Armstrong takes last gasp Galloway Hills Rally win
Jock Armstrong secures ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship title and Galloway Hills Rally victory as rival Garry Pearson retires on the final stage.
Jock Armstrong scored a dramatic eighth Galloway Hills Rally victory last weekend and with it, secured the 2016 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship title at the Castle Douglas based event.
Image courtesy of West Coast Photos - Gavin Brown
Local hero Armstrong played second best to SRC leader Garry Pearson for much of the day, but in a in a nail biting twist, took a final stage victory when Pearson’s Fiesta R5 dramatically caught fire, ending his fight for the championship and hopes of a rally win. Mike Faulkner took an impressive second overall on the event with Dumfries ace Mark McCulloch securing the final step of the podium in third.
Organised by Solway, Machars and East Ayrshire Car Clubs, the Castle Douglas based event attracted a 90 car entry but all eyes were undoubtedly on the SRC title fight which would be fought out across six stages in the Dumfries and Galloway forests to the north-west of Castle Douglas. After five hard-fought rounds across Scotland, Armstrong and Pearson were separated by just 10 points and the championship would be played out during the final round of the series between the two drivers.
First blood would go to Armstrong and co-driver Paula Swinscoe who bagged a slender one second lead in their familiar Subaru Impreza on the opening stage of the event over Fiesta pilot John MacCrone with Stuart Loudon alongside. Pearson and co-driver Robbie Mitchell were down in third in their similar machine but soon vaulted into the rally lead after an impressive run over the second stage. MacCrone failed to emerge from the second test after getting the Fiesta beached, leaving Mike Faulkner and co-driver Peter Foy to slot into third spot in their Mitsubishi E9.
At the halfway point of the day, Pearson had opened up a seven second lead over Armstrong but could not afford to relax after trading times with the Castle Douglas man throughout the three stages on the opening loop. Just three more stages separated Pearson from taking his very first Scottish Championship title and the Duns resident was in a confident mood as he left the midway service halt.
Armstrong had other ideas however; closing the gap to the leader to just two seconds after stage four. But the biggest blow was yet to come for Pearson. A time only good enough for forth on the penultimate stage saw Pearson drop down to second place as Armstrong recorded a time 14 seconds faster than Pearson through the Cain Edward test. Either Pearson was conserving the car, or he had problems. And it was the latter.
Smoke engulfed Pearson’s Fiesta R5 on the road section towards the final stage and after desperate efforts to keep the imminent fire at bay; Pearson had no option but to park up at the side of the road, retiring on the spot with a broken manifold. By now, Armstrong was running first on the road and was unaware of the drama unfolding behind him. By the time he returned to the ceremonial finish in Castle Douglas however, news had filtered through that he was champion yet again.
“It’s been fantastic battle with Garry (Pearson) all year long and it’s a real shame for him that it’s ended like this” said a jubilant Armstrong. “I guess what is unlucky for him is good for me and to win my home event for an eighth time whilst taking my second Scottish Rally Championship title is a great way to end the season. Now, it’s party time!”
Pearson’s demise had changed the look of the top three, meaning Faulkner grabbed second spot with McCulloch third. McCulloch was languishing down in eighth after the opening test, but fought back through the field to take a well-deserved podium after working through the night to cure a sick car at the shakedown stage on Friday.
Greg McKnight and Laura Marshall took a solid drive in their Mitsubishi E9 to fourth overall whilst fellow Mitsubishi crew Bruce Mccombie and Michael Coutts grabbed fifth. Andrew Gallacher and Jane Nicol were pleased with sixth overall in the gorgeous Focus WRC whilst Quintin Milne and Sean Donnelly took the two wheel drive honours in their Ford Escort Mk2 in seventh. Wayne Sisson and Neil Shanks brought their Mitsubishi IX home in eighth.
The event was once again awarded a prestigious £9000 grant from the Dumfries and Galloway Council Major Events Strategic Fund, which enabled organisers to offer free ferry crossings to crews from Ireland with event partners Stena Line. A plethora of crews made the trip across the Irish Sea with Seamus O’Connell and Sean Magee taking the Irish honours in ninth with their Ford Escort Mk2.
Michael Binne and Claire Mole scored an impressive result from a start number of 25, rounding off the top ten in their Mitsubishi IV.
Organised by Solway, Machars and East Ayrshire Car Clubs, the Castle Douglas based event attracted a 90 car entry and ran for the 43rd time on Saturday.