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RALLY crews from all over Scotland and further afield recently made the annual journey to the East Neuk of Fife for the GMSC Crail Stages 2017, the final round of the Blackwood Plant Hire Scottish Tarmac Championship.
The top title, overall champion, had already been decided with Gareth White taking the drivers championship and Harry Marchbank lifting the Co-Drivers title.
A few of the top crews were missing, some on duty overseas and others rebuilding cars ahead of next season.
It was inspiring to see a good representation from Argyll at the event, with some teams challenging for class honours and others getting out for a final fling in 2017.
The layout at this year’s event was a big hit with competitors and spectators with fast and testing stages throughout the day. The twist in the tail this year, however, was the addition of a night stage to finish the event off.
Crew comments on Stage 7 (in the dark) ranged form ‘brilliant’, ‘a whole lot of fun’ and ‘exhilarating’ to ‘total carnage’ and ‘I never want to do that again’.
These comments could almost perfectly be matched to the similar sliding scale of ‘competitors who read the regs and brought auxiliary lighting’ to ‘those that were out there in almost complete darkness’.
Shaun Sinclair, more used to throwing a car through the forests in the Scottish Rally Championships, was seeded Car 1 with his daughter Iona screaming at him to speed up most of the day. Shaun was unfortunate enough to suffer mechanical gremlins on Stage 1 after leaving some fairly essential car parts lying in the first two or three corners of the event. They battled on bravely, having a lot of fun on the way, finishing just outside the top 10.
Shaun was heard in service to comment that he would need to seriously consider who he hired cars off in the future – tongue in cheek surely Shaun?
Another north Argyll driver out in the top, Class 5, machinery was co-driver Calum MacPherson, sitting with podium contender Gordon Morrison. The crew started the rally with eyes firmly on third place overall in the championship. Their main contender Taylor Gibb, one of the sports brightest young prospects, had mechanical failure almost from the moment the stages started and he would retire after stage 1, leaving the door open for Gordon and Calum to settle in and concentrate on getting a finish. They, however, were to slide off the road in Stage 2 after a bottom ball joint let go, apparently after hitting ‘nothing’, sending the car into a fairly unexpected spin through the tyres and into the stubble field. Did anyone want the last podium place?
It panned out that with the retirements on the day, Gordon and Calum took a more than respectable third place overall in the championship. Much more to come from this pair in future.
Mid Argyll had a selection of classes covered, both in drivers and co-drivers. Jamie Miller was chasing a class 1 overall championship win, up against a very quick and consistent Marcus Tinsley in his Peugeot 205. Jamie did all he could to catch the Peugeot man, ignoring the ‘for sale’ banner emblazened across the windscreen, driving his wee Nova 1400 8v as if his life depended on it. He came up just short on the day but secured second place in Class 1 for the season and enticiced someone to buy the Nova, which was sold within the week. One careful owner!
Donald Bowness was as quick as ever in the orange and white corsa, also class 1, until the poor wee thing cried enough and snapped the back axle on Stage 5 when setting blistering times and pushing some very expensive and powerful cars all the way. Donald suggested to Robin Nicholson they had a puncture. This diagnosis was quickly dismissed when Robin noted the right rear wheel and tyre had just overtaken them near the end of the second loop of the stage.
Innes Mochrie persuaded Del Galbraith into the silly seat in the Mighty Metro for the final round. He was his usual fast and neat self, although there were a couple of moments on Stage 2 when two wheels were deemed quicker than four. And only the fact Innes had chosen Del for the job kept the passenger side down and let them carry on to a finish. Officially they were OTL on Stage 1 though with a failed kill switch cutting the engine. They did a lot of running around the car swearing and took just too long to rectify and self-recover. The metro will be back I’m sure, stronger and quicker than it should ever really be.
George and Lois Fell came back to Crail to banish the demons of previous visits. They had never finished Stage 1 on this event although there is a rumour that George’s roll in the Subaru a couple of years back was a celebration right at the start of Stage 2 but we can’t rely on hearsay.
Everything was going well until the car developed a misfire at the coast end of the venue resulting eventually in no drive and much scratching of heads. Phone calls were made half way across the country with symptoms relayed to technical staff absent on the day. ‘Flywheel, definitely the flywheel’ came the response. Closer inspection later in the week would reveal a three inch hole in piston number three. The recipient of the call has since been removed from Lois’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire friends list.
Ian Parker continued his ‘never sitting beside the same person two events in a row’ policy (his choice he assures me!) with a run in Alex Adams well-prepared Mk2 Escort. The pair had a lot of fun in the recently repaired Ford and finished a more than credible 18th overall and third in class.
Willie and Steven Beattie powered their beautiful MK2 to a fantastic 14th overall and second in Class 3. This season has seen Willie really find his feet (especially his lead lined right one!) and it will be interesting to see how his 2018 season shapes up, with success surely round the corner, albeit sideways in that escort!
There were a couple of immaculately presented Peugeot 205s flying the Argyll flag. Angus McNeil from Oban was out in his excellent 1600cc 205, trying to throw the paparazzi off the scent by having his alter ego (Johnny) right across the bonnet. Angus and Michael were unlucky not to get a finish with the engine letting go on Stage 5.
Neil McAllister and Stephen Lang were out for a ‘test’ in the newly upgraded Peugeot 205, with new things like wheelspin and wind noise now a real issue (kidding Neil). The pair got to grips with the increased power and finished 30th overall and a respectable fourth in class.
The event was won by Mini WRC pilot Nigel Feeney, ably guided round the venue by Phil Sandham. Watch out for a season review over the coming weeks with a look back at the best action on tar, as well as in the forests, of Scotland.’