Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton battled near-Biblical conditions in the Kielder and south of Scotland forests on Saturday to win the returning Border Counties Rally in their Ford Focus WRC05.
Thorburn rattled in three fastest stage times from six tests, to take victory by over 33 seconds from fellow Duns driver Garry Pearson, with Dale Bowen alongside.
Despite setting the benchmark for others to follow on the opening test, the Ford Fiesta R5 crew lost time with a spin but secured second spot, ahead of Stephen Petch, and Michael Wilkinson in their WRC example.
Significant overnight snow and a drop in temperature heralded a difficult start to the Jedburgh-based event which was cancelled in 2018 for that very reason in the build-up to the rally.
Thankfully, the snow would turn to rain by the time the crews entered the forests and, while the stages were treacherous, they would provide the backdrop for a fantastic day of motorsport in the region.
The rally also hosted the KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship’s opening round, providing a top-quality entry list for the six-stage blast through the forests.
Pearson and Fiesta WRC pilot Peter Taylor set an equal fastest time though the opener, with Jock Armstrong’s Subaru Impreza in third just four seconds back.
Unusually, Pearson and Taylor tied again on the second stage with Armstrong yet again third, proving the competition was well matched despite the arduous conditions.
But, by the third test, Thorburn appeared at the top of the time sheets, vaulting him three places from fourth to the overall rally lead.
Pearson’s spin demoted him to third and Taylor would not emerge from the stage after a worn sump guard ended his day.
Pearson fought back on the fourth test to reclaim second and appearing in third spot was Petch, after a timing mistake for Armstrong and co-driver Cammy Fair saw them pick up a two-minute penalty. The leaderboard stayed that way for the final three stages, giving Thorburn his third rally win of the year and maximum Scottish Rally Championship points in the process.
Thorburn was happy to continue his winning ways after a year out in 2018.
“It’s brilliant to be back at the top of the SRC once again” he said. “I really didn’t think I’d be near the fight after the first few stages, as we were a way back on the leaders but, once the snow had gone, we knew we could have a bit of a push. It has been hard to get my head back into it after a year out but I’m really happy to have taken the Border win, it has been a tough one.”
Despite the last-minute worry of the weather, clerk of the course Clayton Lackenby was delighted with the event and its return to the British rallying calendar. He thanked all the marshals and volunteers for braving the weather.
Full results at www.bordercountiesrally.co.uk.