VIDEO: Thorburn and Beaton in McDonald & Munro Speyside Stages rally to turbo boost their KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship (SRC) challenge
THE McDonald and Munro Speyside Stages was a thrilling spectacle for rally fans in Moray and Aberdeenshire.
Two-time KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship (SRC) champions Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton continued their perfect start to the season with victory at the event.
A large number of local crews also took part with some excellent results.
Huntly driver John Wink from the organising 63 Car Club put in a great display to finish fifth in his Hyundai i20 R5with co-driver John Forrest.
There was a second top-10 finish in two Scottish Rally Championship events so far for Elgin navigator Daniel Forsyth, ninth with Banchory’s Martin Scott and second in class having managed seventh at the Border Counties rally and a class victory.
Suspension problems in the afternoon knocked the pair down the rankings slightly in their Evo 9.
Another Elgin co-driver Andrew Stevenson was 15th in another Evo 9 driven by Erskine’s Kevin Crawford.
Also second in class was Archiestown co-driver Mike Hendry, a late entry in a new BMW E30 with Mark McCulloch finishing 18th overall.
Alves driver Neil Philip finished 40th in an Impreza, navigated by his brother Ian.
Two other sets of brothers failed to finish, with Sandy and Ian Arbuthnott encountering mechanical problems while Darren and Greg McDonald’s first appearance together failed to reach the start line due to a broken drive shaft in their Impreza.
Elgin’s Robert Tonge made a fine debut in the event, driving his MG ZR to 53rd.
Full picture spread in Friday's Northern Scot
Brian Ross (Elgin) in car 25 didn’t start due to gearbox trouble, fire damage to his Impreza ended the interest of Drummuir’s Alex Pirie and co-driver Frazer Skene (Tomintoul) while Elgin driver Brett Mckenzie went nose first into a ditch on stage four.
The winning crew of Thorburn and Beaton, driving their Ford Focus WRC05, backed up their Border Counties win with their Speyside success, eventually earning a winning margin of 41 seconds over Jock Armstrong and Cameron Fair.
Despite the comfortable margin, Thorburn was made to work hard for his victory with five-time champion David Bogie and Fiesta R5 pilot Garry Pearson taking up the charge early on.
As Elgin basked in unseasonably warm sunshine, Bogie and co-driver John Rowan opened up an early two second lead in the opening spectator stage double header around Cooper Park.
However when the action headed into the forests, Thorburn had stolen that time back, drawing level with the Skoda Fabia R5 driver at the end of stage three.
Bogie then responded and eked ahead in stage four to maintain a gap of around 10 seconds heading into the afternoon, only for his steering rack to break in stage eight.
Bogie, who was chasing a 10th Speyside win, was forced to retire on the spot, leaving Thorburn clear to take his fifth win from as many starts in his new car.
“We thought we had the chance to win, but obviously David [Bogie] knows this rally like the back of his hand and he’s won it so many times,” said a delighted Thorburn.
“We had problems this morning with the brakes and once we got those cured we had a bit of a push. We got a puncture in stage seven but we kept the pressure on and were there to pick up the pieces.
“The car was amazing, it’s just a privilege to drive. And the stages were amazing like they always are up here.”
Speaking about his 100% win record so far in 2019, Thorburn said: “When we started the year we didn’t expect to win a rally so quickly, so to have five in a row is quite unprecedented, but obviously we’ll take it!”
Armstrong and Fair had been running fourth for most of the day, but profited from Bogie’s late drama and problems for Pearson too.
Pearson and co-driver Dale Bowen had been running third, with a fastest time on stage five, only to crash out two stages later.
Armstrong was happy to pick up second place, despite not being able to challenge Thorburn on outright pace.
“We’re a second a mile slower than Euan, but with the comparison between our cars that’s not too bad,” Armstrong said.
“Euan’s on a roll. He’s contesting the BTRDA currently and doing well down there too so he’s flying the flag for Scotland that’s for sure. I’m quite happy to be second to him.”
Freddie Milne took third for the second consecutive rally, fending off Michael Binnie for the spot in what was déjà vu to the Border Counties.
Milne and Patrick Walsh found more speed throughout the afternoon after fixing a flattened exhaust, eventually pipping Binnie and Claire Mole by just five seconds.
“We’re absolutely delighted. Really, really happy,” said Milne.
“It’s just a shame we’re not getting it [the podium] naturally, we’re profiting from others misfortunes. We were trying on that last one, so Michael must have really been trying as we got equal times. But it was good fun.”
Wink and Forrest were just six seconds shy of Binnie’s Mitsubishi while Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts guided their Ford Focus WRC to its first ever finish with sixth overall on the Speyside. The pair battled with start-line issues all day however with several stalls, unsure if there was something amiss with the clutch or if McCombie just wasn’t quite used to the WRC.
Chris Collie and Gary McDonald took their first SRC top 10 since their four-wheel-drive return, picking up seventh in their Mitsubishi.
Thomas Gray and Harry Marchbank picked up where they left off on the Border Counties with another eighth place overall in their Evo IX, a narrow three seconds ahead of Scott and Forsyth.
Keith Morris and Terry Mallin rounded out the top 10 in their older Lancer.
Scottish 2WD Championship honours went the way of Duncan MacDonald and Neil Ross, with a superb drive to 13th overall in their Ford Escort Mk2.
Keith Robathan and Steven Brown netted second in their BMW M3, ahead of Mark McCulloch and Michael Hendry who were making their rear-wheel-drive debut in another BMW.
Thomas Gray was the victor in the Albyn Garage Challengers series, fending off the advances of Scott’s similar Evo IX. Morris completed the podium.
Jude MacDonald was the top SRC Junior finishing a superb 23rd overall in his Skoda Fabia R2, ahead of Linzi Henderson’s Ford Fiesta R2T and Johnnie MacKay’s Fiesta ST.
Used Car Parts Subaru Cup honours went the way of Matthew Thomson. He finished a clear three minutes ahead of Max Redpath with Mike Moates completing the category podium.
With two rounds completed, Euan Thorburn has opened up an early championship lead thanks to wins on both rounds. However, with four rallies still remaining it is all still very much to play for as the SRC speed into Lockerbie for the RSAC Scottish Rally next month.
The KNC Groundworks Ltd Scottish Rally Championship is supported by Royal Aero, Pirelli Motorsport, Moates Offshore Ltd, Albyn Garage Ltd, RAVENOL and Reis Motorsport Insurance.
The next event is the RSAC Scottish Rally on Saturday May 18.