The KNC Groundworks Ltd Scottish Rally Championship (SRC) speeds into its final round, the Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally on Saturday (14th August) with a number of titles still up for grabs.
The SRC Junior title one such fight with SRC John Horton Star Driver Award finalist Jude MacDonald top of the pile in his Skoda Fabia R2 with co-driver Michael Cruikshank.
On his first season rallying in the forests, MacDonald has been a revelation. Retiring from the Border Counties Rally, MacDonald has won the Juniors on every single round since, putting him in the box seat to claim the title and the day of driving tuition and practice that comes with it, as well as the Class 3 honours.
New Class 6 and Ladies champion Linzi Henderson is the only one that can stop him, scoring a second place finish on all five rounds in her Ford Fiesta R2T. But the odds are stacked against her, with MacDonald only needing to claim four points to take the title.
“Seeing that finish line is what we really need to do. Even if there’s no doors left, a wheel missing or whatever I’ll be getting that car over the line,” MacDonald joked.
“If you’d have told me I’d be anywhere near the top 20 [overall this year] I would’ve been like ‘yeah funny one.’ It’s not just what I expected in the slightest after the year we had beforehand where the car’s engine exploded and no seat-time or time on gravel.
“It’s gone far and beyond anything we could’ve expected. It would be absolutely unreal for me to be fair [to win the Junior title]. When I was back in the Juniors in the Citigo I never thought I’d get this far never mind start a gravel rally so it’s almost a dream come true to be able to win something on gravel.”
Iain Wilson and Chris Williams are in a similar position. A second place and a clutch failure on the Speyside was not the ideal start to the season, but three wins on the bounce since has lifted them into a commanding position in the Scottish 2WD Championship.
The series has been as thrilling as ever, as Paul McErlean, Gordon Murray, Duncan MacDonald and later Mark McCulloch all battled tooth and nail in the stages.
Pedaling his Ford Escort Mk2 affectionately known as ‘Bella’, Wilson only has to finish inside the points to take the title, but has an awkward dilemma as the Galloway Hills is his local rally. The event kicks off at his Jas P Wilson firm’s headquarters, so has home support to count upon.
“I’ve been thinking more about the rally venue at our place rather than the driving!” Wilson commented.
“With the championship in mind, we know we more or less just have to finish but I’ve never approached a rally to just tootle round and I’ll not be starting now. Of course we would love to win the 2WD’s again on our home event but we won’t go chasing anything if it turns out that way, we’ve just too much to lose.
“The Escort battle this year has been the best fun I’ve ever found in my time in rallying and all the other crews in the fight are such a great bunch of lads. It feels like we’d all help each other out if we had a problem and that’s so refreshing these days.
“It would be a dream come true to win this title in an Escort. I’ve managed to win my class in the SRC with front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive so rear-wheel-drive would make the perfect hattrick.”
A glance at the current points table shows Ian Baumgart at the top of the Challengers battle, but with dropped scores considered its Thomas Gray and co-driver Harry Marchbank that head to Dalbeattie in the strongest position.
The new-for-2019 Evo IX crew have scooped impressive victories on the Speyside, Argyll and Grampian Forest rallies with a close second place on the Border Counties Rally complimenting their tally. Baumgart and Alan Dickson have been models of consistency but both ultimately trail Gray by 11 points heading into the season finale.
“We’ll be trying [to win] again as usual but it’ll just be a case of trying to screw the nuts early on especially. It’s easy to get excited and if you get too excited it can go the wrong way,” Gray admitted.
“There’s still a lot of pace to be made up yet but we’re not far away from where we should be with the car. The car is still on a 32mm restrictor, it’s still Group N really. We’re battling with people we should be so I’m quite happy with where we are.
“It has been good to have a battle [for the Challengers], it makes it more interesting rather than just an overall finish. Obviously it’s good to be in the top 10 but having something to chase certainly helps.”
Both the winner of the Scottish 2WD Championship and the Challengers title will receive a free entry into a round of the 2020 SRC.
There’s a very different look and feel to the battle at the front of the SRC this weekend. With the championship sewn up on the previous round, Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton won’t make the trip to Dalbeattie, opening the door for plenty of pretenders who are keen to round out their season with a win.
Multiple Scottish champion David Bogie returns with John Rowan though after two strong performances in a Skoda Fabia R5 in the spring, but the pair will make an exciting switch to a Mini John Cooper Works WRC. If Bogie can learn the car quickly he is a hot favourite for victory having won this rally last year.
When it comes to winning Galloway Hills rallies though, nobody can touch Jock Armstrong who has taken a record-breaking nine wins on home turf. The Subaru Impreza man has Cameron Fair back in the hotseat this weekend and is looking for a first SRC win since this event in 2017.
John Wink took his first SRC podium on the Galloway Hills Rally last year, and took his second on the Grampian Forest Rally last month. Armed with a Hyundai i20 R5 once again, Wink and co-driver Neil Shanks would dearly love another rostrum finish to round out the year.
Michael Binnie and Claire Mole have had another quietly impressive year in their Mitsubishi Evo IX. It’s hard to believe they haven’t taken an SRC podium together yet, but the duo are chasing a sensational second place in the championship such has been their consistent speed.
Ian Bainbridge hasn’t been seen in the SRC since the Border Counties Rally, but is back out for the Galloway Hills Rally with co-driver Giles Dykes. Trading his Subaru for a Skoda Fabia R5, Bainbridge is learning the R5 ropes ahead of a full-season attack in 2020.
Outgoing champions Andrew Gallacher and Jane Nicol make a welcome return to action, switching from the Ford Focus WRC to a Fiesta R5+. With significantly less pressure on their shoulders than this time 12 months ago, Gallacher is out for a one-off drive on what he now considers his home event.
Rory Young and Allan Cathers also return to action in a Ford Fiesta R5 and are a real dark horse for success. Sadly neither Young nor Gallacher will be eligible to score championship points.
The Galloway Hills Rally consists of 43.5 superb stage miles and just 93 liasion miles making it a supremely compact route.
The event is the final round of both the KNC Groundworks Ltd Scottish Rally Championship and the British Rally Championship, but the SRC crews will tackle four of the five tests ahead of the BRC runners.
It all gets underway at Jas P Wilson, Dalbeattie at 9.30am with the first car due to finish in Castle Douglas at around 3:35pm.
The KNC Groundworks Ltd Scottish Rally Championship is supported by Royal Aero, Pirelli Motorsport, Moates Offshore Ltd, Albyn Garage Ltd, RAVENOL and Reis Motorsport Insurance
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