The UK’s inaugural Twingo Renaultsport R1 & R2 Trophies had a mixed fourth round of the MSA British Rally Championship this weekend, as the Scottish Borders reverberated to the sound of the pocket rockets on the Jim Clark International Rally.
The Kelso based event saw local lad Garry Pearson and fellow Scots co-driver Craig Wallace seal the Twingo Renaultsport R1 Trophy UK simply by crossing the start line; a triumph followed by trials and the tribulation of retirement on the final day.
Having had double British Rally Champion (and this weekend’s rally winner) Keith Cronin as a hare on the opening round in an identical Twingo R1, it now fell to Evo magazine’s features editor Henry Catchpole to try and keep apace with Pearson on asphalt.
It is safe to say that the combination of Pearson’s local knowledge, local support and experience in the 133 horsepower Twingo, combined with Catchpole’s lack of the first two, meant that the youngster had the edge from the start.
The opening tests through the youngster’s home town of Duns allowed Catchpole to stay relatively close to his one-off rival. But as the first stage on Saturday morning would show, the team-work required in rallying is something that takes time to gel; time the journalist did not have.
Nearly 150 miles of competition did give him and former one-make series co-driving team-mate Chris Brooks time to get used to the car and each other; the pair eventually reaching the finish line with a trophy apiece for their troubles.
Pearson had already survived an off on a notoriously tricky and fast left-hander, scene in the past of some spectacular exits from the event. The incident was caught by Greenlight TV’s cameras for posterity; the only real evidence a dented tailgate and no doubt a sharp intake of breath from the crew.
But it was to be the sticky Scottish asphalt that caused their ultimate demise, a driveshaft proving the weak-point in the transmission of power to road. With an immense seven minute lead in Class 10, unlucky stage 13 claimed Pearson as its third victim, gifting the class win to Catchpole.
In the Twingo R2 Trophy, battle was rejoined between seventeen year-old Chris Ingram and the USA’s Nick Allen, both newcomers to the Borders lanes. But it was Allen’s first ever experience of rallying on asphalt and his approach was a sensible one of learning at a sensible pace.
Ingram was certainly the front-runner on a surface with which he has plenty of experience. The 2011 Formula 1000 champion spent last year proving his pace on sealed-surface airfield events, so with the vastly experienced co-driver Ieuan Thomas alongside, he set about making his mark.
Rectifying a misfire with a replacement fuel pump, Ingram was fastest on every one of the stages and missed out on the BRC Class 6 podium by a single place. But en-route the pair had what he described as “The biggest moment of my life.”
The Swinton crossroads has long been recognised as a uniquely difficult part of this event with a super-fast approach, difficult sight-line and tricky jump and kick. With the rear suspension set hard for the fast tarmac, the rear end of Ingram’s Twingo kicked high on the bump, the car spearing him to the left on landing.
Thankfully, with reactions borne from his F1000 experience, he caught the slide, but not before gathering a grille full of grass from the hedge bottom – a near miss that could so easily ended in disaster.
And so it did for title rival Allen and co-driver Andy Bull; taking a slightly different line through the same crossroads the car landed similarly sideways, but Allen hit the brakes and the resulting slide was brutally interrupted by a tree.
Mercifully the impact spun the car back onto the road right-way-up and both crew members walked away from the decidedly second-hand car unscathed. Once again Greenlight TV were there to catch both incidents, no doubt footage that will be intimately scrutinised by both drivers to see what went wrong.
Just minutes later Ingram and Catchpole, who was delayed by Allen’s massive crash, took their respective honours back in Duns town square, Ingram still reeling from the near-miss, while Catchpole considered himself lucky to have been slowed on the approach by marshals.
With an eleven week gap before the crews cross to Northern Ireland for the Todds Leap Rally NI, part of the Ulster Rally, there is plenty of time for everyone to recoup, although it will be with some trepidation, as titles are at stake on this penultimate round of the series.