Kirriemuir’s Craig Wallace co-drove his rally partner Mark McCulloch to another great result at the recent Jim Clark Rally.
The event was a round of the British Rally Challenge and the M Sport backed Kick Energy, Fiesta Sport Challenge.
The event has not been kind to the pairing in previous years but this year surely their luck would change.
Pre-event preparation was as always meticulous.
There was no doubt that Craig, Mark and the car would be ready.
The service crew spent a lot of time on the Friday morning rechecking and adjusting to have everything just right.
Starting leg one from Duns on Friday night it was through the streets of Duns itself, and then into the hills to Bothwell and the awesome Abbey St Bathans stage.
Although preparations were completed early in the day the final decision of which tyres to use was held off until the very last minute.
Craig explains the difficulty of tyre choice on this event.
“The weather was changeable but primarily dry. Wet tyres were not in the equation but we had to make a choice between slicks or intermediates
“It can be dry in Duns but damp and wet at Bothwell and pouring with rain in Abbey St Bathans. We opted for the safe choice of intermediates.
“The cooler evening temperatures would make this a good choice and the tyres would work well.”
Indeed this choice, at least for Craig and Mark, was spot on. The Fiesta ST handled well on the three differing stages and they put in a strong opening performance. One of their main competitors had taken the bolder route of slicks but paid the price in the rapidly cooling evening.
“The last stage is in darkness and its just fantasti,” explained Craig.
The end of leg one saw them sitting in seventh overall and second in class, a good steady start with all to play for on the five stages of leg two.
It as an early start on Saturday morning for the service crew, who had everything in place and well prepared ready for the first service of the day once the car was released from ‘Parc Ferme’.
“On a two day event like this the cars are held in a secure area where no work is permitted by anyone,” explains Craig.
“Once the cars are released the service crew had 45 minutes to check things over and make any adjustments we wanted.
“The time period was generous so we were ready to go except for the tyre choice.”
The weather was different and the call on tyres would be even more difficult.
With minutes to go the decision was made, slicks on the front and intermediates on the rear, a set up that would serve them well all day despite the very changeable conditions.
Leaving service they headed for the first stage of the day. It may well have been bright and sunny in the Kelso service area but by the time they reached Polwarth the rain was pouring down
Craig said: “This is the real challenge on the Clark; changeable weather within a few miles and the tyres are wrong. Our stage time was well down but it was still the right tyre choice as all the stages were dry after this.”
The Edrom and Ayton stages were dry and the pace picked up bringing them back into the positions held at the end of leg one. This was all good news and, with no dramas, they headed back to Kelso for service.
Only 20 minutes service this time so the service crew worked hard to do a full spanner, engine and brake check.
Everything was in order and all that had to be declared was the tyre choice, a possibility of going to slicks all round was considered but final decision was to remain with the status quo as it had worked well all day.
Craig explained; “ The condition of the tyres shows if they are working or not. You can tell if they are getting too hot or not hot enough so that helps to make the decision.
“It’s a tense moment as we like to leave this decision to the very last minute.”
Leaving service for the final two stages the game plan was to finish and hold position.
Eccles & Swinton were the final two stages. They were in a good position and a steady run with full concentration would give them a result.
Craig said with some relief: “We finished strongly and were chuffed to get a finish as well as a great result.
“This is one of the greatest tarmac stage rallies and it challenges the whole team.”
Final classification was second in Class, second in the Fiesta St Challenge and seventh overall.
Craig’s next events are as follows:- June 25 - Scottish Rally, based in Dumfries with Mark McCulloch in the Fiesta ST (Scottish Rally Championship); August 19/20 - Todds Leap Ulster Rally, based in Antrim, Northern Ireland, with Mark McCulloch in the Fiesta ST (British Rally Challenge and Kick Energy Fiesta ST Challenge).