After missing round 3 of the North of England Championship due to a lack of funds it had been 8 long weeks since we had been out competing in the Puma. However, Saturday 24th March saw the annual running of Dunfermline Car Club’s “DCC Stages”, which uses the tight and twisty roads of the Royal Highland Showground at Ingliston, Scotland.
After an early finish from work on Friday we set off on the road to Ingliston at around 2pm and arrived in time for scrutineering at 6pm. Scrutineering was a very efficient and painless experience, so after dropping our bags at the Travel Lodge we headed to the local Wetherspoon’s for a pint and some food, ready for the morning’s stages.
Although the Puma had not been driven for 8 weeks, it fired up first time and was running smoothly. The weather forecast for the day was looking good, warm and dry, and therefore we anticipated going through quite a few tyres. After a quick stop off at the tyre wagon to fit some soft compound Hankook slicks and a pressure check, we were ready to go.
Starting as car 26 was a bit of a shock to us, it’s the highest seeding we’ve had and it was going to be a tough ask to keep the 2.0L Mk2 Escort of Robert Marshall behind us on 30 second intervals. We set off in to stage 1 with gusto, conscious that we had to be “on it” from the word go. A common theme of the Royal Highland Showground is 90 degree corners, linked by short straights, which suit a light a nimble car such as the Puma. We did however find that our 1st gear was a little short, so instead of being on the power from one corner to the next, we had to introduce a quick gear change in to 2nd, and then back to 1st before sharply braking. This put us at a slight disadvantage to some cars which were able to keep the car on power in 1st from one corner to the next.
After stage 1 we were sitting in 29th, sharing a time of 8:39 with 2 other cars. Other than adding some more fuel, we were ready to go straight in to stage 2. After a quick chat we’d figured out some places to pick up some extra time, and were looking forward to the challenge. Unfortunately, after only a few corners we found ourselves with a flat tyre. The bead of the tyre had actually been pulled away from the rim of the wheel, something which we hadn’t experienced before. We had to pull over and fit the spare which resulted in taking a stage maximum of 12 minutes and put us firmly at the bottom of the leader board.
Not to be disheartened, we fitted a set of brand new medium compound Hankook Z205 tyres to accommodate the increasing temperature, and prepared for stage 3. These tyres would be the first ever time we’ve used a totally brand new tyre, every stage we’d done in the past had been done on 2nd or 3rd hand part worn tyres which we’d picked up for cheap. From the very first corner of stage 3 the grip from the tyres was incredible and we pushed on very hard, which showed in the results as we set a stage position of 19th, very respectable considering the cars around us. This boosted our overall position from 64th to 57th.
Although a good overall finish was off the cards due to the puncture, we could still fight for class position in the North of England Championship, especially considering Gary had played his joker this round, which doubles any points earned. We set our sights on fellow club member Karl Knox, who also competes in class 2, and worked out that we’d need to take 25 seconds a stage from him in order to finish above him by the end of the rally.
Stage 4 went well, with a big jump over the humpback bridge (thanks to Gavin Brown of West Coast Photos for capturing this!) at the end of the stage securing us another 19th quickest stage time. We took 28 seconds from Karl which kept us on target to sneak past him by the final stage. After stage 4 there was a lunch break which allowed the set up crews to turn the stage around, as we would be running in the opposite direction for the afternoon.
Our tyres were pleased about this direction change, as the abrasive roads were really punishing the nearside front, the switch to running in the opposite direction would mean that it was the offside tyre that would bear the brunt of the afternoons stages.
Stages 5 and 6 saw more good times, setting 18th and 24th quickest stage times, moving us up the leader board to 44th, after being down at 64th after stage 2. Now only 36 seconds behind Karl, we would try to take him on the next stage. Both stage 7 and 8 went well, with no mistakes or hold ups, resulting in 22nd and 18th quickest stage times. We passed Karl on stage 7, but unfortunately we were still 31 seconds adrift of Nigel Harkness by the end of stage 8, who was the next closest competitor in our class.
The final standings for the day were 36th overall and 10th in class 2. We looked over the results and calculated that if we discounted stage 2, which was the stage we had the flat on, we would have finished 17th overall and 3rd in class 2! A hard pill to swallow, but that’s rallying for you.
The event was superbly ran by Dunfermline Car Club, from the smoothness of scrutineering, to the paperwork, stage setup, service area and results, everything was spot on. Our thanks go to all of the organisers, marshals, set up crews, photographers and results team for putting on the event for us to enjoy, it’s certainly one we’ll look forward to in the future.
It’s now only a short break as Sunday 1st April sees round 5 of the North of England Championship, the NHMC Warcop Stages, held on the military roads of Warcop training area. We’re starting as car 35 and will be hoping for a puncture free run!
Photo Credit: West Coast Photos