THOUSANDS of sun-drenched fans ensured the Jim Clark Rally again lived up to its reputation as one of the highlights of Scotland’s motorsport year.
Pavements in the heart of Duns, usually quiet and empty on a Friday evening, were jam-packed as crowds flocked to see the opening spectator special stages as Britain’s leading two-wheel drive exponents turned the normally peaceful town centre into their own high speed playground.
The second round of the British Rally Championship fired into action with Finn Jukka Korhonen, winner of the opening round, the Carlisle-based Pirelli Rally, leaving the start ramp in his Citroen. As he headed down from Market Square, through Murray Place and eventually Station Road, he was waved on by the cheering spectators, many showing the potentially painful fiery-pink signs of sunburn having enjoyed the cars’ shakedown earlier in the day.
But the biggest roar of the evening was saved for Mull’s John MacCrone. The Culina Palletforce Racing team-leader, co-driven in his Citroen DS3 R3 by Welshman Phil Pugh, is something of a tarmac specialist. And through the opening loop of three tarmac stages, the Scot clung to the rear bumper of the rising Scandinavian superstar.
Korhonen established an early advantage through the streets of Duns, clocking 1min 22.5secs through he opening 1.2-mile stage. MacCrone was just 0.9s behind him in second.
Next up was the first run through the event’s longest stage, the 15.88-miles of the tricky, technical and ultra-fast Abbey St Bathans. Again the Finn edged it, with a fastest time of 12.55.4secs, but MacCrone continued to emphasise he will be Korhonen’s closest challenger through the event with a time of 13.02.2s, just 6.8s slower. Ulsterman Alastair Fisher remained in third position, 8.1s adrift of the Scot, with Welshman Tom Cave fourth, a further 4.5s back.
That though was to change through the opening run of the short, 3.98-miles of Tweedside. While Korhonen and MacCrone held station, a spin by Fisher saw him only eight-fastest through the stage, a full 10s slower than the Finn. MacCrone, by contrast, was only 0.5s slower in second.
The delay cost Fisher third place overall, with Cave moving up the rankings. The young driver from Aberdyfi (correct, Aberdyfi) though still found himself 25.7s off the lead, and 17.5s behind the feisty Scot.
Grabbing a few minutes respite before the second run through the same three stages, MacCrone admitted he was satisfied with his opening performance.
“We always knew the first run through the stages was going to be about establishing the right pace,” the Scot said as he grabbed a quick bite to eat. “Now we need to make sure we just repeat the level of performance and commitment, and even, possibly, increase it.
“I’ve always loved competing in the Jim Clark Rally, and tarmac has always been my favourite surface, especially having been brought up on the fast, single-track roads of Mull. We’re in a healthy position, so let’s see what happens over the rest of the stages.”
After an overnight halt in Kelso, the crews tackle the final ten stages on the Border roads today before finishing at Kelso Racecourse.