Defending champ savours Borders rally win
Jock Armstrong and Paula Swinscoe won their second consecutive Brick & Steel Border Counties rally at the weeekend and, with it, round two of the 2017 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship (SRC)
The Subaru Impreza crew won the event by just under 20 seconds, taking the lead early on and holding on to their advantage throughout the day.
The defending champion mastered most of the tricky conditions that the Tweed Valley forest tests threw at him, with frequent rain showers and thick mud doing its best to catch out the unwary.
It wasn’t a completely clean run for the Castle Douglas driver, though. A near rally-ending moment in SS5 Elibank would have seen the orange Subaru head straight into the Scottish Borders countryside if not for a good bit of car control by Armstrong.
“It was a really good day,” said Armstrong. “I’d thought the podium was realistic in the morning but to take the lead and then stay in front to win the event from start to finish was amazing. Fair play to everybody, we were pushed hard but I’m glad I’ve got my confidence back.”
Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton backed up their podium on the Snowman rally with another on the Border Counties, taking second place in their Ford Fiesta R5.
In a repeat of his opening round pace, the Duns driver suffered a slow start and, coupled with double punctures in stage six, cost him too much time to challenge Armstrong. Despite clawing some seconds back in the afternoon, it simply wasn’t enough and second was small consolation.
“They were tricky conditions out there but we got more miles in the car which is important” said Thorburn. “We didn’t put a spanner to the car all day so we’re looking forward to building on this and pushing on in the next one. We just need to pull our finger out at the start!”
Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy got their championship season properly up and running with a third place finish in the Borders.
The Mitsubishi Evo IX pairing impressed as they further got to grips with their new and upgraded Lancer, proving their pace by winning the final stage.
Faulkner and Foy enjoyed a good battle with the Fiesta R5 of Rory Young and Allan Cathers throughout the day, battling for tenths of seconds and position before the Mitsubishi pulled away in the final loop.
Fourth was still a great result for the Dumfries driver, who continued his fine start to the season, improving on the fifth he scored on the Snowman.
Mark McCulloch and Michael Hendry rounded out the top five in their Mitsubishi Evo IX, bagging solid points for their championship.
They were incredibly lucky to make the finish after suffering a high speed fifth gear moment in the final stage, with the car hitting a bank but somehow managing to stay on course.
Greg McKnight and Laura Marshall claimed sixth overall in another Evo IX, but it could have been so much more as the pair were running as high as second after five special stages.
However, the brake pipe problems that hampered the Evo on the Snowman plagued the luckless McKnight again on round two, with a double puncture making matters worse. There was consolation, however, as he was awarded the SRC John Horton Star Driver Award for his efforts.
Iain Wilson and co-driver Will Rogers brought their Subaru Impreza home in seventh place, with Wilson finishing as top Challenger for the second event in a row.
Barry Groundwater and Neil Shanks brought their Mitsubishi Evo X home in eighth, ahead of a great battle between local drivers Ian Baumgart and Michael Binnie. Baumgart’s Impreza overhauled Binnie’s Evo V in the final stage to take ninth by just 0.3 seconds.
Binnie, however, took second in the Challengers behind Wilson, with Simon Hay grabbing third in the category in his Mitsubishi Evo VI.
Steve Bannister and Callum Atkinson took Scottish 2WD honours in their historic Escort Mk2 ahead of Dougal Brown (Escort Mk2) and Angus Lawrie (Corsa).
Ross Hughes took a terrific top 40 finish in his Citroen C2 to finish as top SRC Junior, with Grant MacRae (Fiesta) beating Gina Walker (C2) to second spot by a mere 0.7 seconds.
Shaun Sinclair and Jamie Edwards were expected to go well in their Subaru Impreza S14 WRC, but the Oban driver got beached on a bank on the morning’s second test which meant his day was effectively over before it had really begun. The pair finished over seven minutes behind the overall winner.
The next round of the series heads back to the north for the McDonald & Munro Speyside Stages, based in Elgin on Saturday, April 22.
The ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship is partnered by Pirelli Motorsport, Reis Motorsport Insurance and Coltel Communications.
The championship consists of seven forest events, taking in over 300 competitive stage miles across the width and breadth of Scotland.
Also, after two days of intense competition in the forests surrounding Jedburgh, Sweden’s Fredrick Ahlin and Norway’s Torstein Eriksen took a confident victory at the Brick and Steel Border Counties Rally.
The all-Welsh crew of Tom Cave and James Morgan took second place in their Ford Fiesta R5 with fellow countrymen Osian Pryce and Dale Furniss rounding out the top three in their similar machine.
The Hawick and Border Car Club and Whickham and District Motor Club organised event played host to the opening round of the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship for the first time, with the ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship returning for its now traditional second round of the series.
The joining together of the two premier rally series brought competitors from around the world to the Borders for the two-day event. The Scottish forests witnessed an epic battle as some of the best rally drivers in the business tussled for honours in tricky conditions during the Friday night and Saturday stages.
Ahlin was a dominant force in the muddy stages and, despite being third after the opening leg on Friday night, he was never out of the top three all event long.
The Swede moved into top spot at the halfway point and took his Skoda Fabia R5 to victory by almost 40 seconds from Cave.
A ceremonial start under the gaze of Jedburgh Abbey kicked off proceedings on Friday night as some 40 crews would endure a treacherous run through Craik forest for two passes of the stage.
Cave stamped his authority on the leader board early on and was the overnight leader with Dumfries driver David Bogie and co-driver Kevin Rae second in their Fabia R5 just two seconds adrift. Ahlin ended the leg third.
But, as dawn broke in the Wauchope forest, Ahlin made his attack to leap out front on the opening test of the day. Cave and Bogie both dropped down the order but that was reversed on the next test, with Cave once again back on top.
It was on the fifth stage where Ahlin really made his move and leapfrogged an ailing Cave and Bogie to hit the top of the leader board to first; a position he would never relinquish for the remainder of the day.
Behind the rapid Swede, the Scottish contingent would fall by the wayside on stage six after Bogie hit a sizeable rock, damaging the Skoda and forcing him to park up in the stage.
This made way for Pryce, who was now settling in to his Fiesta R5 after a season in the lesser powered Fiesta R2. He soon found the pace he was looking for and was pleased to finish the event third.
Irishmen Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin were one of the pre-event favourites for victory during the weekend but never quite mustered the pace to take a podium spot. Several appearances inside the top three during the day were a welcome sight for the M-Sport Ford pilot, but he would end the event in fourth.
Chesterfield driver Rhys Yates was overjoyed to finish fifth in just his second season in the British Championship. Co-driven by Carl Williamson, Yates took the Brettex Fiesta R5 to a useful position for his BRC campaign.