Monday 18 September 2023

Rally - Another nailbiter

Having missed the Voyonic Grampian there was no way I was going to miss last weekend’s Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally.  And it wasn’t just the competition that was the attraction. ‘The Hills’ has been, and is, a special event in many other ways.

Take last year for instance and who could forget that very emotional gathering in Talnotry when rallying paid its respects to the late Queen? The soulful, mournful notes of “Sleep, Dearie, Sleep” played by the lone piper echoing around that eerily silent glen deep in the heart of the Galloway hills and forests. A more fitting tribute could not have been dreamt up by Hollywood.

There were other thoughts too that dark September, it was also the fifteenth anniversary of the loss of a world rally champion.

These thoughts were again to the fore on the drive down the A712, the 17 mile stretch of road that runs from New Galloway to Newton Stewart, a road which is also known as “The Queen’s Way”. So named in honour of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee way back in 1977 by the Forestry Commission with Princess Anne unveiling a marker stone to solemnise the occasion.

This year would be different again. Three night time stages. The organisers had come up with a cunning plan to run six stages during the afternoon and a further three stages when night fell. As the penultimate round of the KNC Groundworks Scottish Championship, contenders needed only to contest the first six stages while the additional three were optional but designed to attract those thinking of November’s RAC Rally, and so it proved, although a few of the Scottish crews tackled the final three stages just for the fun.

Rallying at night is still one of rallying’s great challenges and adds a whole new dimension to the appeal. In daylight, crews get the chance to ‘read’ the terrain and spot the dangers but when darkness cloaks the land their senses and the view are restricted by the reach of the lamps. A spread of white light piercing a hole in the darkness – and no way of knowing what lies beyond.

As it was close in Aberdeenshire so it was close again in Galloway. Going into the final stage of six Jock Armstrong and David Henderson were tied on identical times. One six and half mile stretch of forest road would determine the outcome.

At the finish, David was shaking his head: “I thought I had a puncture in there. The car was just sliding everywhere.” But that wasn’t a lack of grip at all, that was a measure of the man’s commitment. He had taken ten seconds out of Jock, and whereas Jock had equalled his time on the first run through that stage, David had bettered his by six seconds.

Victory fell to David and Chris Lees in the Ford Fiesta R5 by ten seconds from the Subaru Impreza of Jock and Hanah McKillop with John Wink and Neil Shanks again showing great form in third with the Hyundai just holding off the Fiesta of Michael Binnie and Emily Easton-Page. Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson were fifth in the Skoda Fabia with the Fiesta of Iain Wilson and Chris Williams rounding of the top six.

Mark McCulloch’s hopes were dashed on the first stage when a tyre punctured and broke the brake disc, Finlay Retson suffered a double puncture, Rory Young slid off the road in SS2 and Scott Beattie retired at the end of SS2. An eventful day for some.

The top 2WD cars finished 13th, 14th and 15th. John Crawford’s Escort Mk2 was 13th with Josh Davison in the hot seat while Peter Stewart and Dave Robson were 15th in the Peugeot 208 Rally4, but in between these two was that cheeky wee Opel Adam driven by Robert Proudlock and Steven Brown. Surely a 1600cc FWD car had no business finishing 14th overall? But then again, the 1.2 litre Peugeot only has three cylinders! I’ve seen bigger engines in ride-on lawnmowers.

It's also worth noting that all four MG3 rally cars started and finished with Tom Constantine and Tony Walker the best of the bunch finishing just three seconds ahead of Lewis Haining and Chuck Blair on their first run out in the car. Tom was faster over the first two stages, they tied on SS3 and Lewis was faster over the final three. How close was that?

It’s also worth noting that both David Henderson and Jock Armstrong went out to contest the final three night time stages. David was faster on two and Jock on one with David winning the nine stage event overall by 22 seconds with Alan Carmichael and Ivor Lamont third in their Hyundai.

Oh, and one other reason not to miss this event, and it’s personal. It was on this event last year that a certain motor sports journalist decided to retire – but that’s another story. Anyway, it’s always nice to stop on a high, isn’t it?

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