Sorting out a three-way tie to find the result of a trial when all three riders have failed to lose any marks is always going to cause some level of controversy depending upon your personal view. Many clubs have no formal regulation to resolve such a situation, so when such a tie occurred in the Edinburgh Club's Pre-65 Scottish Two-Day Trial between previous winner Dan Clarke, Dan Thorpe and last year's victor Gary Macdonald, there was inevitably some dispute as to who would be declared the winner. Should it be the oldest rider, in this case, Clarke, as is the normal way in many classic trial organisations? Should it be the rider of the largest capacity machine, as in this case Macdonald? Or should it be declared a tie? However, the Pre-65 Scottish organisers had catered for such an eventuality, and the win was given to Gary Macdonald as he was on the largest capacity machine, a 350 Triumph. And so, for the second successive year, the trial was formally won by the resident of the host town, Kinlochleven, which nestles in the heart of Scottish trials territory.
With the sport of trials being populated entirely by amiable, good-natured guys, all three riders took the decision in good heart; Macdonald because he is a local and it's obviously good for the village. Thorpe, of course, would have loved to have been declared the winner to match his father Dave's previous success and, therefore, be the first father and son winners. Clarke equally so because he no longer rides frequently, and it proves that he retains so much of the talent he demonstrated when riding the major World and British Championship events. Of course, the many hundreds of spectators at the event will each have had a personal opinion but when all is said and done, who would want to make such a decision knowing full well that whatever was decided would not satisfy everybody?
Everyone wants to ride
Once again the trial entry was massively over-subscribed with a 25 strong waiting list. Come the start of the event on the Friday morning, all 25 reserves had been allocated a ride — the full-house entry of 200 set off faced with two very full days of riding, of 30 sections with each day in two separate loops; odd numbers going one way and even numbers the other. Unfortunately, the programme didn't match the direction the competing riders actually took, as we found out! The plethora of beautifully prepared machines all burst into life at 9.30am, for now, traditional parade around the village before the first two men set off at 10.00am, Cnoc a Linnhe being the first hazard for the odd numbers and Loch Eilde Burn the first group for the even numbers. Unfortunately, it was not long before the first of what proved to be a very long list of retirements - 40 in total - were back at the old aluminium works car park, some mechanical and some through fatigue. Both Cumbrian's Edward Dobson and Andrew Bingley on beautiful newly manufactured 500 Ariels were out of the trial; Bingley with an ineffective clutch after just two sections and Dobson with a health problem that necessitated a visit to the hospital. Bingley was able to repair his clutch, but his travelling companion was obviously not well, so he did the right thing and took his fellow engineer to Fort William for tests. The author of this report faired a little better with a totally dead, sparkfree, Triumph Tiger Cub after just four sections and although the Drayton framed machine did eventually fire back into life some three and a half hours later with an entirely new ignition thanks to Spanish genius Albert Bergada it was in all reality all too late. Out on the hill, the riders were finding the first day's action was proving particularly tough. Experienced Pre65 riders in the trial reckoned that the sections had been toughened up considerably and the big loop round Blackwater was in particularly vicious mood due to the incredibly wet winter the area had experienced, and even the short stretches of moor on the easier loch-side loop were difficult, with deep ruts from previous events proving quite testing.
The opening day of this famous trial, now well into its fourth decade, is always more difficult than the second day and this year was no different. For many reasons, retirements kept returning to Kinlochleven with various tales of woe, whilst those having trouble free rides were often finding the time schedule difficult to meet, such as the tough going across Blackwater.
What's the story?
The first day's results declared only Dan Clarke as going clean and Dan Thorpe as retired with Macdonald on five marks lost but there were some discrepancies in the results, for it was actually Dan's father Dave who had retired after an excursion together with his machine over the edge of Pipeline, fortunately without injury, whilst Macdonald's five was wrongly transcribed. Previous winners Rob Bowyer and James Harland, both riding Triumphs, were on three and five marks respectively whilst Darren Wasley although ten down on time had only lost one mark in the sections. Come the conclusion of the first day there had been 27 retirements, with probably the most surprising being Paul Bennett, who had finished the day with a painful leg only to find after visiting the hospital that he had actually broken his fibula, and was in a cast with instructions to visit his local hospital where it would need plating!
The day had been fairly inclement with persistent drizzle and low cloud on the hills making everything a little unpleasant, though nowhere nearly as bad as can often be experienced in the Highlands.
A better day
Saturday was altogether a much better day with mild, bright and dry conditions and a much easier route and, indeed, sections, with the result that Friday's higher than expected scores were generally much lower on Saturday through the same number of 30 sections. With the overnight scores corrected and updated Thorpe, Macdonald and Clarke were obviously tied on clean sheets, so it was very much a case of who could keep their nerve. With all of them being the experienced SSDT, national and British Championship contenders that they are, all three kept their feet firmly on the footrests with the result being the tie that was eventually resolved in Macdonald's favour for his second win in this most prestigious of Pre-65 classic trials. The rest of the entry undoubtedly had less pressure upon them, and it was obvious that everybody was thoroughly enjoying day two where many had found day one a significant test greater than they would have previously experienced in this event. With 200 starters, picking outstanding rides is not only difficult but arguably unfair to all the others who manfully completed what had obviously been a testing two days, but the performance by Donna Fox merits mention for she finished 20th overall on 16 marks lost having been a magnificent 11th on day one; undoubtedly the best performance by a woman in this event's history and a ride she should be very happy with.
Past, future and present
Those who are aficionados of the Pre-65 Scottish inevitably had many and varied opinions about the trial, its past, its future and indeed its present, but whatever those views may have been there's no doubt it remains as popular as ever, though arguably whether it will attract as many entrants next time remains to be seen as there's no doubt that this year's event, particularly on the first day, was unexpectedly difficult and testing for many riders, especially of the older generation at which it was aimed when first mooted back in the early eighties.
Mark Sunter (Ariel): Another rider who enjoys Scotland, he also rode in the six days on the slightly easier to ride Gas Gas.
Darren Wasley: Making his debut in the event, ‘Waz’ was riding a machine on loan from David Dench, of Kia car fame.
Andrew Paxton (BSA): It’s a brave man in the wet with no gloves as he goes for the clean!
Mark Harris (Ariel): A regular winner of the Best Foreign Rider Award, Mark is based in Southern Ireland.
Neil Dawson (Sprite): It’s one finger on the clutch of the Frank Hipkin manufactured Sprite.
Stuart Blythe (Triumph): What is it with trials riders and pulling tongues out, I ask?
Stephen Murphy (BSA): Riding around with fellow Irish rider David Coughlan, Stephen won the award for the Best up to 200cc class award on his BSA.
Ian Peberdy (Triumph): The Triumph Twin housed in many different frames remains a firm favourite for this classic trials event. We wonder just how long it will be before the ‘New’ Triumph manufacturers venture into the trials world once again.
Martyn Stanistreet (James): Winning the award for the Best Rider on a rigid up to 250 machine.
Mick Grant (BSA): John Hulme: “It’s quite ironic that in later years I only really started to appreciate just how good a road racer Mick Grant was. It’s always a pleasure to spend time with him”. Mick once again won the award for the oldest finisher.