Tag Archives: Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge

Rutherford snatches defeat from clutches of victory, looks forward to Mull

Craig Rutherford’s 2012 Scottish Rally Championship swansong didn’t end well – but the Isle of Mull driver is determined to bounce back as soon as he returns to his home island.

The Honda Civic Type R pilot from Fionnphort was in action on Saturday’s Colin McRae Forest Stages in Perthshire. 22 year-old Craig had already secured the Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge Type R title, the Scottish Junior Rally Championship and the class honours for his Honda, but wanted to help his co-driver Ross Hynd grab some extra silverware. With Ross only joining the team halfway through the season, he was a little down on Craig’s points tally, so the aim was to get a good score and help the Ayr navigator climb the rankings.

All seemed to be going to plan until the start line of the final Craigvinean Forest test. The young crew were given a start time from the marshal, rolled their window up and prepared to start the stage. When Rutherford went to engage first gear, though, the clutch wouldn’t play ball. Game over.

“It was really strange because everything was running fine, we got the timecard back from the marshal, went to put the car into gear and just nothing,” explains company director Craig. “The main aim was to get Ross the co-driver’s championship, and it’s a real shame that couldn’t happen. It was pretty tough trying to go at 80% all day and not get sucked into any battles, actually one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in a rally!”

Nonetheless, Craig is adamant the retirement won’t affect his preparations for this coming weekend’s Mull Rally. “The Mull Rally is obviously a very special and important event for me, even though the championship season is at an end,” explains the PMG Services and Fidden Campsite-supported driver. “The car will be back to full working order by the end of the week, and as Ross can’t get the time off work I’ll have Peter MacCrone from Ulva Ferry sitting alongside me.”

The Tunnock’s Mull Rally runs from Friday 12 to Sunday 14 October. Craig Rutherford and Peter MacCrone will be 36th car away from Tobermory on Friday evening.


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Filed under 205 Ecosse Challenge, Rally, Scotland

Stage stars rally round for earthquake and tsunami


The horrific events that recently struck Japan need no explanation here. What you may not know, though, is that the Japanese rally driving community is pulling together to offer support to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in any way they can. Now they would like the wider rally community to support them in their efforts.

The ‘Do Something’ rally initiative is being coordinated by rally team principal and former Japan national champion co-driver Kazuya Suzuki. The aim is to draw on the spirit and camaraderie of rallying and use this as a force for good to help all those who have lost homes, loved ones or livelihoods as a result of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Through the website http://dosomething-rally.com, rally participants from across the world are able to make donations however small to assist aid efforts in Japan. The idea is to make a contribution from the world of rallying to an extremely serious situation.

The Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge has already thrown its weight behind the initiative. At the Border Counties Rally at the weekend, participants in the Civic Ecosse Challenge and 205 Ecosse Challenge contributed to a collection for the disaster fund. Challenge sponsor John McClory of Brick and Steel Construction then agreed to double what the competitors had collected – and it is hoped more members of the Scottish and British rally community can contribute.

“When we organize a rally, everyone lends a hand and works together to make it happen. I want to capture this spirit and use it to help those who have been affected by recent events,” explains Suzuki. “As individuals we can be overwhelmed by the scale of things and feel there is nothing we can do, but by drawing on the network of the rally, even if we all do something very small we can make a real difference.”

Donations can be made via PayPal, with information available in English and Japanese at http://dosomething-rally.com. Information on the Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge’s efforts is available at http://www.ecossechallenge.co.uk.

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Filed under 205 Ecosse Challenge, Japan, Rally

The Final Countdown

Scotland’s premier one make rally championships are going down to the wire! Both the Honda Civic and Peugeot 205 sections of the Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge will be decided on the series’ final round, the GMSC Kingdom Stages this coming Saturday. This is sure to add more excitement to what is already a very popular and eagerly anticipated fixture on the Scottish rallying calendar.

In the Civic Ecosse Challenge, Aberdeen driver Euan Duncan needs only to finish in order to secure the inaugural title in the championship for Honda cars. A class win by a margin of just one second on the last Challenge round in mid-October gave Euan and Maryburgh co-driver Peter MacInnes a massive boost. But with Carluke junior Graeme Schoneville ready to pounce should trouble strike the Duncan car, Euan and Peter are taking nothing for granted.

“I don’t want to say too much because I know how cruel it can be, especially at Crail where there are a lot of cars on the stages at once and it can be easy to get tangled up with someone,” explains service technician Duncan (26). “I’m not going to be taking any big risks and we will set our pace according to the conditions, and I’m also taking extra time to make sure everything is in order mechanically on the car.”

Whereas Euan Duncan needs to get a finish, in the 205 Ecosse Challenge Garry Pearson and Sean Robson need to concentrate on pushing as hard as they can! The two teenagers from the Scottish Borders are virtually dead level in the Peugeot-only section with one rally left to run – so it’s going to be a case of winner takes all on the Kingdom! Duns student Garry (19) and Inverbervie co-driver Tom Hynd looked set to scoop the 205 Challenge crown last time out, but a heartbreaking electrical problem on the last stage meant the champagne had to be put on ice.

“It’s going to be a big show between Sean and I, that’s for certain!” declares Pearson, whose older brother Robbie won the 205 Challenge back in 2006. “This is one of the biggest events of the season for us, and after getting over the disappointment of the electrical problem on the last rally I’m raring to get back out.”

“The scrap I had with Garry on the last round before he had the problem is what rallying is all about, and I’m looking forward to more of the same come the Kingdom,” adds apprentice joiner Sean (19). “Bring it on!”

The GMSC Kingdom Stages will be run at Crail Aerodrome on Saturday 6 November 2010. It is the final round of the one-make Brick and Steel Civic Challenge and Brick and Steel 205 Ecosse Challenge rally driving championships.

Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge – GMSC Kingdom Stages – Entry List

Civic Ecosse Challenge

29 Euan Duncan (Aberdeen) / Peter MacInnes (Maryburgh)

31 Graeme Schoneville (Carluke) / TBA

57 Ruary MacLeod (Ayr) / TBA

73 Neil Redford (Inverurie) / Lorna Weir (Inverness)

79 David Brown (Glasgow) / Kirstie Marshall (Castle Douglas)

205 Ecosse Challenge

42 Garry Pearson (Duns) / Tom Hynd (Inverbervie)

43 Sean Robson (St Boswells) / Dave Robson (Ancrum)

45 Steven Smith (East Kilbride) / Russell Fair (Stewarton)

65 Graeme Smith (Crossford) / Laura Marshall (Ayr)

71 Jordan Black (Lanark) / Stuart Loudon (Uddingston)

80 Alex Pirie (Keith) / Paul Cummins (Aberdeen)

81 Nick Thorne (Lauder) / Scott Hunter (St Boswells)

83 Sarah Hunter (St Boswells) / Iain Robson (St Boswells)

95 Fraser Smith (Crossford) / TBA

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Filed under 205 Ecosse Challenge, General Motorsport, Rally, Scotland

Cheviot Report

Without exaggeration, this year’s UTS Cheviot Keith Knox Rally was one of the best Challenge rounds I’ve ever had the pleasure of reporting on. Why? Well, it wasn’t just the phenomenal ding-dong battles we had in both the Civic and 205 Challenge classes that raged right the way through the rally, but also the fact everyone made it round without falling foul of the notoriously tricky Otterburn military ranges. The wins for Euan Duncan/Peter MacInnes in the Civics and Sean Robson/Dave Robson in the 205s mean that both title races are going to go down to the wire at Crail next month.

Sean Robson (left) celebrates with veteran co-driver Dave Robson

Sean Robson (left) celebrates with veteran co-driver Dave Robson

Although the Cheviot was on Sunday, the rally weekend started for many Challenge crews early on Saturday with an Otterburn tutorial from Dave Robson. Dave very kindly came along to the Otterburn recce to give the Challenge crews the benefit of his years of experience over the ranges, and his insights were probably one of the main reasons we had nobody going off big-time on the Cheviot. We’re very grateful to Dave for lending his support to the recce, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for his contribution.

Sunday morning was cold, but crucially it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t awning-ripping windy. Hearing the sound of the Civics racing up the hill at the bottom of the airstrip as the VTECs kicked in was truly awesome, producing a sound that only the 6R4s and WRCs could match. Graeme Schoneville and co-driver Michael Hendry – more usually associated with the Smiths of Crossford – stole the early march over Euan Duncan and Peter MacInnes, Graeme revitalized by his win on the McRae. Meanwhile, Ruary MacLeod was contesting his first proper tarmac rally (he did the Jin Clark but only got a handful of stage miles because of the delays and cancellations) and was easing himself in to the asphalt alongside co-driver Will Rogers. It’s also worth noting that Will left his home in Gloucestershire at 4.30am the previous day in order to be up in time for the recce. Now that’s dedication.

Garry Pearson and Tom Hynd streaked ahead of their rivals over the damp and misty opening stages, eking out a sixteen second advantage over Sean Robson and Dave Robson (for the fiftieth time, no relation!) after two tests. Steven Smith and Russell Fair were setting a fine pace just behind the Borderers, Steven’s karting grounding shining through as he made quick and smooth progress over the tar roads.

Over the next few loops, the early pacesetters found their leads coming under pressure. Euan and Graeme were equal over the third and fourth stages, whilst Sean Robson found an extra couple of seconds in the glovebox and started to come back at the black-and-blue Pearson machine. At the service halt just before lunch, Graeme Schoneville became the first Challenge competitor to come into service with bits hanging off his car, the front bumper blown to bits by an off-road excursion. Ever the professionals, Scott and Jock and their team at G&M had colour-coordinated gaffer tape on hand to patch the Civic up, and the Honda was sent back out for the afternoon stages in one piece.

All the while, the rest of the field were quietly and steadily going about their business. Otterburn is never an easy place to compete, and even some of the rally leaders were getting it wrong. Tarmac veteran John Stone brought his Skoda Fabia WRC in with the front bumper – which is probably worth more than a complete 205 rally car – hanging off, and the field got thinner and thinner as the day wore on. But the Civics and 205s kept their cool to stay on the roads, putting us on track for a 100% finishing record.

Ruary MacLeod and Will Rogers suffered a recurrence of losingpowermidstagefornoapparentreason-itis, a problem that’s been plaguing a few Civics this year. But a good look over the car at service revealed nothing wrong, and the problem disappeared for the afternoon. By the end of the day, Steven Smith was almost apologetic as he kept telling me he had nothing to report, car, driver and co-driver all behaving impeccably and putting the engineer on course for yet another strong top-three. Dave Crozier was battling a bug, leaning against the wall of the team caravan during service and reckoning the adrenaline was keeping him going on the longer stages. Graeme Smith was enjoying yet another fast and clean run, holding his own in fourth position and driving for a finish to give co-driver Laura Marshall junior co-driver championship points. And Nick Thorne, with Iain Robson on the notes, continued to apply his philosophy of starting steadily and building up speed, a very wise way to approach Otterburn for the first time.

Then it all kicked off on the last stage. Schoneville/Hendry headed off into the last fourteen mile stage just three seconds ahead of Duncan/Macinnes, whereas Robson/Robson had got the gap to Pearson/Hynd down to just two seconds after Garry had suffered brake problems and a couple of overshoots. Waiting anxiously at the finish, we saw a red Civic, a red-and-white Fiesta and a yellow Civic come over the horizon in short order. The cars had their timecards signed halfway down the hill and proceeded to make their way to us. First in was Euan’s time, a belter that was tenth fastest out of the whole rally on the stage. Then came a slight delay as Mike Hendry checked and double-checked his time. Euan and Peter had done it by one second. Steam billowing out of his helmet, Graeme slumped back in his seat, motionless and staring straight ahead. The occupants of the red car, meanwhile, were still shaking with adrenaline. After being told in no uncertain terms that they couldn’t have a bigger gap to the car in front, Duncan and MacInnes went into the stage knowing that they were more than likely to catch the slower Fiesta in front. That they did, but the Ford was dispensed with in a matter of seconds and the Civic went on its way. “That was mental” Euan declared.

“That’s the best stage I’ve ever done in a rally car,” added Peter. “I can’t think of a single place we could have been faster.”

The second yellow Civic of MacLeod/Rogers duly appeared at the final control, Ruary delighted with a strong result on his first full tar rally. With the early-season reliability gremlins now firmly behind him, Ruary is making a strong claim for a top-three spot in the inaugural Civic Challenge, something that’s definitely possible with another solid result at Crail.

With the Civic result decided, there came the wait for the 205s. The white machines of Sean Robson and Steven Smith came over the brow of the hill, but Garry Pearson’s car was nowhere to be seen. We didn’t have to wait long to find out what was going on, because Steven Smith had spotted Garry stopped at the side of the road with the bonnet up, effectively leaving Sean Robson and Dave Robson to take the 205 spoils. No matter how you try to write it (or maybe I’m just a bad writer), when reporting that somebody has won a rally after someone else retires it always sounds like the winner only won because the other person retired. So let me make it very clear that Sean drove a terrific rally that was more than a match for the pace of Garry Pearson and Tom Hynd, and no matter what happened on the last stage either Garry or Sean would have been worthy winners.

With Dave Robson not registered, Russell Fair took maximum co-driver points as Steven Smith scored another brilliant result. I remember speaking to Steven at the Cheviot last year, where he’d come to the event on the back of a run of terrible luck, and it’s great to see that in the space of a year Steven has established himself as one of the series’ most consistent and quick competitors.

Much to the concern of the various Crozier/Smith-Marshall supporters gathered at the in-control, the next car along was that of Nick Thorne and Iain Robson. As his familiarity with the ranges increased, Nick picked up the pace and was trading times with Dave Crozier by the end of the day. Even a scary 720 degree spin and an attempt to tilt at a fence couldn’t stop the farrier from Lauder from taking third 205 spot, sealing the Autumn Cup in the process.

Next in were Dave and Alison Crozier, who came clanking along the road on three tyres. It turned out that it wasn’t a weight-saving experiment or an early trial of Hankook’s new invisible tyre, just that Dave had picked up a puncture halfway through the final stage and decided there was no point in stopping to change the wheel. Fourth place and a good haul of points was the reward for battling through illness all day.

Eventually, the Border Rally Sport car made it. It turned out that a heavy landing had knocked one of the wires loose in the engine, bringing the car to a halt. Garry and Tom lost nearly eight minutes as they battled to fix the problem, but they were able to get going again and make it to the end of the rally. They duly picked up twelve points, which could prove vital given the closeness of the 205 championship battle.

Last but not least were Graeme Smith and Laura Marshall. The Valley International 205 was muddy and battered, having stopped for five minutes while Graeme changed a puncture. The younger Smith was gutted to have dropped so much time after being on course for a great result, but the objective of getting Laura maximum junior co-driver points had been achieved.

So where does all of this leave the championship? Well, both title races will go down to Crail at the start of November. Euan Duncan and Peter MacInnes’ win means they only need to drive round Crail and finish to win the Civic Challenge – but Euan is taking nothing for granted and has vowed to prepare for Crail just as rigorously as he’d prepare for any rally. Graeme Schoneville can be justifiably proud of a stonking drive that did himself and the Challenge proud, and can go to Crail knowing he’s still in the hunt for the Civic crown if he wins and if results elsewhere go his way. And Grant Inglis can retake the lead at the death if he gets a good result at the Kingdom and Euan doesn’t finish.

In the 205s, it’s too complicated to work out. Basically, though, Garry Pearson and Sean Robson are neck-and-neck, and whoever takes the most points on the last round wins it. Steven Smith is out of contention (just), but Russell Fair is still in with a chance of taking top co-driver honours.

Once again, then, the Otterburn ranges have served up a cracking Challenge round. For the first time in as long as I can remember, the Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge is going to go down to the final round. Let’s just hope Crail can serve up as exciting a challenge as Otterburn did and provide a fitting finale to what has been an excellent season.


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Filed under 205 Ecosse Challenge, Rally

Campbell wins at last!

Duncan Campbell celebrated his fourth season in rallying with a win in the Brick and Steel Civic Ecosse Challenge section of Saturday’s Gleaner Oil and Gas Speyside Stages. Garry Pearson notched up his second victory of the year in the 205 Ecosse Challenge, throwing Pearson and co-driver Tom Hynd right back into contention in the series title race. However, Grant Inglis and Steven Smith remain in the lead of the Civic and 205 Ecosse Challenge championships respectively.

After three seasons campaigning a Peugeot, Ayrshire driver Campbell elected to move up to the new series for Honda Civic rally cars at the start of this year. And after a difficult start to the season that saw Duncan sidelined for several months while work on his new car was completed, the vending company director was rewarded for his persistence with a convincing win in the Moray forests.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Duncan, though. With regular navigator Gary Patrick sidelined through a back injury, Gavin Chisholm had to step into the co-driver’s seat at short notice. A recurring electrical gremlin caused the crew’s engine to cut out intermittently over the course of the day, and suspension issues slowed them on the final test. But with Graeme Schoneville and Phil Coulby suffering a litany of problems after clouting a kerb early on and Ruary MacLeod suffering gear selection issues, Campbell and Chisholm took the spoils comfortably. MacLeod recovered to take second Honda place, with Billy Davidson and Martin MacCabe rounding out the Civic podium. Title race leader Grant Inglis retired early on with gearbox issues.

Garry Pearson and Tom Hynd were eventually declared 205 winners after a tough day on the stages. Garry traded fastest times with fellow juniors Steven Smith and Sean Robson, but uncertainties in the timesheets meant all three youngsters ran for much of the day with a little confusion as to who was leading. After some superb driving from all three gentlemen, Duns teenager Garry was eventually declared the winner at rally headquarters on Elgin.

Steven Smith and co-driver Russell Fair weren’t far behind despite a flattened exhaust that robbed them of power for much of the day, whereas Sean Robson and dad Iain kept up their championship charge with a fine third place. Mark McCulloch/Craig Wallace fell by the wayside after complaining of bring down on power. Jordan Black and Stuart Loudon were fourth Peugeot, and Alex Pirie of Keith and David Law of Huntly finished fifth 205 Challenge Car on their home rally.

“I’m delighted with the win now that we’ve made it to the finish, but I have to admit there were times today when I would have been glad to just to get a finish of any sort,” concedes Campbell (32). “The engine was cutting out on us as it’s done in previous rallies and we were getting some vibrations from on the final stage, but we made it and are very pleased indeed with the result!”

“A Challenge win and first in class – I’m extremely happy with the outcome!” declares Garry Pearson (18). “At the start of the day we set ourselves the target of a top two finish, so I’m delighted to have achieved that and can look forward to continuing this in the rest of the season.”

The next Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge round will be the Hankook Merrick Forest Stages based in Galloway on Saturday 4 September.

Brick and Steel Ecosse Challenge – Gleaner Oil and Gas Speyside Stages


Civic Ecosse Challenge

1. Duncan Campbell (Ballochmyle) / Gavin Chisholm (Ayr) 52 minutes 10 seconds;

2. Ruary MacLeod (Ayr) / Will Rogers (Cinderford) 53:45;

3. Billy Davidson (Glasgow) / Martin MacCabe (Glasgow) 53:48;

4. Graeme Schoneville (Carluke) / Phil Coulby (Forres) 54:13.

205 Ecosse Challenge

1. Garry Pearson (Duns) / Tom Hynd (Inverbervie) 50:52;

2. Steven Smith (East Kilbride) / Russell Fair (Stewarton) 51:06;

3. Sean Robson (St Boswells) / Dave Robson (Jedburgh) 51:29;

4. Jordan Black (Lanark) / Stuart Loudon (Uddingston) 52:19;

5. Alex Pirie (Keith) / David Law (Huntly) 52:42;

6. Graeme Smith (Crossford) / Laura Marshall (Ayr) 53:29;

7. Nick Thorne (Lauder) / Scott Hunter (St Boswells) 54:24;

8. Sarah Hunter (St Boswells) / Gary White (Melrose) 57:23.

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Filed under 205 Ecosse Challenge, Rally

Euan and Peter declared Civic winners as Mirrorgate closed

In the last post I mentioned that the results of the Civic Ecosse Challenge were on hold pending a stewards’ enquiry. I am pleased to say this has now been resolved and Euan Duncan/Peter MacInnes have been delared the winners of the Honda Civic class on the Granite City Rally, their second class win from two starts.

The enquiry related to the door mirrors on one of the cars and their eligibility, but after extensive consultation it has been decided that the mirrors are indeed eligible under FIA Group N regulations. The Challenge will, however use this opportunity to further clarify its interpretation of the Group N regulations, which are modified slightly for the series’ purposes.

In the meantime, however, this means that an excellent result for a Challenge-specification car stands! Euan and Peter finished first in the ultra-competitive Scottish Championship Class 4, beating a Ford Fiesta R2 and a trick Vauxhall Corsa in the process. Given that the Fiesta R2 is an international-standard front-wheel drive car and is used by some of the best young drivers in the world as a training tool before they go onto more powerful machinery, for a ten grand Civic to have the measure of one is very special indeed. Well done guys.

Euan and Peter immediately after the Granite. The champagne had to be put on ice but the crew can celebrate again now

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The Honda Civic: a rally good opportunity

You generally don’t have a lot of choice if you want to go two-wheel drive rallying on a budget in Scotland. Apart from the 205 Challenge cars or a cheap Corsa or an even nastier Mark 2 Escort, there just hasn’t been a precedent for using anything else in recent times. I did a quick calculation based on the entry lists for last year’s Scottish championship rounds, and worked out that a staggering 66% of the field was made up of just four models of car – Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, Peugeot 205 GTi and Ford Escort. Add the Vauxhall Corsa/Nova and the Fiesta ST into the mix and that figure jumps to over 70%. In other words, when you come out of whatever vehicle you started rallying in and want to move up to something else, there hasn’t been any real viable option other than to shell out for something costing well into five figures.

It’s for this reason that the events of the Border Counties Rally could have triggered something of a mini-revolution, for at the head of the front-wheel drive field were six shiny new Honda Civic rally cars. Yes, that’s right, six of them, three times the number of M-Sport Fiestas out on the same event. How did this happen? Well, after much head searching, hand scratching and soul wringing, the organisers of the Brick and Steel Challenge decided to take the plunge and launch a new one-make series for the Civic to run parallel to the very popular 205 championship. It was a massive step into the unknown, but one that seems to have paid off.

Civic Challenge Cars line up for the start of the Border Counties

When the Civics rolled away from the ceremonial start in front of Jedburgh Abbey, nobody knew what to expect. A few oddballs here and there notwithstanding, nobody had really had a good go at rallying the Civic on gravel in Scotland, at least not in controlled specification anyway. Would the VTEC be able to deal with a loose surface? Could the young drivers, many of them fresh out of Peugeot 205s, get to grips with the increased weight and electronic sophistication? And would the untested new Challenge cars get through the first stage without conking out?

I was in the Challenge’s mobile base (i.e. Mercedes Sprinter) as we sipped our coffee anxiously and waited for the times for the first stage to come through on Deputy Co-Ordinator Stephen Smellie’s iPhone. As we talked about the drivers of the Civics and their various skills and experiences, I could sense there was a big elephant in the back of the van that everyone was skirting round. Nobody said as much, however the thing I could tell we were all worrying about – but that nobody dared say – was that the much cheaper, older and less powerful 205 cars would still be quicker than the Civics. After all our hard work in plugging the Honda and convicing at least eight brave souls to give it a go, if the new cars got mashed by the Pugs in Kielder no amount of excuses or bull would disguise the fact we’d made a mistake.

Our doubts were blown out the water in a swift five seconds. The time for Carl and Rob Tuer, a quick and experienced crew in an equally rapid (but expensive) MG ZR S1600, came through at exactly the same moment as the time for Euan Duncan and Peter MacInnes. A small cheer went up as we learned the Civic had gone faster than the MG, and to prove it was no fluke, it transpired in fairly short order that Euan and Peter had also beaten Alasdair Graham’s trick Corsa and Stewart Davidson’s Proton kit car. We’d come up with a specification and formula that enabled a good driver in a ten grand car to beat competent crews in vehicles worth two, or three times as much.

Grant Inglis and Billy Davidson's machines receiving mid-rally fettling

I reckon the six Civic competitors who headed out into Kielder can be divided into three categories: those who were glad of some competition, those who were pleased to reach the finish of a rally, and those who were just happy to be out rallying full stop. In the first category are Euan Duncan and Ruary MacLeod. Euan Duncan set the 205 Ecosse Challenge alight back in 2008, finishing third overall in his first ever season of rallying and winning two championship rounds. It was clear he was some driver, and for 2009 he opted to stick with the 205 but move up to the 1.9 class. He spent the entire year in something of a no-man’s land with only the occasional Jonny Smith to compare himself to, and as fearsome a competitor as Euan is, his motivation and times seemed to dip by dint of having nobody he could realistically compare himself to. Ruary MacLeod, meanwhile, spent the 2009 season floating around in a left-hand drive Honda Civic, and with no comparable machinery to go up against could usually be found in the botton third of the results sheet or on the retirements list. After only three stages I could sense the difference in Euan’s demeanour.

Before he’d even parked at service, I heard the red Civic parping its horn furiously as it tried to get past another crew’s management car that had stopped and blocked the access road to service. There was nothing majorly wrong with the car, just the resurgence of a sense of urgency and drive that only having serious competition in comparable machinery can bring out. The competitive spirit continued as Euan flung open the Honda’s door and made a beeline for the results sheet. How was Graeme Schoneville doing? Did our heating problem cost us too much time? How hard do we need to push on the last two? The Euan Duncan I’d seen driving a wrecked 205 through the Grampian woods to third in category on the Granite on only his fourth ever rally had returned.

Ruary MacLeod too was relishing a bit of competition. Class 4 in Scotland is a bit of a weird one, in that the quickest cars usually cost as much as a good Group N car to buy if not to run. It’s the preserve of Super 1600s and pimped up Corsas, so it’s easy to imagine how you could lose motivation if you’re struggling to come fifth in class against many more expensive cars. With rivals in the same kind of car to fight against, though, Ruary was really going for it. He’d made it up to third Civic Challenge car on his own merit, and took the decision to really go for it on the last stage and see how quick he could be. It ended badly as he slid irretrivably into one of the notorious Kielder ditches, but what is impressive is that the level of competition had given the son of Scottish rally stalwart Calum MacLeod the motivation to pull out all the stops and launch a bid for glory.

In the second category lie Graeme Schoneville and Ross Hunter. Graeme and Ross both spent more time propping OK boards up against their back windscreens than they did driving in 2009, very rarely through fault of their own. Okay, Graeme did have a fight with a small tree on the Granite and Ross had a huge accident on Mull, but for the most part these two young gents fell foul of reliability gremlins affecting their Peugeot 205 and Mitsubishi Lancer respectively. It should therefore not come as too much of a surprise to learn that both Schoneville and Hunter were chuffed to bits to still have working, driveable cars by 4pm on rally day.

Using the car on gravel for the first time, Graeme was still learning about the ups and downs (boom boom) of Proflex, and admitted his speed suffered accordingly. What mattered most, though, was that Graeme had reached the finish of a rally two events in succession, something that happened very rarely last year. New co-driver Phil Coulby admitted he would have been happy with a top three the week before the rally, and with the reliability back in the Andrew Wood Motorsport-run car, it won’t be too long before we see the Schoneville name back at the top of the timesheets.

It’s maybe a wee bit of a fib to say Ross Hunter finished the rally, because he did end up OTL after becoming a semi-permanent feature of the north east England forest landscape. A rear caliper on the Civic sheared off, sending Ross and co-driver Eildon Hall lurching into a Honda-sized gap between two log piles. It took the combined effort of Eildon, Ross, some loose logs and four spectators to get the blue and white motor back on track, by which time the maximum lateness had elapsed. Nonetheless, the St Boswells Mowers machine did make it to the finish, giving Hunter and Hall a moral finish at the very least. Just as importantly, Ross was chuffed with the pace and driveability of the car, and showed a great turn of speed despite spending most of the last three years competing on a sealed surface.

In the last of my categories are Grant Inglis and Billy Davidson. Grant Inglis is one of the most enthusiastic and approachable guys I’ve had the pleasure to meet in rallying circles, and one of my lasting memories is seeing how chuffed he was to win Class 6 on the Border Counties in his yellow Escort back in 2007. Given his speed in the Escort and ability to run the likes of Calum MacKenzie and Malcolm Buchanan close on a good day, I was simultaneously surprised and excited to see Grant had signed up for the Civic Challenge. He was, after all, going to be in a car with the wheels being driven at the correct end (I’m young enough that the front wheels are the wheels that I think a car’s supposed to be driven with) – and he didn’t disappoint. Despite taking some time to adjust to the rigours of Civic driving – Grant admitted he’d set the car up for a hairpin in the way he would an Escort and had gone ploughing on in the directon of the boondash as a result – Inglis and co-driver Robert Gray worked their way up to third by the end of the event. There’s still an Escort in the garage and final judgment is being reserved for now, but Grant reckons some of his initial scepticism towards the Civic Challenge has been blown away. Let’s hope he stays with us, because if his Escort results are anything to go by, when Grant Inglis gets up to speed he will be a two-wheel drive force to be reckoned with.

Billy Davidson was equally pleased to be behind the wheel of a rally car and out enjoying himself with co-driver Martin McCabe. Even the terrifying thought of having to drive a 160bhp car at speed just inches from sturdy trees with no brakes wasn’t able to dampen Billy’s enthusiasm. “Let’s just say if it was your road car you wouldn’t drive it,” he told me whilst sporting a massive grin. “I’m having to call the big bends well in advance,” added Martin. “You wouldn’t be wanting to do an emergency stop, that’s for sure!” The previous night, Billy and Martin had been zipping in and out of the pub in Melrose as they tried to at least get the anchors into a usable condition, and declared themselves satisfied with their work once they’d demonstrated their ability to perform a semi-emergency stop outside the Burt Hotel. The last-minute repair job was at least good enough to see them through the first loop of stages, but their preoccupation with braking issues had seemingly taken attention away from another equally important area of the car. There’s no way of putting this gently, so I’ll just say it as it happened, leave it at that and move on. They ran out of petrol.

Euan Duncan and Peter MacInnes celebrate a good day in the Civic

All in all, then, a good weekend for the Honda Civic Challenge cars. Three finished, and of the three that didn’t, two and a half of those were due to human error rather than mechanical failure. Euan Duncan ran cars worth two or three times as much as his close on several occasions, and believes there’s more pace to come out of the Honda as he gets used to it. Graeme Schoneville too thinks he can go faster, and all of the other Civic drivers have the potential to take Challenge wins as they get used to the cars. One of the biggest problems with using a car that isn’t already established in rallying circles is the lack of knowledge about parts and setup that is often needed to turn an ordinary road-going vehicle into a class-winner. Whilst I’d be lying if I said that the competitors and us as organisers hadn’t faced these issues over the winter, what is good is that we’ve all been learning together and nobody’s been left trailing in the dust as the result of taking a different approach to building and preparation to someone else. Above all, though, we’ve seen that in spite of all the uncertainty and inexperience around the Civic, we have a very strong and competitive foundation upon which to build our new championship.

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