After a seemingly eternal 5-month recess (up from the planned 3, due to the unfortunate cancellation of May’s Boontree Birl), the 2014 Scottish Navigational Rally Championship’s summer break finally came to a welcome end on 23rd August – the second half of the season getting underway with the Autumn Rally. Despite a disappointing entry of just 7 crews, down 3 on last year, to their credit the organisers at Highland Car Club pressed ahead, and laid on an excellent evening’s entertainment around the lanes to the east of Inverness.
Following on from last year’s successful experimental route further south in the Northern Cairngorms (maps 35 & 36), for 2014 the event returned to its traditional patch on maps 26 & 27… further cementing its reputation as the most northerly night rally in the UK (LEJOG aside)!
First car away from the Culloden Service Station at 20.01 (still with an hour of daylight remaining!) were defending event winners and local favourites Brian Fraser & Iain Thorburn in their Audi A6 estate – by no means a small machine, but not shy on poke either! Hot on their heels were the two other ‘Nat B’ Open crews – Huntly’s Colin Christie & David Law in the (somewhat “more suitable”?!) Subaru Impreza, and the Honda Concerto of “invading”/”southern” Edinburgh/Kinross duo Graham Couser & Richard Crozier. Clubmen Neil Campbell & Charlie Munro rounded out the Open contingent in a Renault Clio, the Novices being led off by another Clio in the hands of Mark & Derek Forsyth, with the small but eclectic field completed by the VW Golf of Calum & Steven Bruce, and the BMW 330d of Dean Ross & Mark Wilmot.
The final crew away had a particularly intriguing story… currently midway through his maiden SRC campaign in the woods in an Impreza, Alness-based Ross’s stage car is usually based with prep man Wilmot way down at Stonehenge, but having spent the weekend bringing it up north, while in the area, both had decided to take the plunge and enter their first road event together, in Dean’s road car! In an event where entries from south of the Highland Boundary Fault are considered a rarity, having an entry from Wiltshire must be some sort of recent record!
With some simple spot height navigation guiding the crews out of Culloden/Smithton/Westhill and out into the wilds, the rally headed South-West over the A9 at Daviot, onto map 26 and the network of roads to the south of Inverness. Christie/Law nearly fell foul of the tricky “grid line number addition” navigation of Section 2, but scraped into the control clean with just seconds to spare, to ensure the lead crews remained on level pegging early doors. However, it would not be long until the opening shots were fired – Section 4’s “spot height total” nav would see the two lead crews pause at the first cross-roads above Dores, just as Couser/Crozier had sussed it, passing the two stationary cars and slotting hairpin right to descend the switchback hairpins towards the banks of Loch Ness. With both Fraser/Thorburn and Christie/Law dropping a few minutes on this section, Car 3 would seize a lead on the road that they would hold for most of the remainder of the night. A fast blast down the B852 on the eastern banks of Loch Ness would little trouble the 30mph average… competitors’ minds no doubt more being on the slender barrier standing between them and a “dook” in the Loch… and perhaps with it, a fate of ending up as “Nessy”’s dinner!
The next section however would be more of a test – one of the few short sharp 3-mile “droppers”, the time-consuming nav would challenge crews to find the TC6 control location “the long way”, before heading straight there! The correct route would take crews through Farigaig Forest to the control at Errogie, sadly bypassing on this occasion the famed “Corkscrew” – a set of 6 consecutive hairpins, which once formed one of the UK’s very first special stages on the 1960 RAC Rally (when asked how he had managed to wrangle a then-implausible road closure, RSAC Secretary of the time Bob Tennant-Reid replied: “Oh, no problem. This is Scotland, laddie…”!!). One crew who would sample the Corkscrew anyway were Christie/Law – misinterpreting the instruction, they stumbled across the subsequent TC7, and at this point, with OTL looming, made the sensible decision to skip the following 12.5-mile loop around Loch Duntelchaig and cut straight to TC9, the subsequent “wrong approach” further harming their cause, but still keeping them in the event.
With 3 crews now realistically in the hunt for victory, that would soon be further reduced to just 2… Car 1’s challenge unravelled on the run to TC10, where the pre-start info warning of the potential for additional map handouts proved crucial, as they carried straight on up the B851 back towards Daviot, rather than slotting right “off the maps” (onto Map 35), and onto what would prove one of the best sections of the night… The road from Farr to Garbole, a 5.5-mile glorious twisting beast, draped over the northern extremities of the Monadhliath Mountains, which can rightly claim to rival the best moorland roads that Lancs/Cumbria/Yorkshire have to offer! With the rest of the route having been a largely dry affair, a fair amount of standing water along this section certainly focussed the crews’ attention! And this at +400metre altitude, just a handful of miles east of the Loch Ness banks… such is the rolling terrain of the Highlands! Some “over & under” navigation then saw crews duck under the A9 & main railway and over the River Findhorn, bringing the route back onto Map 27, and the final run back north towards the finish.
After a quick jaunt up the A9 and ducking in-and-out of some laybys, before meandering up the B9154, some ambiguity in the nav would catch out several crews. Crews were tasked with passing a certain amount of green dots of the National Cycle Network, but with the start control being slightly mispositioned, several crews were duped into slotting left over the River Nairn and north-east along the B861, expecting the final section to be a clockwise loop back towards the finish, rather than the correct route of straight on to the control and an anti-clockwise loop. It was here that Couser/Crozier would drop 4 minutes, and with it losing the lead on the road, with Campbell/Munro among those to fall similarly foul. Having sorted themselves out, competitors were eased back to the finish by way of some relatively straightforward grid square hopping nav – a fast blast along both banks of the River Nairn, punctuated by crossing it at the route’s easternmost point at Cantray and a loop around Dalcross Castle, brought them back to the final control and some well-deserved tea, pop & biscuits at Ross’s Garage at Clava.
Some typically swift totting-up from Jock Ross & team saw results declared before midnight, with Couser/Crozier claiming their second overall victory as a team and first on this event, by a convincing 27min margin, somewhat making up for throwing away their chance of victory in the 2013 running (when they had a wrong-slot late on). Campbell/Munro similarly improved on their performance of last year (4th) to net 2nd Overall – both crews improvements coming at the expense of outgoing event winners Fraser/Thorburn, who in the grand scheme of things did not seem too despondent with 3rd Overall & 1st Open, given their already glittering history of success on this event. Perhaps most impressive was the performance of Forsyth/Forsyth to clean the event, and with it take the Novice spoils by a whole 1h54m margin…! Open for next year…?! Meanwhile Christie/Law and Bruce/Bruce had both recovered from less than ideal evenings to record solid 4th and 6th places respectively.
And Ross/Wilmot? Hero of the hour Wilmot, dosed up on energy drinks after a very long weekend, having travelling nigh-on the length of the UK, and with no prior knowledge before the off of the navigation he was set to encounter, had somehow worked it all out on the fly, and guided the pair (and their head-turning not-overly-subtle 330d!) round the route to a respectable finish. Though perhaps not set to be a regular in these parts, maybe our colleagues in the South West Navigational Rally Championship might see him as a new addition to their ranks?! And fellow roadie-virgin Dean Ross? Judging by the glint in his eye at the finish, the woods might not be the sole playground of his bright orange Impreza for long…!
SACC Road Events Coordinator
Nav – Car 3, Honda Concerto (1st o/a)
Thanks to Jim Sutherland Photography (www.facebook.com/james.sutherland) & Richard Crozier (www.facebook.com/richard.m.crozier) for all of the photos! make sure you head to their sites for more examples and for details on how to purchase yourself a copy!