Bulletin 4 - 8th February 2016

Mark and Andrew Constantine in the Vauxhall Corsa
Mark and Andrew Constantine in the Vauxhall Corsa
Lee Hastings / Julie McGuire, Subaru ImprezaThe Mitsubishi of Nigel and Callum AtkinsonStephen Bethwaite and Ann Forster in the Vauxhall NovaThe Renault Clio of Alistair Hutchinson and StJohn DykesKevin Mathers and Craig Forsyth, Peugeot 205

Lee Hastings / Julie McGuire, Subaru ImprezaThe Mitsubishi of Nigel and Callum AtkinsonStephen Bethwaite and Ann Forster in the Vauxhall NovaThe Renault Clio of Alistair Hutchinson and StJohn DykesKevin Mathers and Craig Forsyth, Peugeot 205


The Constantines, North West Giant Killers.  A tremendous drive by Mark and Andrew Constantine in their Vauxhall Corsa put many much more powerful cars to shame with their speed, commitment and reliability to take a fine 7th overall on the Legend Fires North West Stages.  Motor Sport (North West) once more put together a sharp sprint to be endured over 24 hours.  Running out from Blackpool to give 100 competitors another real rallying challenge of 75 competitive miles in a compact route of 24 stages.  And taking place over the first weekend of February, we get the wildcard of weather thrown into the melting pot too.   This year it was soaking wet on Friday; wet again on Saturday morning with only a couple of hours of relief before it rained again on Saturday evening.


It’s not unusual for the short Friday night tests of the North West Stages to give a brave crew in an ‘under powered’ car a chance to get noticed after a quick run through the dark and murky conditions.  The top crews are well aware that you won’t win the rally there but you can certainly lose it.  So this year it was the turn of a 1600cc Vauxhall Corsa crewed by Mark and Andrew Constantine who ended Friday’s 4 stages in a fantastic 5th overall !  Normal service usually returns in Saturday’s daylight as the 4 wheel drive supercars restore some order and the “Friday Stars’ slip down the timesheets.  So although part of this process really happened, for our Northallerton crew in the little red Corsa only 2 more crews would end up higher than them after another 20 stages.  They only had a couple of small issues to contend with in the stages as the fuel pump cut out on one test and the water splash in Weeton caused the windscreen to mist up.  A little scare of entering the final main control with a lack of petrol couldn’t take the icing off the cake either …


Although the Constantine brothers were our top finishing crew, there were a couple of registered co-drivers partnered up with non-registered drivers just ahead of them.  Firstly it was Andrew Falconer sitting alongside Tristan Pye in his Subaru Impreza taking 4th overall while in 6th place was Andrew Roughead with Andy Fenwick.  For both drivers it was their first attempt at this particular rally and for Andy it was the debut of his recently acquired Proton Satria.  No problems reported as there were no real heroics on this difficult rally.


Finishing in 8th overall were Lee Hastings and Julie McGuire in their ‘older’ Subaru Impreza.  The Scots crew didn’t have a very good Friday run when the turbo expired and they would enter parc ferme in 28th spot.  Once this was sorted out at first service, they got their heads down and with 14 top five fastest times made some real progress up the leaderboard to go into the final test, 5.6 miles of Weeton, in 5th overall.  Then it all fell apart as the car ground to a halt just three corner from the flying finish.  Lee frantically fiddled with lots of wires in the darkness for what seemed like ages before the car fired up again and they made it back to the Norbreck.  The clocks might have been generous to Lee as he was only penalised the stage maximum of 11 minutes and thereby losing 3 minutes but also 3 places too.  If he’d been offered a top 10 finish on the Saturday morning, he’d have gladly accepted it but in the darkness of the final IN control, the frustrations of what might have been were very much to the fore.


A new father and son combination to our championship this year are Nigel and Callum Atkinson.  Running a very tidy Mitsubishi Evo9, the Border Ecosse MC crew had a relatively trouble free rally with only a big spin in Weeton to slow their progress.  Starting from a rather lowly number 56 they pushed on to record a fine 12th overall finish.


Next up in 17th place were the West Cumbria crew of Stephen Bethwaite and Ann Forster.  They’ve contested the event five times already but this one would see their best result yet.  A pretty quick run on Friday night and they found themselves restarting on Saturday morning in 21st position, very pleasing for car 61.  This meant that they were running in front of some fast recovering ex WRC machinery which gave them a few moments over the Weeton tests looking in mirrors as well as through a windscreen.  Their only mechanical concerns were losing a bit of the rear section of exhaust pipe and over the last 4 stages when a worrying knock developed on the front suspension.  A just reward was a great class win for their 1400cc Vauxhall Nova.


The Northallerton duo of Alistair Hutchinson and St John Dykes were reunited again for this event and also with little CUB.  Tango’s stable mate, the blue and yellow Renault Clio, suffered in the arduous conditions that kept the service boys busy repairing the gearbox mountings, twice, the alternator, a bent rear beam and a clutch problem that meant the final 4 stages were attempted with about 50% throttle before the clutch started slipping.  And yet they were still smiling at the final control.


Kevin Mathers and Craig Forsyth were one of only two crews who were brave enough to play their Jokers on what can be a very unpredictable event.  The gamble worked out as their near standard Peugeot 205 ran faultlessly with only a few overshoots to lose some time on both Friday and Saturday.  30th overall and 2nd class points were the rewards for the boys from Hawick.  Finishing right behind was James Thomson who’d managed to get his wee Nova’s engine put back together after the dramas at Knockhill a month earlier and make the start of the North West.  The event was going well until his Achilles Heel of the Vauxhall gearbox struck him low once more.  Fortunately it wasn’t terminal this time but it did mean he had to move from 1st into 3rd gear when going up the box.  Then pushing too hard at Weeton’s water splash for the last time the car ground to a halt and was not very keen on firing up again.  Luckily the battery had just enough life to restart but talk about nearly throwing it all away at the death …


The Peugeot 106 of Bill and Kari Bates had a quiet rally until the final stage gremlins struck and the front offside tyre deflated.  The offending item didn’t pop off the rim so it was quicker to drive slowly out of the test rather than stop and change it in the darkness.  They were classified as 39th at the end of the day.  Kari’s ‘other half’, Bruce Lindsay, was co-driving for an unregistered chap in a Vauxhall Astra and things were moving along very steadily until late Saturday afternoon.  Halfway around the Fleetwood Promenade stage for the fourth and final time, the driver decide to go left at the split junction while Bruce wanted to go right.  A stage maximum awarded.


Drew Barker / Shona Hale were next up in their wee tartan Corsa.  Saturday’s only downside was skelping ( or hitting hard in native tongue ) a concrete block on the Fleetwood Docks morning run whilst passing another car.  The resultant impact damaged the wheel and punctured the tyre.   A tactical move of then using wet tyres seemed to do a job of not only giving better traction but also passing other cars on stage.  The summary quote from Shona was “an adventurous rally for Team DB UNO and still thoroughly enjoyable."


Our final classified finisher was Barry Renwick in his Proton Millington.  It was the first time for Barry attempting the rally and something he’ll not forget in a hurry.  Things started to go wrong on the Friday morning when regular co-driver Steve Dargan was forced to miss the event and Barry rang Jane Nicol who was actually at work but able to step up at short, or even no notice.  The car then ‘died’ on the start line of SS1 and had to be pushed out of the way.   The battery issue was sorted out in service and they were allowed to restart on Saturday morning under SuperRally rules but with over 42 minutes of penalties while the rally leader had a mere 10 minutes.  Problems with snapped shafts in the first four stages at Fleetwood didn’t help and some progress only really started happening on Saturday afternoon and evening.  A character building experience for Barry and Jane but perseverance rewarded Barry with 7 points for finishing last registered contender.  That may just be a useful number come the end of the year and championships are decided.


We have to report that there were 7 crews that never made it to the end of this tough little rally and the first to drop out was the event sponsor John Stone.  Although he won the rally in 2004 he’s suffered quite a few retirements since then and in 2016 it was an alternator problem that put him out after the first stage; Tim Finch and Terry Martin stopped in the same Lytham stage with a clutch problem.  They were credited with huge time losses for the 4 Friday stages but allowed to restart on Saturday under SuperRally rules – unfortunately they stopped in the first test again with clutch problems; Jack Morton sitting alongside the non-registered Tom Preston in his Ford Focus also retired after the first Fleetwood tests with clutch problems; Robert Iveson snapped a driveshaft on his Ford Ka in SS6; and then it was on to the first pair of Weeton stages that claimed 3 crews – the first being Mat Smith when his Proton stopped with a gearbox issue in SS9 before David and Mathew White’s Subaru Impreza, which was lying in 12th overall at the time, stopped after the finish line with what the driver describes as “the engine giving up the ghost”.  Perhaps that might come from attacking the watersplash with plenty of commitment just like Barrie Thomson / Jerry Hettrick as they too were parked up after the finish having just thrown an alternator belt in the test.


Once again we offer our thanks to Motor Sport (North West) Ltd and Dave Read in particular for all their efforts in putting together another cracking event.  As ever, the weather wasn’t too kind to us but the organisation and facilities at the Norbreck more than make up for this.


There’s a short break now of almost 8 weeks as we all try to catch our breath after yet another hectic start to our championship year.  Round 4 will be our first foot into Scotland this year when we head to the DCC Stages.  As is customary, this rally will be taking place on a Saturday – this time it’s April 2nd.  Once again Dunfermline Car Club will be utilising the roads of the old Ingliston racetrack and now Royal Highland Showground.  In recent years they’ve managed about 45 competitive miles in 8 stages so we can probably expect a similar offering this time around.  The organisers are proposing to publish the Supplementary Regulations for the rally on the 21st February with the online entry system going live on the 28th February.  Last year the entry list filled up within hours and there’s no reason to expect this year will be any different.  Anyone planning on doing the event should be making the entry application their priority on Sunday 28th.  There’ll be more at the event website of http://dunfermlinecarclub.co.uk/