Newton Stewart rally driver Mark McCulloch is preparing for some high-speed action on the closed roads of Berwickshire next weekend (May 27/28), as he continues his campaign in the BRC Challenge and Fiesta Sport Challenge.
The Jim Clark Rally is one of the highlights of the rallying calendar, and Mark, co-driven by Craig Wallace, is aiming for a strong points finish in his Hardie Engineering-backed Ford Fiesta ST.
The crew go into the Jim Clark after battling against the odds to take a hard-earned fifth overall on the Pirelli Rally earlier this month - generally regarded as the toughest of the British Rally Championship gravel events.
It followed the disappointment of a non-finish on the previous round - the Bulldog Rally in north Wales - when the car broke a suspension component.
In working on the car prior to the Pirelli, Mark and his team also discovered that the differential had been built incorrectly by the previous owner. Once re-fitted, it totally transformed the handling and grip levels.
This became apparent on the first of the Kielder Forest stages, when Mark and Craig were one second up on the other Fiesta crews.
With improved handling, Mark continued to set a fast pace from the start of the second test. However, four miles from the end of the stage, the car picked up a rear puncture. Despite the handicap, Mark was still able to record a time just 12 seconds slower than the fastest Fiesta.
Going into the third stage, the front tyres were now showing a lot of wear because of the excessive heat, but the pair still managed to equal the quickest FSC time.
A further problem developed at the end of the stage when the car’s gear linkage snapped and Mark was stuck in 3rd gear for the 45-mile drive back to service.
With the broken part repaired, Mark and Craig set off for the final three stages fearing they were going to struggle with their new soft compound tyres, which, under rally rules, they had nominated the previous day.
Sure enough, on the fast fifth stage they lost around ten seconds due to the tyres severely overheating.
They still had the chance of a podium spot, however, so decided to throw caution to the wind on the final test and push on. Then, three miles from the finish, they picked up their second puncture - this time at the front.
Mark was forced to slow right down and nurse the car to the end of the stage with the tyre shredded down to the wheel rim.
“We lost almost a minute on that final stage, and thought it was game over”, recalled Mark: “However, we had luckily done enough to finish as fourth Fiesta crew, and 5th overall in the BRC Challenge. Even though the result could have been a lot better, we took away a lot of positives.
We’re now looking forward to the move to tarmac for the Jim Clark, which includes some evening stages on the Friday”.
Since the Pirelli, Mark has also had an outing on the DW Construction and Oakbank Stages rally at Hallburn where he finished eighth overall as the leading two-wheel drive car.
Mark is grateful for the continuing support of sponsors Hardie Engineering, AD Tool Hire, GA Milven Plant Hire, ProTune Remapping, TMAC Van Hire, Next Level Bikes, McConechy’s Tyre Services, and McClymont Electrical Services.