Top points and top spot maybe. John Stone drove a brilliant rally in very challenging conditions to get a cracking result on the Cheviot Keith Knox Stages. It’s the result that seems to have eluded him for a while but reliability shows what can be. The official results show that he finished in 2nd overall but with protests continuing well into the night and not all the awards presented, the outcome of who actually ‘won’ the rally may yet change.
When the glowering clouds of October part; perhaps a stream of pale sunshine throws longer shadows across the glistening tarmac and transforms the landscape to copper and verdant autumnal hues, it’s not hard to understand why Otterburn’s rugged range roads become the perfect setting for a rally championship showdown. But Sunday’s first loop of 2 stages was run in very patchy fog and with a damp surface; so the brave, committed drivers were rewarded with a good start to their day.
Driving his Skoda Fabia WRC, John wouldn’t argue that he’d had a challenging day with spins, drive shaft problems and variable weather all thrown at him. But he was a happy man at the end of the final stage although he didn’t look it. You’d think he’d just come across a ghost up on Daveyshiel Common, as he appeared so shaken. But the explanation was more simple - the heavens opened for the final loop of 2 stages and with streams of water running off the roads, these 11 miles tested driver skill to limit.
However, behind all this we had a championship deciding battle taking place. Chris Anderson / Chris Thirling started the day a mere point ahead of Barry and Michael Lindsay at the head of the championship. Barry was very much in attacking mode over the first loop and Chris felt he hadn’t made the best tyre choice as he dropped 18 seconds to his rival. No change on the repeated loop but on the longest stage of the day, Watty Bells, Chris was left a little puzzled as he could only take back 2 seconds in 14 miles. With the roads drying and the sun emerging, Chris had a good trio of tests over the reversed morning loop that were 8, 9 and 9 seconds quicker. The Durham crew left penultimate service with a 10 second lead and extended that by another 12 in the Toft House test before leaving the road on SS11, Laingshill. A couple of miles from the start and slowing on a slight left for the right onto the gravel, it just wasn’t happening quickly enough. The probable cause being the mud that had been thrown onto the concrete road by the earlier passing crews. And with just a glancing blow against a fence post the Fiesta's rear arch gave little protection to the wheel and that was game over.
Although they were having a trouble free run so far, the Lindsays weren’t champions yet although it did appear that they now had one hand on the championship trophy. But they still had to negotiate the final 2 stages and Barry was relieved that he was able to reduce his speed in the appalling monsoon-like rain as he felt that he too would have ended up off the road if he’d had to go for a championship in those conditions. Another class win and a fantastic 8th overall are what the final results are showing but even if they are to be amended, there’s no changing the fact the our Lad and Dad combination from Spadeadam have won the 2013 championship.
In between John Stone and the Lindsays were 3 other registered crews taking great results. Firstly with yet another handy result in our King of Otterburn Challenge and finishing in 5th overall was Darren Doherty. He was amazed that his Subaru Impreza was undamaged after he admitted to a huge spin on the first run through the Cottonshope stage when he felt the car go around several times on a fast straight but fortunately without hitting anything. And like most crews he was a little fearful as his Subaru aquaplaned a lot through the final loop.
A minute and a half behind Doherty were Alex Laffey and Jack Morton in 6th place. It was another solid performance by the youngsters in their Fiesta S2000 that was only shaded by a puncture in the second pass of the short Wainfordrigg test. Their reputation is blossoming as they are getting quicker every time out and with another good points scoring day on the Cheviot, Alex takes 3rd overall in the driver’s championship.
Right behind the Fiesta was a Darrian T90 co-driven by Ken Bills. The unregistered Alan Oldfield was the man who called on Ken’s many years of experience to guide him over Otterburn’s roads into 7th just 7 seconds ahead of the Lindsays.
Finishing in 12th place and over 2 minutes adrift of the new champions was Jim Sharp. Jim was using his Mitsubishi rather than the Subaru as he felt the car handled better and that gave him more confidence. He missed the opportunity to do the recce on the day before the rally and so he set off into SS1 rather gingerly. This approach in the tricky conditions reflected in the time sheets and he ended the first loop in a lowly 21st overall. But as the day wore on he was able to increase his pace and steadily move up to just outside the top ten. He was another mightily relieved driver to get to the end, as he’d never encountered such bad conditions as the last 2 stages.
Derek Belbin and John Stanger Leathes were another crew competing ‘in their other car’. Derek is more often seen peddling a Ford Escort Mk2 but for the Cheviot, he was out in the aging Subaru Impreza. The Tynemouth crew were also using a cautious approach to the first stage and were only 32nd fastest. They then pushed on to finish 15th which could have been higher but for a delay on stage 11. About a minute was lost when he attacked the same fence as Chris Anderson but Derek went nose in and damaged the front panel. This was quickly repaired in the next service and progress continued onwards and upwards to a fine finish.
Mark Thompson and Phil Kenny were next in the Peugeot 206. Mark suffered with a dead engine on the Pendragon and so spent a lot of time in the intervening 4 weeks rebuilding the motor. And it must have been good work as the engine came through the 92 competitive miles with flying colours. Mark’s only concern was during the heavy rain on the last pair of stages when the demister failed. Visibility wasn’t brilliant but this may have worked in his favour, as he had to slow down just to see where he was going whereas he may have gone off the road in the torrential rain.
The unique Datsun Sunny of Phil Morton and Jo Emma Hind were out for only the second time this year and they recorded their second finish too ! No dramas were reported during the rally, which is good, as they seemed to have plenty before with diff, gearbox and engine troubles. Apparently lots of coke (the liquid variety) and vinegar were used to try and solve the clouds of blue smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe. It seemed to work pretty well as the engine survived the rally and there was less smoke at the end of the final test.
Right behind were the husband and wife pairing of Jon and Alison Trenholme in their Subaru Impreza. The North Yorkshire farmer struggling for most of the day with a leak on a turbo pipe. The car was mow performing with vastly reduced efficiency and as he didn’t have any spare he carried on with a lot of short shifting to reduce the problem.
Peter Littlefield was a co-driver who hasn’t been out since April and he was asked to keep the non-registered Steven Perry on the right roads in his Vauxhall Corsa. They finished in 27th while in 33rd was Don Bramfoot who was another who got a last minute call up to co-drive for a non registered driver, Tyrone Lawton, in his unusual Saab 900. And our final classified finishers were the ever cheerful Drew Barker and Shona Hale. Their wee tartan Vauxhall Corsa had only just completed the Scottish classic – Mull Rally - the week before the Cheviot and although it struggled a bit on the hills but they were delighted to finish another tough event. And the car never missed a beat all day.
Josh Davison headed the entry list and our retirements too. He had quite a weekend as he competed on the Sunseeker on the Saturday, which meant missing the Cheviot recce, before a 380-mile trip through the night to get back to Otterburn to start the Cheviot at number 1 with John Indri. His good run came to an end at final service when the car failed to start – thought to be a sheared oil pump drive. Kev Monaghan’s season ended in retirement when a drive shaft failed on his Corsa near the end of the second stage. And while Ross Fernie / John Young passed the stricken Vauxhall on the stage, they left the road a couple of miles further on. Their Subaru Impreza was well off the road and soon joined by another couple of cars at the tricky downhill sequence within sight of the flying finish.
Dave Seed and Colin Tombs also succumbed on the same stage but this time is was on the second loop. Their Ford Escort was caught out on a muddy right and left combination at the top of the hill and the spinning car ended up beached on 3 wheels. With no spectators or marshals in sight the Durham crew were forced out. James Thomson was having a good day in his Vauxhall Nova and up to 27th after stage 5. However, he was then frantically looking for help around the service park as his coil pack was failing. He misfired he way around the next 4 stages before having to retire. Simon Stewart / Doug Levee managed only 2 stages before he had to call it a day with clutch problems. That was a shame as he was leading his class and in 29th overall at the time. And our final retiree was Paul Hughes. Paul got a late call up from Peter Taylor and the pair quickly had the Ford Focus WRC into the lead before going well off the road on the 4th stage.
A look in curiosity corner and we should not forget a special mention for 3 crews who never even made it to the Airstrips on Sunday morning. Giles Dykes’ driver couldn’t get through scrutineering as there was no road tax on the car; Kevin and Jimmy Knox were left cursing couriers who hadn’t delivered brake pads for the Ford Sapphire and Nick Thorne / Ian Murray were left stranded when their preparation team couldn’t get the suspension sorted out. It’s a big shame for the Honda Civic crew as they were lying 3rd overall in the championship going into the Cheviot and any hopes of improvement were dashed – they have now slipped to 4th
And so we must thank Whickham and District Motor Club and Hadrian Motor Sports Club for other fine rally - the UTS Cheviot Keith Knox Stages. Andy Kobasa and his strong team presented us with a very slick event when every stage ran on time. It was well organised and the stage changes and turnarounds happened seamlessly. Just a shame about the extraordinary weather – it certainly was a challenge for those driving the stages. We must never forget the hardy marshals either - stood out in those conditions just so competitors can have their fun.
We now look forward to our final event for the year, the Awards Presentation. Negotiations are well advanced for our annual visit to the Pelaw Grange Stadium and this year it will happen on Wednesday 27th November. Put the date in your calendar now and there’ll be more information available soon.