A quality performance by Keith Cronin and co-driver Marshall Clarke saw them record a second MSA British Rally Championship victory of the season this weekend by winning round four, the Jim Clark International Rally. Having taken the lead on a third of the event’s 15 stages, Cronin/Clarke overcame the understandable concerns caused by a recurring broken brake pedal, to cross the finish line one-minute and 16-seconds ahead of their closest rivals, Tom Cave/Craig Parry.
Making a Citroën DS3 1-2-3 and also finishing one-minute 16-seconds behind the car in front, Jonny Greer/Gordon Noble rounded off the podium positions ahead of fourth-placed Elfyn Evans – who this time was accompanied by Dale Furniss – to make it four Class 6 (R2 category) victories out of four for the Welshman. This result means that Evans and Cave now share the championship lead with Cave/Parry with a score of 60-points.
The Jim Clark Rally is unique, as it’s the only event of its kind that takes place over closed public roads on the British mainland. The International element of the event began on Friday evening with the now traditional ceremonial start in the centre of Duns, which was immediately followed by two runs of a 1.2-stage through the town in front of 1000s of spectators.
Fastest through both stages were Finns Jarkko Nikara/Petri Nikara in their Citroën DS3, who booked into the overnight Parc Fermé at Kelso Racecourse with a 1.9-second lead ahead of Cronin/Clarke. Third at this point were Callum Black/Paul Wakely, who were pleased to be on the pace in their brand new Citroën DS3, bearing in mind they were getting used to the car and Black had admitted he was dialling himself in following the accident that sidelined his Suzuki Swift in round one of the championship – Rallye Sunseeker – in February.
All 25 BRC competitors made it through the two spectator stages without issue, the crews mindful that the rally couldn’t be won there, but it could certainly be lost. Starting with the infamous 16-mile Abbey St. Bathans stage on Saturday morning, Cronin/Clarke were on it from the word go and, taking three seconds off Nikara/Nikara, they arrived at the finish control with a 1.1-second lead.
Such was the pace of the team-mates, they had pulled a gap of 34-seconds ahead of Peter Taylor/Andrew Roughead in their Renault Clio in an excellent third, with Cave/Parry fourth, split by 1.1 seconds. In fifth and leading the Class 6 (R2 category) were Jukka Korhonen/Mikael Korhonen, an impressive start by the Finns in the Pirelli Star Driver Škoda Fabia, bearing in mind this event was their first ever asphalt rally.
Whilst the front-runners defied the spectre of the Abbey St. Bathans stage’s reputation, others did not. First to go were Niko Nieminen/Pasi Haataja; a patch of mud at the end of a long straight just three-miles in catching them out and sending their Fiesta off the road and into the trees. Thankfully the two Finns emerged unscathed, but the same could not be said for their car.
Next to exit stage left were James Grint/Phil Clarke, when their car’s brake pedal went to the floor and, although provoking frantic evasive action to avoid contact with the Berwickshire landscape, their Citroën DS3 inevitably spun and ended its day in a ditch. Once recovered, their team was able to replace the car’s rear beam and enable it to reappear on Sunday under Super Rally regulations.
Also having problems in SS3 and opting to ‘Super Rally’ on Sunday were Desi Henry/Niall Burns, when a drive belt tensioner caused their Citroën’s power steering and water pump to stop working. However, by far the most spectacular retirement of the day was that of Arron Newby/Martin Taylor: a heavy landing following a flat crest catapulted their Škoda Fabia off the road and into a series of rolls.
Although shaken, both climbed out unharmed and, even though the car wasn’t too badly damaged, it was going no further. A great shame after such a promising start, as they were second of the Class 6 (R2) runners and seventh overall following the two Duns stages on Friday evening.
Stage five saw Cave/Parry overhaul Taylor/Roughead – who felt their Renault was not going as quickly as it could – and then, on stage six, the round-two winners found themselves in second, when Nikara/Nikara lost third gear and dropped time as a consequence. This stage was to prove entertaining for spectators when a damp patch of road on the approach to a 90-left saw over half the BRC field overshoot the corner and go straight on down a track and into a field, Taylor/Roughead and Alex Parpottas/Chris Davies winning the prize for traversing the furthest distance from the road they should have been on.
Following the lunch-time service halt at Kelso Racecourse, the morning’s four stages were tackled again, albeit not in the same order. For a moment, the rally leaders thought that stage seven was to be their last, when Cronin’s brake pedal broke. But with a combination of skill – and a bit of luck – the twice British Rally Champion was able to avoid the surrounding scenery and make it to the end of the stage, where he and Clarke instigated a temporary fix.
Even though the Irishman said he was not driving at 100% from then on, he was still able to increase his advantage – his cause helped when Nikara/Nikara retired on stage nine after their gearbox problems became decidedly worse. The Finns’ exit also helped Cave/Parry, who admitted that they had backed-off a little to consolidate their lead of just over a minute ahead of third-placed Jonny Greer/Gordon Noble – also in a DS3. Taylor/Roughead were now fourth – and closing – whilst Elfyn Evans/Dale Furniss were fifth and now the leading Class 6 (R2) car.
Not relishing the afternoon’s quartet of stages were Gethin Jones/Kevin Devine, when their Fiesta’s gear linkage came adrift in stage eight and would force them to opt for Super Rally on Sunday. Round one winners Mark Donnelly/Dai Roberts were seeded at number one and, although expectations were high for the Renault Clio R3 crew, an electrical problem caused their car’s engine to lose power which meant they were languishing in ninth place when cars returned to Kelso Racecourse for the overnight halt.
Although clouds were present in the skies over Berwickshire throughout Saturday, the rain had held off. But, this was not the case on Sunday when, just as the leading cars were about to start the first of two runs through the eight-mile Bothwell stage, rain started falling. As there was bright sunshine when the cars left the racecourse at the start of the day, all were caught out on the wrong tyres and only those that had carried intermediates as spares were able to improve their chances of finding any grip.
After the first six cars started stage eleven, the rain stopped as quickly as it had begun, a factor that helped the cars running further down the field – especially the lower-powered variety – that found more traction than the usually quicker R3 cars. This sudden change in conditions threw a curved ball as far as the stage times were concerned: Whilst Cave/Parry recorded the fastest time on stage eleven, Parpottas/Davies were second in their Fiesta R2. But even more impressively, stage twelve saw Matthew Cathcart/James Morgan set the fastest time, with Jussi Kumpumäki/Jani Salo third on the two runs through Bothwell – both crews in Fiesta R2s.
Whilst all this paranormal activity was going on, Cronin/Clarke had a fright, when a recurrence of the broken brake pedal cost them over 30-seconds and an off-road excursion in stage twelve. Therefore, the gap between him and Cave/Parry when cars booked into the mid-morning service halt was down to 32-seconds.
With three stages left, the rally leaders decided to stamp their authority on proceedings and, with a trio of fastest times, increased their margin to one-minute 16-seconds ahead of Cave/Parry, who did likewise ahead of Greer/Noble. Even though seventh-placed Korhonen/Korhonen were getting quicker, they could not catch Evans/Furniss, which meant the talented Welshman scored his fourth Class 6 (R2) victory out of four. This result places both Evans and Cave at the top of the drivers’ points table, with Cronin next in line and just two points behind.
Osian Pryce/Iestyn Williams had a better day than they had on Saturday and claimed an eventual fifth place in their Citroën DS3, with Donnelly/Roberts also having a more productive time and brought their Renault Clio R3 home in sixth.
In eighth place and third in Class 6 were Matthew Cathcart/James Morgan in their Ford Fiesta. Of all the BRC crews, they were the ones who grasped this morning’s wet and slippery conditions by the scruff of the neck. This performance saw Cathcart presented with the coveted Pirelli Star Driver yellow jersey at the finish and with it, a nomination to go forward to the end-of-year shoot out.
Whilst the front-runners were forging ahead, in contrast, Sunday’s final three stages others were not the best for others: Garry Pearson/Craig Wallace had their chances of taking a third Junior category win scuppered when one of their Renault Twingo R1’s driveshafts took a turn for the worse on stage 13. For Taylor/Roughead and Kumpumäki/Salo SS14 was to be their nemesis, with both of them going off on the same stretch of road and getting their cars stuck in a ditch.
But the most bitter of pills was reserved for North American driver Nick Allen and his Midlands-based co-driver Andy Bull. On the 15th and final stage they were caught out by the infamous Swinton crossroads jump, which caused their Renault Twingo R2 to spear off the road and into a tree, the impact bringing their rally to an abrupt halt.
At the finish in Duns town centre, a delighted Keith Cronin said: “This certainly wasn’t the easiest of events, especially with the brake pedal problem, but I’m delighted that the result was the right one in the end. It’s great to win this event, especially against such strong competition and because it’s been so tough. This has really helped our chances in the championship.”
The MSA British Rally Championship now takes an 11-week Summer break before round five, the Antrim-based Toddsleap international Rally NI – the second of the season’s two asphalt events – which takes place on 17th & 18th August. But to keep teams up to speed and the championship in the news, BRC organisers have arranged a test and sponsors day at MIRA on 21st July.
For more information on the MSA British Rally Championship visit www.rallybrc.co.uk
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