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Mcrae Stages - Saturday 24th July 2004

Lucky.

That would be the most appropriate word to describe the Ecosse 205 challenge victory for Roy Maclennan and Ian Clark on the Colin Mcrae GHI Stages. Drama started earlier in the week when regular co-driver Tom Hynd discovered that he couldn't have the weekend off after all. Some phoning around turned up a stray navigator by the name of Ian Clark, from Cumnock, who, along with his usual driver Gordon Alexander, has won a couple of championships in the last year or two. Next problem was to find replacements for the service crew members who were on holiday/recceing another event/working/attending wedding rehearsals/already competing or servicing. This didn't go so well, and two of the regular crew - the Ross twins - were all who could make it. Things went a little better then until the car was being driven out of the workshop to load on the trailer at seven o'clock on Friday evening, when the hiss of pressure escaping from the coolant bottle indicated the beginning of a cylinder head gasket failure.

At this point the big question was whether to bother going to Perth at all, since it looked like the car wouldn't get much beyond the first stage, and the preparation so far had been an example of anything that could go wrong, doing so. That, however, would have been to admit defeat prematurely, so the Fair Price Car Hire 205 was loaded onto the trailer, hooked up to the van, and pointed south. Having met Ian at scrutineering on Saturday morning, the first thing Roy had to do was tell him about the head gasket problem, and that his unexpected outing might not last very long. The decision was made to go flat out from the start until the engine started to overheat, and, when that happened, back off and try for a finish. So they did, setting fastest time on stage one by six seconds from Kevin Ross/George Breaky. The 205 emerged from this stage with a bit of body damage to most of the drivers side, due to cutting a corner just too close to the tree on the inside. Stage two wasn't so good, but fortunately it was the shortest, at just over four miles. A punctured front left tyre resulted in right-hand bends being a bit difficult and visits to three ditches, resulting in a 30-second time loss - enough to drop Roy & Ian to second place behind new leader James Vickers/Andy Pemberton.

Service followed stage two, giving the twins a chance to get the drivers side door opening and closing, put some new tyres on the front, and discover that too much of the exhaust had been ripped off for it to be repairable. From there it was on to stage three Drummond Hill, shortened from 15 and a half miles to 12 and a half miles due to the dangerous conditions. This proved to be the crew's best stage of the day, as they emerged in the lead by 9 seconds from James Vickers/Andy Pemberton. Going into the final stage with such a small time difference meant that flat out attack was the only option, but about five miles from the end of the stage, a rear puncture started to slow Roy & Ian down. After reaching stage end and stopping to change the wheel, James Vickers/Andy Pemberton also arrived with a puncture - on the front. Both leading crews had been beaten on stage four by Ross McLeish/Mark Smith and Kevin Ross/George Breaky.

To further add to the day's excitement, after changing the puncture the Fair Price Car Hire 205 wouldn't start. The initial thought was that it had run low on fuel, but after James and Andy towed it out to get petrol, it still wouldn't start. Further examination revealed that the fuel tank had been landed on hard enough to break the fuel pump inside it. A quick shake seemed to get it working, it was dropped back into the tank, and the engine started. The delay in sorting this problem meant that the 40-odd miles to the last control at Perth had to be covered in less time than was originally intended. That was an interesting run down the A9.

On reaching the final control, Roy and Ian were delighted to discover that they had taken victory in the Challenge by 18 seconds and 28 seconds from James Vickers/Andy Pemberton and Kevin Ross/George Breaky respectively. The organisers were also surprised since several reports had put the Fair Price Car Hire 205 at the roadside with the bonnet up going nowhere fast. Which brings us back to lucky. And the cylinder head gasket? Aside from an increasingly dense cloud of smoke every time the engine was started, it withstood the day no bother.......


Roy Maclennon


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