Another season in the Scottish Rally Championship began for local crews in the Snowman Rally last Saturday and it was a day of mixed fortunes for the drivers.
Fraser Wilson from Port William, Wigtownshire, Mark McCulloch from Newton Stewart and Mike Faulkner from Kirtlebridge were among 90 crews from all over the country who travelled to Inverness.
Anticipation was high ahead of the 50th ever season of the series, with the previous three champions David Bogie, Euan Thorburn and Jock Armstrong all absent from the entry list.
McCulloch and co-driver Michael Hendry were making their debut in a Fiesta R5. He seemed unfazed by the new car, setting the equal fastest record over the opening Meall Mor stage but a troublesome day saw the pairing finish outside the top ten in 12th.
Conditions on the gravel stages in the forests around the Highland city proved tricky for the competitors, with a mixture of snow and ice in places making grip levels unpredictable.
Pre-event favourites Faulkner and Shaun Sinclair both hit trouble early on in the event. Faulkner slid off the road in the icy conditions and rolled his Mitsubishi, while Sinclair heavily damaged the front end of his Impreza WRC with the unseen ice catching out the 2017 SRC podium finisher.
Clone Motor Sport’s Wilson and Craig began well and from their seeding of 21 they battled through to climb to tenth overall and first in their class after the first four stages, even with an overshoot on stage two on the icy conditions.
A seventh fastest stage time on stage four highlighted their pace. The class that their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX rally car belongs to has been removed from the championship this year, so they have to move into the class above. Although that class includes more powerful and lighter cars, they built a lead of over a minute with two stages remaining.
However, a puncture about half way into the long nine-mile stage five cost them time. They completed the stage on the flat tyre but lost over a minute as a result, dropping them out of the top ten.
They struggled to find grip in the final stage, but completed it without any other issues to finish the rally in 13th place overall and as Class 10 winners – a result the team were delighted with.
In the end it was Andrew Gallacher who won the opening round in his first Snowman Rally. The Hurlford driver would open up a 24-second lead going into the final stage but with a brace of drivers within arm’s reach of victory.
Quintin Milne put in a superb drive through the final six mile test to whittle down Gallacher’s advantage, but it wouldn’t be enough to deny him his maiden SRC win and the chance to create history, replicating his father Drew’s victories of 1977 and ’79.
Donnie MacDonald and Andrew Falconer completed the podium in their Ford Fiesta R5.
The next round of the championship heads south to the NCS Border Counties Rally in Jedburgh during March, where Gallacher and Jane Nicol will start the event at the top of the SRC standings.
The championship consists of seven forest events across Scotland, taking in over 300 competitive stage miles.