Duns rally star Euan Thorburn and co-driver Paul Beaton stormed back to grab victory from the clutches of Jock Armstrong and Paula Swinscoe, to win round five of the 2017 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship (SRC), the Dunoon Presents Argyll Rally.
The Ford Fiesta R5 driver took his second consecutive win this season by a mere four seconds to strengthen his position at the top of the championship with just two rounds remaining.
It proved a good event for Duns as Gina Walker finished as top Junior in 26th overall in her Citroen C2, just 12 seconds ahead of fellow Duns driver Max Redpath’s Peugeot 205. Andy Struthers brought his C2 home third to protect his points advantage.
In the main event, Shaun Sinclair and Jamie Edwards completed the podium in their Subaru Impreza S14 WRC, 27 seconds behind Armstrong.
The SRC returned to the Argyll and Bute region for the first time since 2003, with many of the competitors taking on the tricky Argyll forests stages for the first time.
In what was a day of changeable weather, Armstrong drew first blood, carving out a 12-second lead over his pursuing rivals, with Sinclair second ahead of Mike Faulkner and Thorburn, who both suffered punctures. The quartet were closely matched through SS2 but it would all change after the next test.
Faulkner and co-driver Peter Foy spun their Mitsubishi Evo IX in the 2.95 mile third stage, losing over a minute as they struggled to get going in the soft grass.
Thorburn and Beaton, meanwhile, were untouchable, winning the stage by an incredible seven seconds and taking a further seven from the leader Armstrong in SS4 to close to within four seconds of the defending champion heading into final service.
With SS5 cancelled, Thorburn charged into the final stage with a vengeance, and came out eight seconds quicker than Armstrong to overturn his four second deficit into a four second advantage.
“It was never in doubt,” joked Thorburn at the finish.
“We had a puncture in the first one and the second stage wasn’t much better, but the day got better as it went on. There’s two rounds left so hopefully we can do the same on the Grampian as I’d love to be Scottish Rally Champion again.”
Having made such a bright start, second was slightly disappointing for Armstrong who is vying for a third consecutive Scottish title in 2017.
He said: “We had to pay attention today. It was a really tricky stage to start with, a lot of surface changes, suddenly switching from slippery to lots of grip.
“We’re relatively happy to be second as Euan’s driven well today. This certainly makes the championship more interesting.”
Sinclair and Edwards bagged their third podium of the season in third place, finishing just over 30 seconds back from Thorburn and Beaton. The Impreza pilot drove quickly and sensibly all day but ultimately struggled for grip in the penultimate test, meaning he lost touch with the leading duo.
Mark McCulloch and Michael Hendry brought their Mitsubishi Evo IX home fourth overall after a good day in the office. The pair were in a rally of their own, avoiding any serious trouble but not quite on the ultimate pace of the leaders.
Faulkner and Foy grabbed fifth at the finish which marked a solid comeback having slipped down to ninth following their SS3 spin. The Cambrian driver, however, was left to rue what might have been.
Steven Clark and Paul Brown marked their return to SRC action with a strong sixth overall, despite suffering “four offs” throughout the day. They finished ahead of Simon Hay and Calum Jaffray who took their best ever SRC result with seventh.
John Wink and John Forrest took eighth overall in what could possibly be their last event in their Evo IX, just eight seconds back from Hay and Jaffray, with Michael Binnie and Freddie Milne completing the top ten.
Simon Hay’s seventh place saw him take the Challengers win for the first time this year to extend his points lead in the championship. John Wink and Michael Binnie took second and third respectively.
Scottish 2WD honours went the way of Duncan MacDonald and Neil Ross after a good battle with fellow Escort Mk2 crew Mike Stuart and Sinclair Young. Paul McErlean and Niall McKenna made it an all Escort affair on the podium, bringing their example over from Ireland to its first podium finish of the year.
Matthew Thomson grabbed the www.usedcarparts.co.uk Subaru Cup spoils in 19th overall, with Colin Baxter taking second by just eight seconds from Michael Robertson.
Alex Pirie put in an eye-catching performance to claim the SRC John Horton Star Driver Award nomination on the Argyll Rally.
Pirie impressed the judges by nursing his near standard and under-powered Citroen C2 home inside the top 20, overcoming mechanical problems throughout the day to take a fine second in class and first in the Ecosse Challenge. Pirie will join Thomas Gray, Greg McKnight, Michael Binnie and Mike Stuart in an end of year shoot-out for an entry into a top end of season European event.
The Scottish Rally Championship now heads into its summer break, with the next round of the season taking place in Banchory for the Grampian Stages on Saturday, August 12.