Local competitors will be in the thick of the action this weekend as rally crews from across Scotland converge on Wigtown for the GWF Energy Merrick Stages.
The town will play host to a round of the ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship for the fifth year running.
Newton Stewart’s Mark McCulloch, who, with Sandhead co-driver Jim Haugh, recently won the Solway Coast Rally in his Subaru Impreza, will be counting on home support as he pushes for a strong top-ten finish, as will Craig McMiken, co-driven by Craig Wallace, who was the highest placed Wigtownshire driver last year in ninth overall in his EVO.
Meanwhile, Fraser Wilson from Port William, co-driven by Jane Nicol from Edinburgh, has built-up an eight-point lead in the Group N category in his EVO. He is likely to face strong competition from Ayrshire’s Andrew Gallacher, and Borderer Dale Robertson, who took the class honours on the previous Speyside round.
Among the 2-wheel drive entries, Laura Marshall from Minnigaff will be spurring on young Ayr driver Derek Connell. The pair will be targeting a maximum points haul in Class 2 in their Vauxhall Corsa, following a non-finish in Elgin. Marshall currently has a three-point advantage at the top of the co-drivers’ standings, while Connell occupies the runners-up spot – nine points adrift – in the drivers’ table.
Acky Curran from Newton Stewart will again have Cumbrian Heather Grisedale alongside in his Vauxhall Corsa – the pair finishing a creditable 25th overall last time out on the RSAC Scottish Rally in June – while Wigtown’s Paul and Michael Sharp make a welcome return to competition in a rebuilt Peugeot 206.
At the top end of the entry list, defending Scottish champion David Bogie says confidence is high following back-to-back wins in his new car.
At the same time, the Dumfries driver is fully aware that on the classic fast stages of the Galloway Forest, the Ford Fiesta R5+ could lose out to the more powerful Ford Focus WRC of main rival Euan Thorburn from Duns.
The Borderer - who won last year’s Merrick alongside co-driver Paul Beaton – currently leads the overall drivers’ standings. After five events, he has a 28 point cushion over Bogie, who lies in third spot.
With the final championship placings decided on the best six scores from eight, both drivers know that Merrick is a “make or break” round.
“Euan and I certainly need wins from now on” said the five-time champion: “The cushion he has – if he doesn’t get wins – means he can fall back on some good results, but when dropped scores come into account, the championship does take a fair shuffle. Ultimately it comes down to Euan and I driving as fast as we can from hereon in”.
He went on: “Certainly confidence is high after two wins from two. On the Speyside Stages, I felt I was handling the R5 a lot better - as it should be driven. However, on the downside, I think we could be at a disadvantage on the Merrick. The 1600 engine will be down on power compared to the 2-litre Focus, so I think we’re really going to have our work cut out”.
A number of drivers will be waiting to pounce should either of the leading seeds falter, not least Jock Armstrong, who won the Merrick in 2009. Co-driven by Paula Swinscoe, the Castle Douglas competitor took his third final podium spot of 2014 on the Speyside in his Subaru Impreza. With a second-place finish on the Granite City earlier in the season, he currently sits fourth in the overall drivers’ standings, seven points shy of Bogie:
“Our second stage accident on last year’s Merrick is still quite fresh in the mind as I still suffer a few aches and pains!”, said Armstrong: “However, we really need a good score on this one. I enjoy the stages in the west. They’re very grippy and fast flowing, and Glentrool is where I first rallied, so it has good memories for me”.
As well as the SRC, the Merrick Stages is also a counter in the Ecosse Challenge, the Five of Clubs Championship, and the championships of the Machars Car Club, and the Scottish Sporting Car Club.
The start and finish, as well as Friday night scrutineering, will be located in front of rally headquarters at the former county buildings in Wigtown. The first car will leave Wigtown at 8am on Saturday, with the leading competitors due to return just after 3pm.
Crews will tackle six stages in total. Three of them – Jenny’s Hill, Drumjohn and Arroch Hill – are in the immediate Glentrool area, with another, Auchinleck, to the east of Newton Stewart off the A712. The remaining two stages - Black Hill and Balloch – are further north in the Straiton/Barrhill area, the first time the event has visited South Ayrshire for six years.
Clerk of the Course, Graham Bisset, said safety was the number one priority for everyone involved in the rally: “In terms of spectator safety, it’s vital that those out watching the action are fully aware of the risks. Rally cars travel very quickly, and they can go off the road. We have warning notices at all the stage accesses, and there is detailed safety information in the event programme and on the website. Marshalls are positioned throughout the stages, but they can’t be everywhere, so it’s important that people look after themselves, and those around them. If there are any problems or concerns on the stages then we’d like to hear about them. For this year, we’ve introduced a spectator safety line, with the phone number publicised in the programme”.
Further details, including a spectator map, can be found at www.merrickstages.co.uk
For news and updates of all SRC rounds, go to www.scottishrallychampionship.co.uk
GWF Energy Merrick Stages – Dumfries & Galloway competitors with car no:
2 David Bogie (Dumfries)/Kevin Rae (Hawick) Ford Fiesta R5+
3 Jock Armstrong (Castle Douglas)/Paula Swinscoe (Chorley) Subaru Impreza
4 Mike Faulkner (Kirtlebridge)/Peter Foy (Bingley) Mitsubishi EVO 9
8 Mark McCulloch (Newton Stewart)/James Haugh (Sandhead) Subaru Impreza
12 Craig McMiken (Newton Stewart)/Craig Wallace (Kirriemuir) Mitsubishi EVO 9
14 Fraser Wilson (Port William)/Jane Nicol (Edinburgh) Mitsubishi EVO 9
17 Lee Hastings (Dumfries)/tba Subaru Impreza
19 Robert Harkness (Stewarton)/Mike Curry (Lockerbie) BMW 316i
22 Greg McKnight (Thornhill)/Chris McKnight (Dumfries) Ford Escort Mk2
25 Callum Atkinson (Lauder)/Keith Riddick (Haugh of Urr) Ford Fiesta
27 Iain Haining (Locharbriggs)/Mairi Riddick (Haugh of Urr) Vauxhall Nova
31 Chuck Blair (Dumfries)/Mark Roberts (Dumfries) Peugeot 205GTi
34 Iain Wilson (Dalbeattie)/John Frew (Tarbolton) Vauxhall Nova
39 Jim Robertson (Penpont)/Colin Maxwell (Dumfries) Citroen C2R2
41 Derek Connell (Ayr)/Laura Marshall (Minnigaff) Vauxhall Corsa
42 Scott Peacock (Bridge of Dee)/Craig Service (Whithorn) Peugeot 205GTi
43 Angus Lawrie (Castle Douglas)/George Myatt (Dumfries) Vauxhall Nova
44 Acky Curran (Newton Stewart)/Heather Grisedale (Seaton) Vauxhall Corsa
47 Donald Peacock (Bridge of Dee)/tba Peugeot 205GTi
57 Paul Sharp (Wigtown)/Michael Sharp (Wigtown) Peugeot 206