I’m going to stop short about wheeling out that cliché about there being no rallying but plenty going on, however I do want to talk about some interesting off-season activities. In case you’ve missed all the hype (as if), there is the small matter of a one-make rally championship for Honda Civics being launched in Scotland this year. The first registrations have pinged into the inbox of our administrator, and there are rumours of Japanese hatchbacks being welded, painted or otherwise fettled up and down the country. As shells, engines and driveshafts make their way to Scotland from Ireland, the USA and even Japan, I caught up with two entrants to the new series to find out how their preparations are going.
It seems like only a few months ago I spoke to new 205 Ecosse Challenge entrant and rally rookie Duncan Campbell for the first time, but the vending company director from Ayrshire is actually preparing to enter his fourth season on the stages. For 2010, Duncan has swapped his trusty Peugeot 205 GTi for a Honda Civic as he looks to build on the terrific progress he’s made so far. Duncan’s car is being built from a caged Spoon Civic shell, which sounds pretty cool and could have come straight out of The Fast and the Furious. As it happens, the shell hasn’t come from Los Angeles or Tokyo but from St Boswells in the Scottish Borders, from 205 and now Civic stockist par excellence Ian Hunter. The Campbell car is currently having its suspension fitted on the watch of west of Scotland preparation experts Johnnie Johnston Motorsport, and the plan is to contest the Snowman Rally up in Inverness before the Civic Challenge gets underway on the Brick and Steel Border Counties Rally at the end of March.
“One of the biggest differences between the Peugeot and the Civic is that everything’s completely new with the Honda. When we started out in the 205s there were already cars and people that had rallied them in Scotland and good ideas of what the best parts were, but with the Civic everyone’s still working things out,” explains Duncan (31). “It’s all the little things like finding out some types of suspension don’t fit perfectly, figuring out what to do with the fuel tank and so on, all the wee things that have to be worked round. We’ll get there, though, and the plan is to have the car ready for the Snowman.”
Regular co-driver Gary Patrick is set for another season alongside the Newmains driver, and although the delivery of the completed car has been delayed while the suspension is fitted, series veteran Duncan is raring to go. “We’ll probably be the ones struggling along at the back not getting in anyone’s way!” Campbell modestly jokes. “No matter how quick we are it’s going to be good, close competition, though, and we’re looking forward to being part of it.” He may be playing down his speed, but with three seasons of experience behind him and plenty of time to get his new car built, Duncan Campbell will be right up there with the best of them this season.
Up the road in Carluke, meanwhile, Graeme Schoneville is preparing to take delivery of his Jordan Civic rally car. It’s been built over the winter in Perth by the guys at Andrew Wood Motorsport, and is just about ready for delivery –in fact, after speaking to me Graeme was away to call Andrew back about something Civic-related! Like Duncan Campbell, Graeme is hoping to get a test session in before the season kicks off, but will definitely be joining his former 205 sparring partner in the Highlands for the Snowman Rally.
As well as a new car, Schoneville (23) also has a new co-driver to get used to this year. Experienced Englishman Phil Coulby is going to step into the left-hand seat, and the RAF serviceman comes to the Schoneville team with plenty of experience in a number of different cars in recent seasons. “We’ve sort of set the Snowman aside for getting used to each other before the Challenge starts but I’m dying to get out in the car,” declares Saab service manager Graeme. “I know of quite a few folk that are definitely doing the Civic Challenge and a few more places where there are cars being built, so I think it’s going to be quite competitive. I’m very interested to see how quick these Civics go!”
No matter who else registers, Graeme Schoneville is going to start the 2010 season as one of the favourites to scoop the inaugural Brick and Steel Civic Ecosse Challenge. The last couple of years have been frustrating for the Lanarkshire youngster, but crucially the pace is there – Graeme was more than equal to John MacCrone and Colin Smith when the car was on song in 2009. With an Andrew Wood Motorsport-prepared car under him for this season, it will be fascinating to see how Graeme – who scored a top twenty on the competitive McRae Forest Stages – gets on in the Honda.
That’s not all, though. Ross Hunter had his Civic out on the Jack Frost Stages at Croft Circuit, junior contender Ruary Macleod has already registered and there are at least two more Hondas sitting ready to go at unnamed locations. The Brick and Steel Challenge organisers are starting to reap the rewards for their hard work at the end of last year, so let’s hope the Civics put on a show to remember when they hit the stages in anger soon. If everyone is as fired up as Duncan Campbell and Graeme Schoneville are, it’s going to be a vintage season for two-wheel drive rallying in Scotland.