KIRRIEMUIR resident rally co-driver Craig Wallace kicked off his 2011 rally season with a solid result on the Malcolm Wilson Rally.
The rally, which is based in the Lake District, started at the world famous ‘M Sport’ Headquarters at Dovenby Hall near Cockermouth, home of the Ford world rally team.
This year Craig has again teamed up with Mark McCulloch for their fourth consecutive season together.
The former Scottish junior rally champion crew, aiming to contest the Dulux Trade British Rally Challenge and the ‘M Sport’ backed (Ford) Fiesta Sport Challenge.
Both championships will take them the length and breadth of the country.
The Malcolm Wilson Rally was the duo’s first event in the recently acquired Ford Fiesta ST.
Although Craig has had a season at international level in the BRC and the Fiesta ST Trophy Championship, this was Mark’s first taste of driving the Fiesta ST in competition.
Indeed the only previous “competitive driving” in the car was on the Thursday test day prior to the event.
Craig said before the start: “With limited testing and competitive time in the car we will be aiming for a trouble free steady run on Saturday.
“Mark settled well with the car during the testing on Thursday so we need to build on that. Although accustomed to the pace note style for the event myself it’s a new version for Mark so we will have to work at adapting our style to suit.”
The event headed east from the Cockermouth ceremonial start to tackle the first three stages, Comb, Hobcarton and the first of two visits to Greystoke.
These are stages that are known to Craig having competed on the 2009 event although he was hoping to get the year off to a better start than 2009 when he co-drove John Boyd to a finish after mechanical problems and a heavy roll on the second of seven stages.
With a tentative first stage they soon found confidence and picked up the pace to match the front runners and keep in close contact with their Fiesta rivals.
Stages two and three passed of without incident.
Next was a service halt at Penrith, with only 20 minutes allowed the service crew had to work quickly to complete the scheduled work.
Leaving service the interim results highlighted they were moving through the field so a steady approach was again called for.
A long drive down to the two stages in the Grizedale Forest complex followed service, perhaps not an occasion to take in the fine scenery.
Without doubt they were holding their own and setting good times. Stage 4 Grizedale North was uneventful whilst in Stage 5 they had a moment or two on the very slippery roads of Grizedale South.
Only five seconds down on the quickest of the Fiestas after Stage 5 was a clear indication of Craig and Mark settling into the new car.
Heading back to Penrith for the second service the support crew were hard pushed to get through all the work.
The car was now heavy with mud, much of it needing to be cleaned off to enable important spanner checks.
Craig said: “They all looked like they had been wrestling in mud, but they got everything done and we were grateful to leave the service area with a car in good mechanical order.”
The light was beginning to fade for the final two stages, the second run through Greystoke and the final Stage (7) at Wythop.
“We enjoyed the last two stages. We had settled into the car and began to have the confidence we have had in previous seasons together,” Craig said.
The ceremonial finish in the centre of Cockermouth was a welcome sight, finishing fourth in the Fiesta Class, fifth in Class N3 and 15th two wheel drive car.
Craig’s reflections on the event: “A good solid finish. We achieved what we set out to do and we will build on that for the rest of the season.
Craig’s next event is the Bulldog Rally on Saturday, April 2 at Welshpool in North Wales.