FINNISH brothers Jarkko and Petri Nikara shrugged off delays on the opening night of the 42nd Jim Clark Rally to take a narrow lead in the international event, while the National Rally proved a topsy-turvy affair.
It was a night for Citroens in the main event around the tight, twisty streets of Duns with the French make holding the top three spots after the opening two stages and two more in the top ten with blistering driving on roads that will this morning be filled again with the usual Saturday morning traffic. But it was all too much excitement for one spectator who was reported to have gone into labour as the cars sped past, bringing a temporary halt to a stage while an ambulance was brought in to whisk her to hospital and bring a premature end to one rally event that she is unlikely to forget.
The Nikara brothers were the fastest in the first stage of the international rally, beating Irish pair Keith Cronin and Marshall Clarke, also in a Citroen DS3, by nearly two seconds around the 1.2-mile Duns stage. However, they were slower second time around and Cronin just two-tenths of a second behind on that run so the Irishmen closed the gap to under two seconds heading into today’s eight stages with another five to come before tomorrow’s official finish back in Duns around 2.30pm.
The Renault Clio of the event’s top seeds, Mark Donnelly and Dai Roberts, did not like the town stages, falling to seventh after the opening run and then another four spots to 11th after the second run. But they will come back today. Callum Blark and Paul Wakeley roared their Citroen up from 12th to move into third overnight, finishing on the same time as the second Finland crew, Jukka and Mikael Korhonen in their Skoda Fabia, five seconds off the Nikaras’ pace. The top Scot was Ruary MacLeod from Ayr with Marykirk’s Drew Sturrock, who steered their Ford Fiesta R2 into 15th place after the opening stages, having started 18th. They are still nearly 15 seconds off the leaders but in a competitive field have their sights firmly on reining in several cars in the top 15.
The National Rally, which runs just behind the 22 top cars, features a stunning array of cars from world rally machines to home-made vehicles and for a brief moment last night a yellow Darrian T90 was holding the Imprezas at bay.
John Indri from Colchester and his Newcastle co-driver Janice Moore found their 800-kilo car perfect for the market town’s twisty streets and the Essex man led at the end of the first stage. His lead was short-lived as once the National Rally field re-started following the ‘pregnant pause’, the championship leaders, Melvyn Evans and fellow Welshman Aled Davies, began to make up for their first stage spin by roaring their Subaru Impreza WRC through the second stage more than two seconds quicker than Indri and Moore, to move from 29th to 14th.
Manchester driver Stephen Simpson and Pattrice Walsh were fastest over the two runs, however, and lead going into this morning, with John Stone from Blackburn and co-driver Rob Fagg second in their Skoda Fabia, followed by Indri and Moore.
The top Scottish crew was Euan Thorburn of Duns and his Inverness navigator Paul Beaton, in their Ford Focus WRC, who will start today just four seconds off the leaders in preparation for tomorrow’s Scottish Championship Reivers Rally, with Stonehaven pair Barry Groundwater and Daniel Paterson also making up good time in their Mitsubishi Evo 9. The delay in the National Rally forced the cancellation of the opening two stages for the Challenge, Historic and Landrovers Rally, as the public roads had to re-open at 10pm, but as with nearly 200 other cars they will be back at the start this morning.