The Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge heads to Galloway this coming weekend for the Hankook Merrick Stages, the sixth round in the one-make rally championships. The Merrick takes place in the famous forests of Glentrool on Saturday 4 September, with the title races in both the Civic Ecosse Challenge and the 205 Ecosse Challenge still wide open.
Things are really hotting up in the Civic Challenge. Duncan Campbell became the fourth different winner in five rounds when he took the honours on the Speyside Stages at the start of August, however Glasgow two-wheel drive expert Grant Inglis still leads the way as the series heads to south-west Scotland. Inglis and co-driver Robert Gray have fitted a new standard gearbox to their car as they look to bounce back from the disappointment of their first non-finish of the year last time out. But with early-season pacesetter Euan Duncan set to return to action for the first time since June and Graeme Schoneville drafting international co-driver Craig Chapman in to help, the competition is going to be the fiercest it’s been all year in the Honda Civic-only series.
One man hoping to add his name to the roll of Civic winners is Ruary MacLeod. The student from Alloway near Ayr led the Civics on the Speyside Stages before transmission problems struck, and has added incentive to go for broke in the Galloway forests – for the first time ever, he’ll be going head-to-head against his dad, Scottish rallying stalwart Calum MacLeod! MacLeod senior is competing in a much more powerful MG S2000, but Ruary is full of confidence after a successful day’s driving on the charity non-competitive Rally Hebrides. “All in all it was a great day, although I did have an encounter with a ditch and some bushes on what was essentially the first corner of the event. I feel that throwing the car around on tarmac for a few stages was a useful experience and should set me up better for the last two rounds in the Civic Challenge,” believes student Ruary. “Hopefully I can come out the gates fast and beat my dad on the first stage of the Merrick while he’s still learning the car and getting used to gravel!”
In the 205 Ecosse Challenge, meanwhile, a three-way title fight is emerging as the season reaches its sharp end. Steven Smith and Russell Fair continue to lead the way after a number of strong results including their first ever Challenge win on the Scottish Rally in June, but are coming under increasing pressure from the ‘Borders Armada’ of Sean Robson and Garry Pearson. Teenagers Robson and Pearson have two 205 wins apiece this year with respective co-drivers Iain Robson and Tom Hynd, and with crews discarding their three lowest scores from the season they also have time to make up for their misfortunes earlier in the year.
Former Scottish Junior Champion Mark McCulloch and co-driver Craig Wallace have also shown they have the pace to win 205 rounds on their return to the one-make series, but having missed the early rounds of the year it’s going to take some doing for them to win the title again. Crossford junior Graeme Smith and Lanark plumber Jordan Black are getting closer to the pace of the frontrunners with every round, whereas Gartcosh company director Graeme Sherry is quietly confident of a good result as he debuts his new car.
““The Speyside result was really important for our title chances, but what’s just as important is the confidence boost it gave me,” believes Peugeot frontrunner and last round winner Garry Pearson (18). “I really felt like I was getting on brilliantly with my co-driver Tom Hynd and the car, and everything is starting to come together.”
Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge – Hankook Merrick Stages
Civic Ecosse Challenge
45 Grant Inglis (Glasgow) / Robert Gray (Glasgow)
46 Graeme Schoneville (Carluke) / Craig Chapman (Westhill)
47 Euan Duncan (Aberdeen) / Peter MacInnes (Maryburgh)
58 Ruary MacLeod (Ayr) / Will Rogers (Cinderford)
68 Billy Davidson (Glasgow) / Martin MacCabe (Glasgow)
69 Duncan Campbell (Ballochmyle) / Gary Patrick (Darvel)
205 Ecosse Challenge
63 Steven Smith (East Kilbride) / Russell Fair (Stewarton)
64 Sean Robson (St Boswells) / Iain Robson (St Boswells)
65 Garry Pearson (Duns) / Tom Hynd (Inverbervie)
66 Mark McCulloch (Newton Stewart) / Craig Wallace (Kirriemuir)
78 Jordan Black (Lanark) / Stuart Loudon (Uddingston)
79 Graeme Smith (Crossford) / Laura Marshall (Ayr)
80 Alex Pirie (Keith) / David Law (Huntly)
81 Graeme Sherry (Gartcosh) / Ewan Leeming (Edinburgh)
82 David Brown (Neilston) / Kirstie Marshall (Castle Douglas)
89 Nick Thorne (Lauder) / Scott Hunter (St Boswells)
90 Sarah Hunter (St Boswells) / Gary White (Melrose)
93 Fraser Smith (Crossford) / Scott Erskine (Biggar)