audi looks more than a handful. It twitched, spat and growled like a Scottish wildcat eager to lowp off the road and into the bush. And whilst we all might doubt the Brian's sanity, none can deny his bravery.

So who else impressed? And it's a personal view, but I thought Ashleigh Morris was more committed on this event than I've seen her before although Meghan O'Kane was a mere whiff of exhaust just 15 seconds behind her. These two seem to be giving Aileen Forrest a bit of a fright with their pace these days.

Nearer the front end of the field, I don't know how Rory Young does it. He's hardly the most committed of rallyists, only doing events as and when he can fit them into the arduous job of being a Christmas tree farmer. Mind you, one wonders how arduous that can be? You plant them, hang around for a few years before cutting them down and selling them at Christmas. Easy peasy, eh? He must go through an awfy lot of slippers as opposed to work boots.

Then when he does have a bit of time, he gives Dommie a bell to get the car ready, turns up, instantly on the pace and trounces the opposition taking maximum SRC points. Impressive. And yet Mark's 2nd place points score is equally impressive as he continues to develop that unique Proton. Then there's Michael Binnie hustling that old-tech Lancer along the lanes amongst the slot-car R5s.

Speaking of old-tech, Jock's Subaru could have embarrassed a few more and but for a puncture in the 14 mile Otter Ferry test was denied a top six appearance, so who knows what might have been? Another surprise was Lee Hastings, no demolishing dykes or ventilating hedges this time, he kept it on the road, well most of the time - ya beezer.

It was good to see Kev Dunn back out again and he managed to pip Dangerous Des for top 1600cc runner, these two going at it like twa terriers chasing an empty poke in a gale. They weren’t top 2WD though, Montana Morrison did the business making a rare rallying appearance in the ex Greg McKnight Mk2 but only 20 seconds clear of giant killing Kev.

Innes Mochrie had some serious competition this time in the wee class with old hand and Mull regular John Cressey keeping the Mighty Moose honest in his real Mini. I don’t know what grade of jet fuel Innes feeds his wee Metro on but by heck it goes and for something with limited suspension travel he’s got it handling a treat, although scarily twitchy looking at times.

And there were so many more sights and memorable moments, Ian Forgan in his parts-bin engined Ka and Booster Brearley giving hope to auld age pensioners across the land, while it wasn't a day (weekend?) for the youngsters. You had to feel too for the rising hot shots Archie Swinscoe taking flight (literally) and Robert Proudlock breaking a driveshaft, and of course Finlay Retson who could have made headlines at the front of the field - again. Rallying can be such a cruel game.

Having said all that, congratulations to Callum Black and the constantly surprising Neil Roskell for their overall top two placings with the top finishing Scot on the podium- just.

Still, four Scots drivers in the top ten (Young, McCulloch, Binnie and Wink) wasn't too shabby given that the Protyre Championship visitors were sharing the tarmac with the KNC Groundworks regulars. And thanks too to the guid fowks of Dunoon - for putting up with the lot of you!

What a rally, what pace and what weather – more changes than Carol’s wardrobe. Next round? That'll be the Scottish, and after the tarmac it will be a return to gravel. As the grizzly bears would say: “To the woods, and to hell with the bog rolls”.

Thursday 22 June 2023

Rally - 37 years ago in Argyll

In 1986, rallying’s latest world ‘supercars’ started to appear in the Scottish forests, and it wasn’t long before they were dominating. The Autofit Stages Rally in Argyll that year was no exception.

Ken Wood and Peter Brown scored victory with the Golden Wonder MG Metro 6R4 while only ten seconds behind at the finish was the Arnold Clark Metro 6R4 of David Gillanders and Graham Neish. Just over two minutes behind the winners was the RWD Opel Kadett 400 of Murray Grierson and Roger Anderson.

And yet despite the heavyweight machinery that dominated the top ten there was a pretty basic wee 1600cc Talbot Sunbeam still running on steel wheels which finished ninth overall. In his first full season of forest events, young Colin McRae with Nicky Jack on the maps was beginning to make a mark on the stages as well as the results sheets. Pictured presenting the prizes was the Autofit boss himself, Ian Wilson, who incidentally finished 11th overall with Charlie Young in a Peugeot 205.

Further down the field, a certain Derek Ringer navigated Barrie Lochhead to 16th overall in their Talbot Sunbeam while the number 96 seed, one Robert Reid, was 45th overall with navigator Ian Rae in a Ford Escort.

Three future world champions on one event in Argyll. Them were’t days, eh?

Wednesday 21 June 2023

Rally - Argyll this weekend

Forty years ago, the roads that the Forestry Commission ‘presented’ to Lanarkshire Car Club for their Forth Electrical Stages Argyll Rally were rather different to the roads ‘presented’ this year to Mull Car Club for their Dunoon Presents Argyll Rally. That’s because this weekend’s event (23/24 June) can trace its history back a further thirteen years to 1970 when Nigel Hollier won the first Argyll based Burmah Castrol Rally in his Ford Escort Twin Cam. Alastair MacRae (No, not one of the Lanark McRaes) was second in a Sunbeam Stiletto and James Rae third in a Ford Escort GT.

Fast forward to 1983 and four wheel drive was a pipedream – which was about to become reality. Audi debuted their quattro in the World Rally Championship in 1981 and immediately started winning rallies.

Back here in Scotland, those lining up in their two wheel drive cars to battle this latest round of the national Esso Scottish Rally Championship gave little thought to the revolution that was about to swamp the sport. They had a much more important domestic battle on their hands, but even here the technology was moving on.

Donald Heggie and Iain Mungall won the 1983 event in their Ford Escort G3, a rear wheel drive Escort built by Gartrac into a front wheel drive bodyshell. Their winning margin was a mere ten seconds over the 45 stage mile event with the Rover SD1 of Ken Wood and Peter Brown in second place thirty seconds ahead of the Ford Escort Mk2 of Allan Arneil and David Cannon.

The forest stages that day included such evocative and memorable names (to a certain generation!) as West Loch Eck, Glenbranter, Blawearie, reached via the rather disconcerting ‘Laird’s Grave Road’ (!), and Corlarach high above Dunoon.

Even forty years later the town of Dunoon is just about recognisable over the shoulders of Jimmy Fleming and Dave MacDonald sheltering under the brolly – sheltering from the damp Scottish sunshine! By the way, Jimmy finished tenth and Dave didn’t.

But if you are intending to spectate on this weekend’s event, the rules are somewhat different from those early pioneering days. For a start this event will take place on closed public tarmac roads not private forestry gravel roads. Spectating access is very restricted, whilst venturing on to a section of closed public road is an offence, so please acknowledge and respect the Marshals’ and other rally officials’ instructions and behave safely and responsibly. Get yourselves a copy of the event Programme which will give all the details.

Stay safe out there to protect not just yourselves, but the future of our sport.

Friday 16 June 2023

Superbike throwback

With the British Superbike meeting at Knockhill less than an hour away from home this weekend and the withdrawal symptoms biting hard, a quick flick through the photo albums was needed to assuage the longing to be there in person. Family duties prevented a personal attendance this year so there was a distinct longing for the guttural, staccato and roaring sounds of motorcycle engines coupled with the smells of hot metal, clutches, brakes and oil, and of course, the speed.

Fortunately, a trawl through the archives sufficed to alleviate the craving – just a wee bit.

Niall and Louise
But exactly 20 years ago, three times British Superbike Champion Niall MacKenzie was at Knockhill for some pre-race media work which included taking an awfy talented young auto pilot for a pillion hurl around Knockhill’s notorious sweeps and dips. However, any hopes that the passenger entertained of switching careers were terminated more swiftly and permanently than a midge hitting a visor at 130 mph.

Sticking to winning trophies on four wheels seemed a much better idea after that.

Nearly 20 years earlier than that, another pic shows a young Niall with one of Scotland’s lost talents, Donnie McLeod, who had both signed for the Armstrong GP team.

After ten years struggling on the GP circuit as an amateur depending on Start money and Prize money, Donnie was signed up for the all-Scottish riding line-up. Sadly the Armstrong never achieved its promise, consistently down on power compared to the Japanese bikes. Donnie called it quits not long after that as Niall switched teams and moved on up the rankings.

There was no rancour or regret in Donnie’s decision, he had always said he would retire before he was too old to take up another career, which he did as a mechanical engineer and university tutor. Niall stuck with the bikes and formed his own racing team and also worked with his two boys Tarran and Taylor who both race bikes.

And two nicer blokes you’d be hard pressed to meet.

Monday 12 June 2023

Ain’t no substitute

Nobody is sure who came up with the phrase “there ain’t no substitute for cubic inches” although it is credited to a cartoon character called Stroker McGurk who graced the pages of ‘Hot Rod’ magazine in the 1950s and 60s. The custom car scene in America was really taking off back then but to make life a little easier for the customisers, getting more power meant installing a bigger engine. To heck with all the meticulous finesse and fiddly nonsense of engine tuning, just stick a bigger engine up front, bolt a supercharger on top and feed it some nitrous. Job done.

The phrase is not so relevant these days as engineers can extract phenomenal outputs from smaller engines, just look at F1 and WRC. They are also more compact and lighter which offers additional advantages to the car builders and customisers.

And yet, there is still a generation or two which lives by the phrase and nothing less (or more) than a big block V8 will satisfy their need for speed. It’s not just about speed though, it’s about the noise. Where others swoon and sway to Stormzy or lulled into a Tom Jones crooned stupor, it is the deep and sonorous soul stirring beat of a V8 that raises the pulse and heartbeat of the motorheads.

Which is why the Ford Mustang, and others like it, are still lusted after by those rich enough to afford to feed them.

And on the occasion of this year’s Le Mans 24 Hour Race, Ford took the opportunity to announce their GT3 challenger for the 2024 race. Multimatic Engineering who built the Ford GT will manufacture the new chassis while M-Sport will be entrusted with the 500+bhp Coyote based 5.4 litre V8.

So if your standard 450bhp Mustang doesn’t tighten your pyjama strings then rumble along to Dovenby for some wings and a power upgrade.

Sunday 11 June 2023

TT - Consolation

It would have been very satisfying to see Michael Dunlop equal Joey Dunlop’s incredible record on the Isle of Man TT races but it wasn’t to be. Peter Hickman proved that last year’s dominant performance was no fluke and the duo ended up with four wins apiece this week.

And after his final race win of the week, Hickman’s thoughts turned to the one rider who wouldn’t be going home. Kind of puts things in perspective, eh?

You have to feel for Dean Harrison, eh? Five 3rd places before he finally got a runner-up podium, and not a word of complaint or excuse was uttered. Other highlights included John McGuinness MBE, at 51 years of age, still fearless and still competitive and Connor Cummins getting out of his sick bed to climb aboard a motor cycle with Clive Padgett standing by him saying the bike is there for him when he’s ready – no thoughts of bringing in another rider. That’s team loyalty. And what of 32 year old Mike Browne? His first podium - and then denied his first win. And of course the Birchall brothers. What a pair, what a record.

So that’s it. All over for another year. Sun scorched tarmac, phenomenal speeds, records tumbling and searing competition and not an F1 motorhome, pit garage, prima donna or petted lip in sight. By comparison the TT riders are a bunch of plain-spoken, down to earth racers who are not afraid to get their finger nails dirty. On a more pleasing note it was good to see that the TV producers had resisted the urge to include sub-titles with Michael’s interviews. Gaun yersel Michael.

As for consolation? A gentle ride nearer home to ease the ‘couch potato’ saddle sores with a bike, a tea and a pie, or should that be a pie, a tea and a bike?

Tuesday 6 June 2023

Eccentrics – 1 v Professionals - Nil

Earlier today the Classic Motor Cars team from Bridgnorth in Shropshire achieved their goal. The Aston Martin Bulldog which they had so painstakingly restored recorded a top speed of 205 miles per hour at Machrihanish in the Kintyre peninsula.

The project was cancelled before Aston Martin could make their own claim over forty years ago when the car was originally built in 1979. The idea then was to build the world’s first 200 mph roadgoing supercar, but rising costs ruled that out.

And so it was left to a bunch of enthusiasts, albeit a team of skilled engineers and technicians, to finally set the record straight.

Which they did, thanks to Le Mans winner Darren Turner who was entrusted with this one-off and a chance to go for the record.

But to put things into perspective, it’s one thing to drive a car at 200 miles per hour on an airfield runway, quite another to sit astride an engine slung between two wheels and do the same on public roads.

Taking nothing away from Darren with his run in the Bulldog, but just over a hundred miles due south on a wee island in the Irish Sea a number of genuine superheroes are doing just that.

Incredible to think that the Isle of Man (222 sq miles) is smaller than the Isle of Mull (337 sq miles) and yet it can host a closed road motor cycle race with a circuit lap length of some 37 and three quarter miles.

If Man is the capital of road racing, then Mull is the capital of closed road rallying, and whilst I may fancy my chances of driving car at 200 miles per hour, there’s no way I’d clamp myself on to a bike and do the same. These guys are not nutters, they are not human – they are superhuman. Gaun yersel Michael.

Thanks to Amy Shore for the Pics.

Monday 5 June 2023

Eccentricity – the Bulldog spirit

To those of us in the celtic (pronounced Keltic) nations, the anglo Saxons are an eccentric breed. Of course they also have their own opinions about us varying from wild, hairy and uncouth to downright insulting, but as long as these perceptions are all expressed in good humour then it’s all just part of good old British banter.

But there are some eccentrics who go the extra mile, or to be more precise, 200 miles. That’s the target set by a band of visitors from the deep south who are visiting Machrihanish airfield just outside Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre tomorrow (Tuesday 6th June).

This band has a serious purpose in mind, and they are not coming alone. They are bringing a Bulldog with them, but not the ankle snapping, slevvering, pug nosed variety. This one sits on four wheels rather than four legs. It also has a winged Aston Martin badge on its nose!

Over the past two and a half years, Bridgnorth based Classic Motor Cars have been restoring a one-off Aston Martin Bulldog concept car built in 1979. In fact it gained its name from the Scottish Aviation Bulldog, the aeroplane flown by the then-managing director, Alan Curtis. Work originally started on the Bulldog project in 1977 and it was designed to be the fastest production car on the road capable of reaching 200 mph.

Powered by a 5.3 litre 90-degree V8 with two Garrett AiResearch T04B turbochargers Bulldog recorded a top speed of 191 mph at MIRA (Motor Industry Research

Association) test track in 1979. Originally 15-25 Bulldogs were going to be produced, but the project was shelved on cost grounds.

Now, some 40 odd years later, CMC are planning to do what the works failed to achieve all those years ago – hit the 200 mph original target.

Machrihanish is a long way from Shropshire but it has the longest military runway in Europe, hence the long trek north. Although no longer a military base, the runway has been well maintained. Not least because it was selected as a suitable (emergency) landing site for Shuttles on this side of the Atlantic when the NASA space missions were underway.

More recently, the site has been used on an annual basis by Dunfermline CC and partner clubs as the location for the two-day Mach 1 Stages Rally (8th/9th July 2023) which is a counter in the Burnside Piling Scottish Tarmack Rally Championship, and both the Back to Roots Tarmack Rally and Scottish Single Venue Championships. In fact it’s one of the best venues in the country for a ‘single-venue’ rally as it offers a huge variety of roads on and off the runways. It can be tight and technical in some stretches whilst allowing full-bore, flat-out, top gear stuff on other sections. And given that it’s a two day event, the craic on Saturday evening/night can sometimes be epic – or perhaps best avoided!

Anyway, it’s altogether a more sensible and measured exercise which is planned for tomorrow and I’m sure we wish Tim Griffin, managing director of Classic Motor Cars, and technician Team Leader Brett Eggar and the team every success with their endeavours.

Apparently they were looking for a local driver to carry out the timed runs but my big pal Jaggy is unavailable at present so they have opted instead for a chap called Darren Turner – Aston Martin works GT team member and three times Le Mans winner. Besides, he’s previously tested the car at the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton in 2021 and reached 176 mph - in poor weather conditions!

So he’ll do, eh?

Saturday 3 June 2023

Road Racer

Unbelievable stuff … When I read the headlines: “Man and Machine make 135 mph average speed on west coast island circuit,” my first thought was Calum Duffy had borrowed David Bogie’s Mk2 for a pre-Mull practice.

Nope. Another man, another machine and another island.

Just when everyone else is convinced that Peter Hickman is ‘the man’ for this year’s TT, ‘yer maun’ Dunlop throws a mighty big spanner in the works. Incredible.

It’s made me want to read Michael’s book ‘Road Racer’ again. The first thought on finishing the book is that it is a work of fiction, then you read the name on the cover. Admittedly he had a little help stringing the words and unbelievable story together, especially from Jeff Hudson, but on turning every page there is an unsettling ring of truth and authenticity.

Unsettling, because of the hardship and tragedy that has marked every mile of his route to the top and the reader’s ultimate comprehension and gradual belief that this is indeed a true story.

I only met Michael once and that was at the 2017 Wales Rally GB. He was servicing for Barry McKenna’s Densport team. Michael has actually competed on a few rallies with a Densport Mk2 and it was his way of paying Barry back for all his help. It was also another way of learning about the intricacies and mechanics of a rally car.

Although he enjoys his rallying, the big difference is that a car cannot be physically heaved and manhandled about like a motor cycle, and Michael’s style is very physical. It requires more than just talent, skill and determination to ride a 200 mph Superbike, it requires brute strength and pig-headed stubbornness to wrestle the brute around 37 and three quarter miles of undulating, twisting, smooth, rough and unpredictable tarmac lined with trees and walls which are nothing but a blur of continuous colour whizzing past at a phenomenal speed.

Michael’s rise to the top is one of hardship, deprivation and perseverance but through it all runs a ferocious compulsion to ride a motor cycle fast. Not just fast, but faster than everyone else. Remind you of anyone? The name Joey comes to mind.

So if anyone ever tells you life is tough at the top, there are more than a few folk around motor sport who will tell you in no uncertain terms it can be a lot tougher at the bottom. Brutally so, and not everyone makes it.

Friday 2 June 2023

On yer bike

According to the World Health Orgnisation, Saturday the 3rd of June is ‘World Cycling Day’. It must be so, as it has also been endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Y’ken, that lot who circumnavigate the globe in a variety of airyplanes and private jets, just so they can meet up in swanky conference centres for photoshoots and have deep and meaningful discussions to dream up plans for the rest of us who are not part of that ‘suffusion cavalcade’ - posh words for ‘gravy train’!

Established in 2018, it is now an annual fixture on the 3rd of June each year as decreed by a UN General Assembly resolution spearheaded by the Government of Turkmenistan - World Bicycle Day recognises "the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle”.

The Jaggy Bunnet velocipede
So that’s alright then, they have recognised the bicycle. It has two wheels, a frame, handlebars and a saddle. Michty me, on that basis I can recognise a bicycle too. For sure I will no longer confuse a bicycle with an airyplane. Ain’t eddikation wonderful?

To celebrate this wondrous occasion, my big pal Jaggy will join me on a bike ride on the 3rd – just as soon as he can find a puncture repair outfit for his bike – pictured here. Jaggy of course is not in the foties as he’s away tae Halfords.

And so after a weekend of wheeching about the Berwickshire lanes at high speed, perhaps it’s time for us all to get on wur bikes! Happy pedalling - and peching, wheezing and grunting.