Kirriemuir electrician, Craig Wallace returned from the Todds Leap International Rally in Northern Ireland with more than a spring in his step.
The tough two-day event was the fifth round of the British Rally Championship and the fifth round of the RenaultSport R1 Trophy UK.
Arriving in Ulster with driver Garry Pearson from Duns, the Border Rally Sport crew knew that this event could make or break their Championship year.
A meticulous recce of the stages on the Thursday enabled the pair to plan their event and decide how best to tackle the 120+ stage miles and 300+ road miles in the ‘Pearson’s of Duns’ backed Renault.
Craig said: “We were leading both the British Championship Class and the RenaultSport R1Trophy UK, a steady run with a good finish would secure both these titles, however the prize of winning the British Junior Rally Championship for Garry was a harder task and whilst a finish was essential to ensure the title chase moved to the final round in Yorkshire we needed as many points as possible.”
With the recce, documentation and scrutineering all completed on the Thursday it was a tentative wait for the start at lunchtime on the Friday. Six challenging stages made up the first leg taking in some 52 stage miles.
Craig continued: “The tarmac stages using the closed public roads in Ulster are not for the faint hearted. They are narrow, twisty, bumpy and ready to punish the smallest of errors. Our plan was to keep the car in one piece, the finish was essential. But with stages like Torr Head, Knockboy and Glendun this was hard work.”
Friday threw up no difficulties and with the big lights fitted for the final two stages of the day Craig and Garry brought the car home to the final service of leg one with no issues and sitting in a comfortable position.
By the time they reached Parc Ferme they had already been in the car for nearly 10 hours.
An early rise on Saturday and back in the car just after 7am for leg two, four more stages with a total of around 36 miles passed off without incident, although the service crew waited nervously for news updates back at the excellent service area at Junction One in Antrim.
Tardree, Lisnamuck, Slieve Gallion and Langford Lough are all challenging stages - this would be a very, very long day.
Craig said: “By lunch time we had consolidated our position. We had kept to our plan and whilst some of our competitors fell by the wayside we kept Steve Rockland the Norwegian firmly in our sights. We had no problems at this point and at the midday service the car was in good order.”
With four more stages to go and the prize in sight the ‘Ulster’ can bite and it nearly did. A puncture on the front left following a heavy landing could have been disastrous, but Garry kept his cool to complete Stage 12 while driving with the puncture for over a mile. A hard task any day but especially on these roads.
Craig continued: “It takes us around four minutes to change the wheel. We can’t just throw it in the back. It has to be fully strapped back in, that’s a lot of time to drop. If the car still drives I have to make a call on the most time efficient plan, stop and change it or drive on at a slower pace, in this case it was only just over a mile so we kept going.”
Final service mid afternoon and everything was checked and rechecked. Two stages to go and two of the Championships were theirs. Could Garry secure the Junior Title and make it a clean sweep?
Heading off to Lisnamuck and Slieve Gallion for the final two stages they left the service crew pacing anxiously with regularity to the results computers nearby.
Craig added: “22 miles of stages to go. By now on Saturday alone we had been in the car nearly nine hours, fitness is imperative and with Stage 13 completed we had only the final stage at nearly 16 miles, and probably the hardest of the event, to achieve or goal.
“Not only had we the RenaultSport R1Trophy UK, and Class Ten title in the British Rally Championship in our sights, we now had the opportunity to gain enough points to get Garry the British Junior Rally Championship.”
Indeed, they finished the stage and quietly brought the car back to Antrim after 20 hours of competition to the final service, the final control, the finishing ramp and the Champagne.