One of the best things about spectating at a rally is hearing the different sounds the cars make as they carve their way through the woods. Whether it’s the low rumble and hiss of a Subaru, the barking of an old Ford Escort or the growl of an MG Metro 6R4, seasoned rally fans are able to tell what’s coming long before it pops out from between the trees. For 2010, hardy spectators have a new mechanical melody to enjoy, an engine sound that has been met with universal approval from those at the side of the stages. There’s nothing else out there quite like it, so when you hear a loud, full-bodied scream resonating through the forests of Scotland, you know it won’t be long before you see a Honda Civic Challenge Car.
The Civics don’t just sound good, though – they go quickly as well. The Honda Civic championship has been introduced this year as a new upper class for the Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge with the aim of giving those that have done well in the popular Peugeot 205 series somewhere to go once they’ve graduated from the smaller cars. The Civics have also shown they have the pace to be competitive cars in their own right, upstaging more sophisticated and expensive machinery on a number of occasions this year and making full advantage of the rubber from control tyre supplier Hankook.
The Honda Civics have proven to be an instant hit, allowing the more competitive crews to compete at a higher level whilst remaining within the controlled environment that has become the hallmark of the Ecosse Challenge. Testimony to the strength of the Hondas is the fact front-running two-wheel drive pilot and Mark 2 Escort specialist Grant Inglis decided to make the switch to the series for 2010. Inglis leads the Civic series after four of nine rounds and took his first win of the year on July’s Rally of Argyll. Grant hasn’t finished outside the top three on any of the Challenge rounds this year, and heads into the second half of the season looking to continue the learning curve.
“We’re getting used to it, it was a slow start, just letting ourselves in gently but the speed is coming now,” admits Inglis. “You can still get the back end out on the Civic, I don’t know if it’s the fastest way but I’m adapting to the techniques of front-wheel drive cars now – we’re getting there!”
Not far behind Grant are former 205 Challenge stars Euan Duncan and Peter MacInnes. Euan and Peter started the season with two wins in the opening two rounds, but it all went pear-shaped on the Scottish Rally in June when they rolled their Honda trying to reel in Inglis and round winner Ross Hunter. Aberdeen service engineer Euan (26) opted to sit out the Rally of Argyll in order to take the time to ensure his car was rebuilt properly, but will be desperate to get back to winning ways when he makes the short trip along the A96 for the Speyside Stages in a few weeks’ time.
Carluke’s Graeme Schoneville (24) is another gunning for Civic glory on the back of two non-finishes. Schoneville was knocking on the door of the top ten outright on the Rally of Argyll when a driveshaft broke, but the junior driver has vowed to bounce back as he continues to get to grips with the car. After spending several years campaigning a Mitsubishi on tarmac, St Boswells’ Ross Hunter and co-driver Eildon Hall have wasted no time in establishing themselves as one of the quickest Civic crews on their return to gravel, and fellow junior Ruary MacLeod is continually improving in his Honda. Meanwhile, ‘non-juniors’ (for want of a more polite word) Duncan Campbell/Gary Patrick and Billy Davidson/Martin MacCabe have also demonstrated they have the pace to trouble the leaders.
The introduction of the Honda Civic doesn’t in any way mean the 205 Ecosse Challenge is dying off. In fact, 2010 is turning out to be one of the most exciting series since the Peugeot-only championship started seven years ago. East Kilbride student Steven Smith and Stewarton co-driver Russell Fair lead the way after four of nine rounds, the highlight of their year so far being a maiden 205 win on the Dumfries-based RSAC Scottish Rally. Now Steven and Russell have their sights set on the overall title – but will gladly take any win that comes their way in the process.
“We started trying a few things differently, both in terms of the car setup and the way I drive, and it seems to be working,” believes Steven (22). “My aim now is to keep the pace up for the rest of the season and try to win the championship.”
“It was great to see Steven get his first win on the Scottish, but we need to remember our aim is to win the 205 Ecosse Challenge this year,” adds co-driver Fair, who used to navigate for Steven’s father Alistair. “ Having said that, it was fantastic to get a win – the first time I’ve sprayed champagne at a rally since the 1970s with Steven’s dad!”
There’s still a long way to go in the Challenge, though, and it looks like the 205 title race is going to go down to the wire. The son-and-father crew of Sean and Iain Robson took their second win of the year in Argyll to close in on Smith and Fair, whereas former Challenge champion Mark McCulloch has returned to the series after deciding to leave his Subaru in the garage. Duns teenager Garry Pearson took the 205 honours on the Granite City Rally in April but has been plagued with reliability issues since then, and Jamie Watson – son of former Scottish Rally Champion Bob Watson – is edging ever closer to a 205 win with co-driver Stephen Williamson.
Crossford’s Graeme Smith, Cumbrian Dave Crozier and circuit racer-turned-rally driver David Brown have all improved their pace this year to the extent that they too can challenge for trophies, and Keith’s Alex Pirie – partnered by David Law of Huntly – isn’t too far away either. With Lanark plumber Jordan Black, Gartcosh company director Graeme Sherry and Banchory offshore technician Martin Scott also showing potential to post top-three stage times, the 205 Ecosse Challenge honours on any rally between now and the end of the season really are anyone’s for the taking.
With a good number of registered crews in both the Civic and 205 sections, it will be hard to miss the Challenge drivers and co-drivers if you’re out spectating on any event. They might not be the first guys you see or the out and out fastest, but they’ll definitely be trying as hard as anyone else out there. And if you need any proof of that, just listen to how hard those Civics are revving as they make their way towards you!