Borderer Euan Thorburn boosted his hopes of winning the 2014 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship with a second successive victory on Saturday’s GWF Energy Merrick Stages.
The Duns-based competitor – driving a Ford Focus WRC – led from start to finish alongside co-driver Paul Beaton to complete the six stages in the Galloway forest and South Ayrshire in a total time of 40 minutes 38 seconds, thirty-five seconds ahead of 2011 winners Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy in a Mitsubishi EVO 9.
Thorburn’s main rival and defending champion David Bogie salvaged the final podium spot, after his Ford Fiesta R5+ picked up a front-left puncture on the second stage: the flailing tyre wrecking the wheel-arch.
There were strong top-ten finishes for Wigtownshire drivers, with Fraser Wilson finishing seventh overall in his Mitsubishi EVO 9, and Craig McMiken one place further back, also in an EVO.
While Wilson finished runner-up in the Group N category to another Duns’ man, Dale Robertson, the points gained by the Port William competitor consolidated his class lead with two rounds remaining:
“We had a decent enough morning, except for a fuel-pump problem”, said Wilson, who was co-driven by Jane Nicol: “On the third stage, while we didn’t think we’d done too badly, the other GpN boys took two seconds a mile out of us and that was about it from there on. We were kind of behind in the battle, but we can’t complain about where we’ve finished, and it’s good to get the points”.
McMiken, with Craig Wallace on the notes, was a further twenty seconds adrift in the dry and dusty conditions:
“We had a problem on the second stage when one of the tyres went off completely and we lost a lot of time”, said McMiken: “I thought it was a puncture, but I think it was heat-related. It’s such a close competition – if you lose ten seconds, you struggle to get it back”.
It proved a disappointing day for fellow local hopeful Mark McCulloch in his Subaru Impreza, co-driven by Sandhead’s Jim Haugh. The pair were sitting eleventh overall after three stages, but a broken wheel put paid to their challenge and they had to retire.
Among the 2WD competitors, Acky Curran from Newton Stewart survived a difficult event to bring his Vauxhall Corsa home in a commendable 21st overall, fourth in class:
“We had a puncture on the first stage, and a puncture on stage two, and an excursion into a ditch. Then we ripped one of the new tyres on the third stage, but thankfully it didn’t puncture, and we were able to put an old tyre on”, explained Curran: “I’m glad to say that after that we had a clean run, and the last stage was particularly good”.
Late entry Jim Sharp from Stranraer, with Kenny Marchbank on the notes, ended the day in 23rd place in his Mitsubishi EVO, while Wigtown’s Paul and Michael Sharp completed their first rally after a long lay-off in 42nd spot in their Peugeot 206.
There was further bad luck for Minnigaff co-driver Laura Marshall, sitting alongside Ayr’s Derek Connell in his Vauxhall Corsa. They had been hoping to get their Class 2 campaign back on track, but were thwarted by a blown engine at the start of stage one.
At the top end of the leaderboard, Bogie – who had been seeking his fourth win of the season - rued what might have been, but admitted that the R5+ struggled to match the pace of Thorburn’s Focus WRC:
“Obviously the puncture spoiled it for us early on in the day. Once we’d recovered from that I felt I was getting the best out of the car, but even on the last stage where Euan had a healthy lead, I never backed off, and he still took a second out of us. I’d nothing left, I couldn’t have driven any harder. I’m disappointed not to get the win, but it’s still points on the board”.
Castle Douglas ace Jock Armstrong, co-driven by Paula Swinscoe, had to settle for fourth behind Bogie, but was not too disheartened, in light of a puncture and “big moment” two stages from home:
“The puncture was very sudden. The stage had been nice and flowing, but we came into a downhill hairpin which was very loose”, explained Armstrong: “As I turned round the hairpin, the car snapped sideways. I got out of the hairpin, but was trying to control the car left and right. It was either go along the top of a banking on one side, or aim for the ditch on the other, which I thought we could get out of, so that’s what we did, but we had a couple of miles with a rear puncture. We calmed down a bit after that on the next stage, and then on the last, the pace at the front picked up quite a bit. By then, though, we knew our day was done”.
At a well attended prize-giving in Wigtown county buildings, compered by one of his predecessors Roy Campbell, the Clerk of the Course Graham Bisset thanked the competitors, officials and spectators for ensuring the event passed off safely.
One of the warmest rounds of applause accompanied the announcement that the James Fleming Rose Bowl for Man of the Meeting had been awarded to Ken Matier, a long-time member of the organising team reponsible for setting up and dismantling all the vital stage “furniture” – including signs, markers, chicanes, and tape - through more than 40 miles of forest track.
“Many of you in the audience will probably never have met Ken”, said Roy Campbell: “But he spends many long hours out in the forests in the lead up to the event, making sure everything is in place, and then goes back in the following day to take it all away. He’s a worthy winner of the award”.
Councillor Marion McCutcheon, who oversaw the ceremonial start of the Rally at Wigtown County Buildings on Saturday morning said: “I’m delighted that the Rally was a great success and that it attracted hundreds of competitors and spectators to this scenic part of South West Scotland.
“The Rally is a colourful and welcome addition to the major events that take place in Dumfries and Galloway, and I’m pleased that the Council was able to offer practical and financial support to its organisers this year.”
The sixth round of the 2014 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship is the Colin McRae Stages in Aberfeldy on October 4th.
Full results from the GWF Energy Merrick Stages can be found at www.flyingfinish.co.uk
For news of all SRC rounds go to www.scottishrallychampionship.co.uk
GWF Energy Merrick Stages Rally – Dumfries & Galloway finishers with total times:
2nd Mike Faulkner (Kirtlebridge)/Peter Foy (Bingley) Mitsubishi EVO 9 41.13
3rd David Bogie (Dumfries)/Kevin Rae (Hawick) Mitsubishi EVO 9 41.15
4th Jock Armstrong (Castle Douglas)/Paula Swinscoe (Chorley) Subaru Impreza 41.46
7th Fraser Wilson (Port William)/Jane Nicol (Edinburgh) Mitsubishi EVO 9 43.37
8th Craig McMiken (Newton Stewart)/Craig Wallace (Kirriemuir) Mitsubishi EVO 9 43.57
12th Robert Harkness (Stewarton)/Mike Curry (Lockerbie) BMW 316i 45.39
13th Lee Hastings (Dumfries)/Michael Cruikshanks Subaru Impreza 45.41
15th Greg McKnight (Thornhill)/Chris McKnight (Dumfries) Ford Escort Mk2 45.50
20th Chuck Blair (Dumfries)/Mark Roberts (Dumfries) Peugeot 205GTi 47.18
21st Acky Curran (Newton Stewart)/Heather Grisedale (Seaton) Vauxhall Corsa 47.37
23rd Jim Sharp (Stranraer)/Kenny Marchbank (Thornhill) Mitsubishi EVO 48.04
30th Iain Haining (Locharbriggs)/Mairi Riddick (Haugh of Urr) Vauxhall Nova 50.04
32nd Angus Lawrie (Castle Douglas)/George Myatt (Dumfries) Vauxhall Nova 51.01
33rd Donald Peacock (Bridge of Dee)/Kirsty Riddick (Haugh of Urr) Peugeot 205GTi 51.30
36th Callum Atkinson (Lauder)/Keith Riddick (Haugh of Urr) Ford Fiesta ST 51.59
41st Scott Peacock (Bridge of Dee)/Craig Service (Whithorn) Peugeot 205GTi 1.00.44
42nd Paul Sharp (Wigtown)/Michael Sharp (Dunlop) Peugeot 206 1.00.44