10 Dec Smith & Jones Powered West takes first victory of the 2018-19 season
Chris West and Keith Hounslow picked up their first overall win of the 2018/19 Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship season in a pulsating winter Knockhill Stages event.
The Peugeot 306 Maxi pairing braved ice and sleet in Fife to finally break their season duck and added a third MN class victory in D1 in succession to extend their title lead before Christmas, the first round win overall for partners Smith and Jones.
West had to come from 16 seconds adrift at one stage after a stall early in the day, Donnie MacDonald leading the way for the Scots at their local track after the stage one demise of Alan Kirkaldy’s Ford Fiesta R5. Kirkaldy punctured the radiator with a trip into a hefty bale lining the icy stage, while brother Andrew Kirkaldy struggled for grip also in his Ford Escort Mk2 (prepared by Alan) and slipped 26s adrift.
The conditions turned in favour of the experienced hands in the afternoon, West charging back to second behind new leader John Marshall who made his return to the series in a Subaru. A fairytale win for Marshall ebbed away on stage eight as West took control, surviving an alternator scare late to seal Knockhill Stages success for the second year in succession.
“I’m very happy with that”, said winner West. “It’s been tricky. I didn’t think we’d be able to come here and win this one but then we got sucked into a battle. I can’t fault the guys as they’ve always been on the phone to help us and we’re getting there. I can enjoy a Christmas break with my family now and we’ve got time to get it sorted for Brands next month.”
Marshall trailed by seven seconds by the flag on a fine return to the series, but the charge of the event came from third-placed Andrew Kirkaldy after a run of fastest stage times in the damp second half of the day.
“If you’d have told me I would be leading the rally and finish second this morning I’d have been delighted”, said Marshall. “Six months out doesn’t sound like much, but you really feel it. The car has been great and I’ve really enjoyed it. We just got a bit unlucky with the rain there.”
Kirkaldy finished just eight seconds behind the race winners to complete the podium, usurping the rapid Mitsubishi of Scottish tarmac rally fan Taylor Gibb who had held the place with just two stages to go.
Kirkaldy said “looking at it now, it should have been our rally to win! It’s just a shame about those opening two stages. It was so slippery and there was a lot of ice around the circuit, so it was difficult getting the right tyres for the right conditions. I’ve really enjoyed it all day though.”
Gibb slipped to fourth behind the rampant Kirkaldy after traffic hindered his own run across the final two stages, Allan Smith rounding out the top five in another Mitsubishi.
Craig Aston “fancied” his chances of a class victory in Scotland and duly accepted the challenge with stand-in co-driver Matt Walker.
The Toyota Yaris overpowered Innes Mochrie after falling behind due to a pothole-induced puncture, securing maximum points and overall class honours.
While Scottish junior ace Steven Hay dominated in his Vauxhall Corsa with an overall top-10 finish, Paul Sheard again overcame adversity to grab maximum MN points in a class B of attrition.
“I made a lot of mistakes, and the shocker went on stage two”, he said. “Still, you’ve got to finish!”
More a relief was that Ashleigh Morris and co-driver Jamie Mactavish escaped unharmed from a spectacular barrel roll at the fast chicane. The Ford Fiesta tipped over after tagging a tyre stack entering the left-hander, Morris adding “it’s the first time I’ve rolled a car. We had just beaten Paul before too!”
The overall win went to the rapid Peugeot 205 of Ross Hunter, finishing inside the top 10 of the event to uphold class C.
Richard Wells shone in his Fiesta as he gave chase, finishing ahead of Jim Rintoul and MN regular Ryan Connolly.
The series now heads South to Brands Hatch in Kent on 19 January, but until then, have a fantastic Christmas and a very happy new year from all of us.