Bulletin 18 - 29th August 2017

Alistair Hutchinson in his Renault Clio © Pro-Rally.co.uk
Alistair Hutchinson in his Renault Clio © Pro-Rally.co.uk
Chris McCallum in his Ford Escort MkII © Pro-Rally.co.ukRob Snowden / Andy Brown, Ford Escort MkII © Pro-Rally.co.ukStevie Irwin / Ian Middleton, Vauxhall Nova © Pro-Rally.co.ukStephen Bethwaite and Ann Forster, Vauxhall Nova © Pro-Rally.co.ukJohn Nicholson, Ford Escort MkII © Pro-Rally.co.ukJimmy Knox in the BMW © Pro-Rally.co.uk

Chris McCallum in his Ford Escort MkII © Pro-Rally.co.ukRob Snowden / Andy Brown, Ford Escort MkII © Pro-Rally.co.ukStevie Irwin / Ian Middleton, Vauxhall Nova © Pro-Rally.co.ukStephen Bethwaite and Ann Forster, Vauxhall Nova © Pro-Rally.co.ukJohn Nicholson, Ford Escort MkII © Pro-Rally.co.ukJimmy Knox in the BMW © Pro-Rally.co.uk


Current champion shows his pace again.


For a few years now the Pendragon Stages has run in September or even May on one occasion.  For 2017 the organisers were originally offered the anniversary date of last year’s mid September rally before the Army made them change to the August Bank Holiday weekend – a date that was traditional for this event quite a few years ago.  And although the rally may have taken place a fortnight earlier in the year, the weather was in fact not as good this time with lots of cloud and every now and then some light drizzle but next to no sunshine.  Similar to previous years, the event is classified as a multi use single venue rally on the respected Warcop Ranges near Brough with only a few link miles along the A66 to connect the stages and service areas together.



Alistair Hutchinson really enjoys driving the Warcop Ranges and over recent years has set lots of fast stage times.  Unfortunately he’s usually had some mechanical problem that’s lost him time and spoilt a good result.  This time his ‘regular man in the left seat’ – St John Dykes – had to go to work so Alistair asked young Jordan English to wear Sinje’s race suit and call the notes for him.  He accepted the opportunity even though he’d done neither before.  Alistair took the time to get his Renault Clio on a rolling road before this event and was pleased that with a little demon tweak, a bit more power was now available to his right foot.  This year’s Pendragon was 99% reliable for our current champion driver with only a few seconds lost on the last test of the morning, this being traced to a loose wire to the alternator.  Consistently fast top ten stage times pushed the French marque into 7th overall and another class win at the end of the day.  It’s a shame we’ve only seen Alistair on three rallies this year as he’s certainly not lost any speed and if he’d started more rallies he would have been at the sharp end of the overall table keeping everyone honest.


Phil Sandham would take top honours for co-drivers while finishing in 10th place.  Phil was a late replacement to sit alongside the non-registered Mark Borthwick in his Ford Escort MkII.  A couple of slowish times over the first loop caused by catching slower cars were their only problems.


The dramas for Chris McCallum started on Saturday morning when his scheduled co-driver couldn’t make it so he called up Mark Fisher at 10:30 and luckily for Chris, Mark agreed to step in at even shorter notice than Phil Sandham.  Their Ford Escort MkII sounded sweet out on the stages and no problems were reported until a little vibration became apparent from the back of the car near the end of the final stage.  It didn’t slow them too much and they ended up in 16th overall with Chris being our second fastest driver. 


The duel for our driver’s title started the day with Stevie Irwin just two points ahead of Rob Snowden.  When we were at this venue 3 months ago Rob and Andy Brown managed 5th overall and were our top scorers.  After the opening pair of tests this time, their Ford Escort MkII was comfortably propping up the top ten before disaster struck in the first Toddygill stage when they ground to a halt in the test.  It took a while to discover a loose wire on the fuel pumps and 3 minutes were lost as they dropped back to 46th place.  The rest of the day was spent in maximum attack mode as they recovered some pride to end up in 18th overall and our third fastest driver.  But what about the wee Vauxhall Nova they were chasing who was running behind the Ford Escort ?


Stevie was having a relatively quiet morning by his standards and had only lost the nearside door mirror but still had possession of the driver’s side mirror.  However just before the lunch halt he discovered the sump guard was loose with an engine mount flexing.  Some quick welding was the answer and this was achieved with minimal impact on his place on leaderboard.  A steady afternoon saw Stevie and Ian Middleton still smiling at the finish taking 20th overall and just losing out on the class win by 6 seconds.  But more important, Stevie was classified fourth championship driver home and only lost 1 point to Rob Snowden; thus keeping the championship wide open. 


Stephen Bethwaite and Ann Forster were back at a venue they know well even though the hills don’t suit 1400cc Vauxhall Novas.  They lost time on their second run through Pinsent Way as they came across the preceding car off the road and with no sign of the crew or an OK board, they decided to stop and see if help was needed.  It wasn’t as the car had only just gone off seconds before our West Cumbria crew arrived and they were fine.  Unfortunately the time taken to undo belts and intercoms, assess the situation and then get ready to go again meant a fair bit of time was lost so the organisers awarded them a ‘notional time’.  Mechanically, their only worry was a temperamental starter motor but they tried not to use it too much and bump started the car when possible.  With a new look go faster front number plate on the car too they were delighted to take yet another class win and 21st overall as their reward.


After all his mechanical dramas on the previous event at Otterburn, John Nicholson was very happy to report having a quiet run over the Warcop Ranges.  John asked Mick Johnson to sit in with him this time in his historic specification Ford Escort MkII and their only complaint was being held up many times by slower cars.


It was good to see Jimmy Knox out driving his BMW E30 again and not at Croft for a change.  Jimmy found Colin Tombs willing to step up for a paid ride and guide him around a venue that Jimmy last drove many years ago.  The car could never be considered as fast but Jimmy gradually grew in confidence with the new co-driver, car and venue and steadily moved up the leaderboard on every stage from 55th after SS1 to 36th at the end.  And he used the same four tyres all rally – “they were knackered before the event” was his quote and I’ll not let on how many years it is since he bought the Dunlops second hand !


Andrew Hutchinson was sitting alongside George Scott in his Mitsubishi Evo6 and enjoyed his day apart from a couple of ‘tyre related’ incidents that cost a load of time on the fourth test and also the penultimate one too.  


Our final classified finishers were Michael Thomas and Ken Bills way down in 53rd position.  They lost a big chunk of time on SS3 when their Ford Escort dropped off the road into a ditch where they stayed until a recovery vehicle dragged them out at lunchtime and back to civilisation.  They were awarded a stage maximum for not finishing stage 3 and then a stage penalty of 30 minutes for not attempting stage 4 !  But they were able to contest the four afternoon stages as the car was still driving perfectly okay.


Our list of retirements started on the opening loop of two stages as firstly we lost Ian Paterson / Heather Grisedale when the front offside wheel nuts sheared on their Subaru Impreza; next to go were Ian Forgan and Chris Lees after a puncture put them off the road and into the scenery on the first run before the lack of brakes made them decide to go home; then it was Gareth White and Harry Marchbank’s turn as they slipped off the outside edge of the road on a tight square left and became stuck down the deep ditch and lastly Caroline Lodge sitting in the unregistered Helen Noble’s Talbert Sunbeam – they called it a day “when the engine starting sounding like a bag of spanners” as Caroline put it.

Shona Hale was looking forward to being back out with Jim Sharp in his newly acquired Mitsubishi Evo6 but they retired after the third test when Jim felt unwell; Richard Stewart was co-driving for George Auld again but retired from 20th overall on the first afternoon runs with axle issues of the Ford Escort MkII and also on this loop we lost Joe Hutchinson.  He was in the silly seat of Simon Cole’s BMW 325 when the throttle body jammed open in mid stage.

Neil Prior and Peter Littlefield were hoping some reliability had returned after the Tyneside Stages but the turbo of their Subaru Impreza gave up on SS7 when they were lying in 21st place.  A small fire broke out that the on-board fire extinguishers were able to cope with the subsequent blaze but their day was done.  And our final retiree was Richard Wardle sitting in with the recently rebuilt Vauxhall Nova on the unregistered Donald Bowness.  For Richard it was an eventful rally that got off to a bad start when a driveshaft snapped on the start line of the first stage. This was changed before the second stage and lasted until SS5 when the replacement shaft failed at a hairpin. With very little lateness remaining they had to do stage 6 with the broken shaft and halfway through they lost the brakes completely.  Going over the cattle grid near the end, there was a big bang and the steering wheel started vibrating badly. When the Nova reached the stop line, it was discovered that all 4 wheel studs had sheared off, and the only thing holding the wheel on was the wing !


Once again we must express our gratitude to Miles Whitelock and his team from Kirkby Lonsdale Motor Club with assistance from Eden Valley Motor Club and Northallerton Automobile Club for yet another testing Pendragon Stages.  A few minor delays didn’t spoil another good day’s rallying at a very popular venue that’s always well received by competitors.


It’s worth taking a look at the top of the drivers table as Steve Irwin and Rob Snowden are separated by the smallest of margins – 1 point.  Whilst across in the co-drivers section, Andy “Scratman” Brown has opened up what appears to be a nice 10 point advantage before four points cover the next five contenders.  There’s going to be lots of close battles to come on the next rally.


And as we’re only left with one more rally to go for this year, it’ll all be decided on the Cheviot Stages Rally run in memory of Keith Knox.  Once again Whickham and Hadrian Motor Clubs are co-promoting the rally that will take place on Sunday 22nd October and new for this year, the organisers welcome along Keldine Autos as the event sponsor.  It’s very likely that most of the roads used on the recent Tyneside Stages will be used once more.  The rally will be using Otterburn Ranges again as crews will attempt 14 stages covering up to 60 competitive miles.  An enforced change for this year will be the use of Redesdale Camp as the service area as the Army will be using the Airstrips on the day of the rally.  Entries opened just last week and the link, along with lots more information about the event, including the online system can be found at http://www.cheviotstages.org.uk/


All images courtesy of Pro-Rally.co.uk ©