Double Scottish champions David Bogie and Hawick co-driver Kevin Rae picked up where they left off last season with victory on Saturday’s Arnold Clark Thistle Hotel Snowman Rally, the opening round of the 2011 MSA Scottish Rally Championship.
They won three of the five forest stages north of Inverness in their Mitsubishi Evo 9, to finish with a total time of 42 minutes 50 seconds, 30 seconds ahead of runners-up Euan Thorburn from Duns and his Inverness co-driver Paul Beaton, also in an Evo 9.
Last year’s Snowman winners, Jock Armstrong and Kirsty Riddick, secured the final podium spot, a further 3 seconds adrift in a Subaru Impreza.
There was much pre-event anticipation about the return to competition of former works driver/turned TV presenter Robbie Head, who was contesting his first rally since 2006, co-driven by Paxton’s Claire Mole. Despite a burst rear brake-pipe on the penultimate stage, the Lanark star finished seventh overall in his Station Garage/DMACK Tyres backed Mitsubishi Evo 9. Although there was none of the deep snow which dominated last year’s event, the stages in and around Tain and Lairg were still very slippery in stretches with a combination of ice and mud - particularly the opening 11.62-mile Strathrory.
Armstrong was one of a number of drivers who arrived at first service having experienced a “big moment” , as a result of which he dropped five seconds to Bogie, with Thorburn breathing down his neck, just two seconds adrift.
The Duns driver took the initiative on the second test - Carbisdale - pipping Bogie by just one second over the 6.48 miles, with Mike Faulker and Peter Foy showing intent, a further one second back.
Thorburn again dominated on the 8.71 mile Dalnessie test, running out a six second advantage over Bogie.
It meant that the two were neck and neck going into the penultimate stage, Dalchork, but try as he might, Thorburn could not repeat his earlier success, as Bogie pushed for victory.
Euan told the Berwickshire News: “We were second on the road, and although the start was OK, it then went into a really soft muddy section and we just couldn’t find any grip.
“I lost my confidence after that and we dropped 12 seconds and there was no way we were going to get that back over an 8-mile stage. Going into the last stage we decided just to keep it steady and hold onto second, which I’m pretty pleased about after a five-month lay-off,”
Euan will also contest next weekend’s BRC season-opener.
Despite the broken brake-pipe, Robbie Head declared himself “reasonably happy” with his return to competition, alongside experienced Borders-based navigator Claire Mole, with the pair topping the DMACK Tyres Group N standings.
“That problem on the fourth stage dropped us more than a minute, and put paid to any chance of a better result”, said Head: “The pace was OK towards the end and we’ll now go on to the Border Counties and see how we get on”.
Maxton’s Craig Smith and co-driver Colin Smith from Lauder had every reason to celebrate as they notched a superb class win, finishing 36th overall in their nifty Vauxhall Nova.
Among the notable retirements was hotly tipped Alness ace David Wilson co-driven by Jedburgh’s Dave Robson. They were forced out with gearbox problems in their Evo 9.
Dumfries driver Richard Stewart, co-driven by Kelso’s Carin Logan also retired his Subaru Impreza with a broken gearbox.
Crews will now prepare for the SRC second round - the Jedburgh-based Brick and Steel Border Counties - on March 19.