MCCOMBIE

TOPS NA­TIONAL FIELD

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Jack Benyon

Af­ter the drama of last year when lead­ers Jock Arm­strong, and na­tional rally’s most fa­mous driver, Jimmy Mcrae, both went out on the fi­nal stage, this year’s Wales Rally GB Na­tional didn’t have the same sting in the tail. In fact, it was a straight­for­ward af­fair. It ac­tu­ally turned out to be one of ral­ly­ing’s old­est bat­tles. Scot­land ver­sus Wales. Bruce Mccombie against Luke Fran­cis.

The Scot, with Michael Coutts on the notes, was the vic­tor, over­com­ing fel­low Mit­subishi Lancer E9 driver Luke Fran­cis de­spite suf­fer­ing turbo is­sues through­out the event. He held on to take vic­tory, four years since his last at­tempt at the event.

Fran­cis put on an ad­mirable dis­play, driv­ing a Mcwhirter-pre­pared car for the first time as his own Lancer E9 wasn’t ready for the event.

The first day was punc­tu­ated by re­tire­ments. The first to go were last year’s win­ners Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy. The Mit­subishi Lancer E9 duo rolled on the My­herin opener af­ter a missed pacenote. Not only did they roll but they also blocked the road for Fran­cis, who lost a chunk of time try­ing to nav­i­gate the stricken duo af­ter check­ing they were OK. But that wasn’t the BTRDA Gold Star run­ner up’s only is­sue.

“It was dra­matic this morn­ing, we lost the brakes on the first stage,” he ex­plained. “The brake bias was pushed all the way to the front and it boiled the brakes. The fog was hor­ren­dous and Faulkner crashed in front of us. He was in the mid­dle of the road and we had to go in a ditch to go around him and that took a while. We took it steady and made sure we got back to Dee­side. We should get the time back [off the or­gan­is­ers for slow­ing dur­ing Faulkner’s crash], I’m hop­ing too.”

Un­for­tu­nately, that time re­turn didn’t come, and he was left trail­ing by the end of the first day by al­most half a minute.

Also trou­bled on the first stage was Mark Wor­ley. He brought a Melvyn Evans-pre­pared Subaru Im­preza S12B WRC to the event but made the de­ci­sion to pull out af­ter the tricky fog-laden opener, not will­ing to risk him­self in the con­di­tions.

So what of the leader? Fastest on the first stage was Tom Pre­ston, one of a host of Bri­tish cham­pi­onship driv­ers ap­pear­ing in Wales for the event. In his Skoda Fabia R5, he fol­lowed that up with an­other quick­est time on Sweet Lamb but on Hafren he was out. A slow roll left the car on its roof and the crew head­ing back to the Dee­side ser­vice park.

That left Bruce Mccombie to take the lead. Af­ter a try­ing morn­ing, he set out to prove the pace of the Scot­tish cham­pi­onship – which he reg­u­larly com­petes in – against BTRDA fron­trun­ner Fran­cis.

De­spite a few is­sues, the Scot cer­tainly im­pressed. But his Fri­day was punc­tu­ated by prob­lems, too.

“It’s just over­heat­ing with the [turbo] lag,” he said. “In shorter stages it was fine, we turned it off for those. I had it on for the long ones but we turned it off half­way through or when­ever it started to over­heat.”

Mccombie was clearly en­joy­ing the quicker sec­tions, where the roads re­minded him of ral­ly­ing back home. Like Scot­land, many of the stages in Wales are fast and flow­ing.

De­spite con­ced­ing to Pre­ston early, Mccombie was on it and, de­spite the is­sues, went fastest through Hafren and Dyf­nant. That was no mean feat, hav­ing not done the event since an out­ing in a Group B Mo­tor­sport­pre­pared Subaru Im­preza four years ago.

As Mccombie and his fel­low driv­ers put the tar­pau­lin over their cars for the night on Fri­day, there were lights on in one camp. The chip­per Pre­ston and Carl Wil­liamson were back at ser­vice, and had their team CA1 Sport work­ing on the car.

Team boss Martin Wilkin­son, who’s dealt with a few rolls af­ter look­ing af­ter Colin Mcrae’s M-sport Ford Fo­cus in pe­riod, fin­ished the car with his me­chan­ics at 0230hrs on Satur­day morn­ing. At just af­ter 1100hrs, the hard work was re­warded with Pre­ston set­ting the quick­est time on the first stage of the day, which for the na­tion­als was the Chol­monde­ley Cas­tle Stage, the rally’s wel­come re­turn to Eng­land.

In con­trast to Pre­ston’s ideal start to the morn­ing, Fran­cis’s was tougher. He found out he wouldn’t be get­ting back any time for the Faulkner in­ci­dent on Fri­day. That meant he started the day 28s in ar­rears.

And so the fight­back be­gan. Or it should have. Fran­cis had fluffed the tyre choice. He ad­mit­ted him­self it was a gam­ble. “It’s been OK but we took the wrong tyres,” Fran­cis con­firmed at the end of Satur­day’s ac­tion. “We went on the world rally car tyres to try and avoid a punc­ture as they’re stronger. But we could have done with go­ing on the [Pirelli] Y tyres, with the wider pat­tern, big­ger block. But we didn’t get any punc­tures so that’s good. We’re still sec­ond so can’t re­ally com­plain.”

One man who cer­tainly couldn’t com­plain was Mccombie. Af­ter a dy­na­mite time in Aber­hir­nant to end the day, any of Fran­cis’s ef­forts to erase the gap were re­deemed. The gap was back out to 32s with only 16.18 miles of stages to go on Sun­day.

So, what were the driv­ers’ ap­proaches to the fi­nal in­stal­ment?

Fran­cis: “I’ve got this far, there’s two min­utes to Roger [Duck­worth, third place]. I might just go for a steady one. I’ll de­cide on the start­line! I don’t want to miss Llan­dudno af­ter three days.”

Mccombie coun­tered: “We have to drive like we have been. The gap isn’t big enough. A spin, a punc­ture and we’ll lose the lead. It’s dif­fi­cult to man­age and as soon as you try to, you make mis­takes. We’ll see what hap­pens to­day.”

Did any­one re­mem­ber last year? This equiv­a­lent re­port was penned when long-time leader – also a Scot, Jock Arm­strong – broke a wheel bear­ing on the last stage and gifted Faulkner the win. Would there be drama like it this year?

Mccombie drew first blood and a cou­ple of sec­onds out of Fran­cis on Clo­caenog, but could only man­age fourth through Al­wen and that meant a gap of 28.7s into the fi­nal stage, Brenig. A healthy mar­gin, so long as a wheel bear­ing doesn’t break…

It didn’t, Mccombie held on. Stylishly in fact, as he headed Fran­cis by 8.9s, the big­gest mar­gin be­tween the two all week­end, to take the vic­tory. More trips to Eng­land and Wales could well be on the cards for the Scot ( see rally news).

The event proved to be a fight be­tween two of the best from Scot­land and Wales, but a fa­mil­iar

Mccombie held his nerve over the last stages

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