Wigtownshire’s Mark McCulloch and James Haugh marked their first event together with a top-10 finish on Saturday’s opening round of the ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship in Inverness.
The Arnold Clark Thistle Hotel Snowman Rally also produced strong finishes for Port William’s Fraser Wilson and Craig McMiken of Newton Stewart on what proved to be a day of attrition for some of the fancied competitors.
McCulloch’s Subaru Impreza had been fully rebuilt over the winter and, while there is still work to be done, he happy with his day’s work on the five special forest stages north of the Highland capital.
“To finish tenth overall was spot on,” said McCulloch. “We know we can go a lot quicker, and we struggled a bit in the slippy conditions. We don’t seem to have achieved the right level of grip, and we need to get some work done on the suspension. But where there was grip, we had good pace.”
Sandhead-based Haugh enjoyed his first stint alongside the Newton Stewart driver. “As Mark says, there was plenty of commitment, but we had to back off a bit in the slippy conditions. Noise from the rear suspension caused us some concern on the first stage – so we lost a bit of time there, we didn’t want to break anything.”
Wilson, who also had a “new” co-driver in Jane Nicol from Edinburgh, steered his Mitsubishi EVO 9 to third spot in the Group N category, and 12th overall.
There were a few problems along the way, however. “We lost time early on with a steering problem, the pinch bolt slackened, but we got that fixed at service. After the slippy first couple of stages, I thought the ones in the afternoon were going to be drier, but they weren’t.
“And the chicanes in stage four were really tight – and again we lost a fair bit of time. We had to reverse three or four times in there. The main thing is, we got to the finish and have some useful points on the board. It sets us up nicely for the second round in Jedburgh.”
McMiken, and co-driver Craig Wallace from Kirriemuir, had a steady run in their EVO 9 to end the day in 14th overall.
“It’s been a reasonably good event for us,” said McMiken. “We didn’t get off to a terribly good start – we had a fuel issue – but once that was sorted our times improved.”
Among the 2WD competitors, Minnigaff navigator Laura Marshall helped guide Ayr’s Derek Connell to a fourth in class in his Vauxhall Corsa.
At the top end of the leaderboard, defending champion David Bogie had to settle for fourth after his Ford Focus WRC picked up a front puncture in stage three. The 26-year-old from Dumfries was forced to drive the remaining nine miles with a burning and smoking tyre – losing him one and a half minutes.
While he managed to claw back some of the time over the remaining two tests, the gap was too big to make it into the top three – the overall win going to his arch rival Euan Thorburn from Duns, also in a Focus WRC.
There was disappointment for third seed Jock Armstrong from Castle Douglas. He was lying second after the opening stage with Lancashire-based co-driver Paula Swinscoe, but a differential problem with the Subaru Impreza ended their challenge on the second test.
The second round of the SRC is the Brick & Steel Construction Border Counties Rally in Jedburgh on Saturday, March 22.
News and updates can be found at www.scottishrallychampionship.co.uk
Dumfries and Galloway finishers, with total times:
3. Mike Faulkner (Kirtlebridge)/Peter Foy (Bingley) Mitsubishi EVO 9 45 mins 06 secs
4. David Bogie (Dumfries)/Kevin Rae (Hawick) Ford Focus WRC 45.21
10. Mark McCulloch (Newton Stewart)/James Haugh (Sandhead) Subaru Impreza 48.11
12. Fraser Wilson (Port William)/Jane Nicol (Edinburgh) Mitsubishi EVO 9 49.13
14. Craig McMiken (Newton Stewart)/Craig Wallace (Kirriemuir) Mitsubishi EVO 9 50.40
24. Peter Stewart (Dumfries)/Kenneth Marchbank (Thornhill) Ford Fiesta R2 53.30
43. Scott Peacock (Bridge of Dee)/Sue Hynd (Inverbervie) Peugeot 205GTi 58.33
51. Scott Sloan (Dumfries)/David Sloan (Dumfries) Vauxhall Corsa 1.01.12
54. Derek Connell (Ayr)/Laura Marshall (Minnigaff) Vauxhall Corsa 1.02.00
55. Greg McKnight (Thornhill)/Chris McKnight (Thornhill) Ford Escort Mk2 1.02.36