‘Armstrong takes Scottish Rally Championship’
Penultimate-stage retirement for Pearson gives Jock the title.
cotland has a new rally champion, but perhaps not the one everyone was expecting.
Going into the final round of the national ARR Craib Championship the on-form Garry Pearson and Robbie Mitchell looked unbeatable in their Dom Buckley-prepared Ford Fiesta R5.
As series leaders, all they had to do was win or finish right behind Jock Armstrong and Paula Swinscoe in their TEG Sport Subaru Impreza. The top two could, therefore, ignore John Maccrone and Stuart Loudon, who were widely tipped to win the Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally, as long as they kept tabs on each other.
It was therefore no surprise to learn that three seconds covered the top three times in the first stage, with Armstrong quickest by a second from Maccrone and two seconds quicker than Pearson.
Then came the first big shock of the day in the second stage at Cairn Edward. Maccrone hit something in the grass, broke a wheel and the Ford Fiesta spun itself backwards into a ditch. The duo were left to sunbathe – in complete contrast to the previous day’s storms – as the rest of the 90-car field sped by.
Oblivious to this, Pearson hit back with a time 10 seconds better than Armstrong to snatch the rally lead, although Armstrong pinched one back in the next test at Glengap before service, where there seemed to be quite a bit of earth and grass being cleared from under the Fiesta.
“A corner tightened up a bit more than the notes suggested and we were off down a banking and through the weeds,” smiled Pearson. “Clear the debris and we’re good to go.”
As for Armstrong: “That second stage didn’t suit me. It was wet, tight and twisty in the middle and faster at start and finish. Arron (Newby, TEG Sport) told me I should just click the ‘map’ up one in the tight bits and down two on the fast bits. What does he think I am, an airline pilot – I was busy at the time!”
Meanwhile, behind these two, just 20 seconds covered the next nine places. Mike Faulkner was third, but by only five seconds from Mark Mcculloch with Greg Mcknight a further second behind him, while Bruce Mccombie thought a podium finish was still possible despite a “half spin” in the third test.
Armstrong was quickest in the fourth test, but by only four seconds from Pearson. After the next stage, the gap was bigger, with Armstrong snatching the rally lead, taking 14 seconds out of his championship rival. In fact, both Faulkner and Mcculloch took time out of Pearson too, with Mcknight matching his stage time.
All became clear on the subsequent road section when Pearson and Mitchell smelled smoke in the car. They were forced to pull over and extinguish an under-bonnet fire. The manifold had split and although they both thought they might make the finish, the heat melted the plastics and set fire to the wiring. Game over.
Armstrong was now on course to score his eighth win on his home event and his second championship title. All he had to do was get through the final stage and road section.
Then young Greg Mcknight posted the fastest time on the final stage. Mark Mcculloch was second fastest. Armstrong was third fastest. A canny run was called for and he duly delivered arriving back in Castle Douglas to a huge crowd at the finish. Among the first to congratulate Armstrong and Swinscoe were Pearson and Mitchell. A gesture much appreciated by the winners.
“I felt for Garry. I couldn’t believe it when I heard what happened,” said Armstrong, “You couldn’t make it up, could you? I remember being told at school that to finish first, first you had to finish. That’s what I did today.”
Faulkner just managed to hang on to second place as Mcculloch closed in. “I just kept the old tyres on for this afternoon,” said Faulkner, “that’s as well as I’ve ever driven, and they’re all snapping at my heels.”
Mcculloch was happy enough with third position, but rued what might have been.
“After an all-nighter fixing a misfire I was pretty slow off the start this morning, but got going in the afternoon,” he explained.
Mcknight’s final-stage push also earned him his best forest rally result with fourth place just edging out a surprised Mccombie. “I think I was lucky to get fifth, the pace of the top 10 up here is just unbelievable at the moment,” said Mccombie.
One second behind Mccombie was Andrew Gallacher in an ex-carlos Sainz Ford Focus WRC.
Perhaps the last word should be left to Armstrong’s proud mum, Joyce, who remarked: “I’m just so pleased. That makes Jock a double [Scottish] champion too, just like his sister Barbara who was a double [British Ladies] champion in 1998 and ’99..” ■
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