Craig’s fifth place overall despite puncture problems

The Pirelli Rally is feared for one thing, the “killer stages of Kielder”.

The toll on cars in these stages is high and it’s an event that often sees high levels of punctures.

Kirriemuir electrician Craig Wallace was, as usual,co-driving for his long term driver, Mark McCulloch, in the Fiesta ST in the BRC and Fiesta Trophy Championships.

Craig pointed out: “A number of repairs were required to the car after the Bulldog Rally in Wales.

“We had these sorted out fairly quickly and made adjustments to the car to make it more competitive.

“I have done all these stages more than one so knew them reasonably well, as does Mark.

“Our doubts lay with the make up of the forest roads which tend to have larger and sharper stones. Therefore punctures can be an issue.”

Setting off for their first stage at Falstone high above the Kielder Dam they set out with a pace that could clearly be seen to be quick and certainly took full advantage by setting an early lead in their class.

The second stage at Bower was equally impressive, as is the rule for these events, no service vehicles are allowed although news does filter back to the Service area in Carlisle.

Craig said: “The service crew were nervous about possible punctures. We opted to carry only one spare wheel so, with two stages completed and one to go before a full service, we were likely to be okay, although double punctures do happen.”

Heading through stage 3, Blackaburn and with almost ten miles completed the inevitable puncture happened.

“It was a rear wheel puncture so we weren’t bothered as we were able to keep our pace,” continued Craig.

“We dropped about eight seconds on our main competitor but we were happy with that in the circumstances.

“We still had four miles of the stage to complete so it was hard work.”

Returning to service the service crew set to work with a thorough check of the car. The damage these stages can inflict on a rally car is significant so it’s important everything is checked.

With new tyres all round, it was back to Kielder for three more hard stages.

The first of the afternoon was Shepherdshield.

“This last time I was in this stage was on the 2010 R.A.C. Rally and there were huge snowfalls and deep snowdrifts everywhere,” said Craig.

“It looked completely different on the Pirelli and a lot quicker.”

There were no dramas through this stage. The duo continued with the pace they had and were fourth overall at this point. A good day so far but two stages still to go.

Pundershaw was another clean run which left just Chirdonhead as the final stage.

At nine miles it would be important to maintain the same pace through this final test.

Craig picks up the story; “We had completed about half the stage when Mark said he thougth we had a front puncture.

“In a front wheel drive car on gravel it’s a worst case scenario.

“We kept pushing on and were determined to hold onto our position. Almost four miles later we crossed the flying finish, Mark having worked incredibly hard.

“Once clear of the stage we had to change the wheel. Fortunately, despite the length it had been driven on, the wheel and suspension were undamaged so we had no hassles returning to the finish at Carlisle.

“We were pleased with the day’s work, for, although we lost nearly 40 seconds with the puncture in the last stage, we still managed second in Class, third Fiesta ST and fifth overall - a good result on any day.

“No point looking at what might have been. Take the positives, which we have done, enjoy a good result and look forward to the next event”

Craig’s next event is the Jim Clark Rally on May 27/28 with Mark McCulloch in the Fiesta ST.