Armstrong survives last stage scare to secure RSAC Scottish Rally victory

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Armstrong survives last stage scare to secure RSAC Scottish Rally victory

Castle Douglas driver Jock Armstrong took the second RSAC Scottish Rally victory of his career on Saturday (22 July 2023) despite putting his Subaru Impreza on its side on the final stage of the event.

Armstrong and co-driver Hannah McKillop endured a rollercoaster of a weekend, heading into the sixth and final Dalbeattie test tied on times with young charger Finlay Retson after a thrilling day-long battle for the coveted victory.

In a nail-biting four-mile decider, it would go down to the wire but Armstrong persevered, claiming victory with last year’s winners Michael Binnie and Claire Mole taking the runner up spot in their Ford Fiesta R5. After a slow start, David Henderson and Chris Lees rounded out the podium in their Fiesta Rally2.

Supported by Dumfries and Galloway Council for the twenty-sixth time, the 77th running of the popular rally saw the event make a new home in Dalbeattie offering the chance for a revised format and stages that have never been used on the event previously. From the rally base at Jas P Wilson Forest Machines, almost ninety crews would face six tests in the Dalbeattie, Kinharvie and Ae forests before the traditional champagne finish celebrations back in Dalbeattie town.

It was Armstrong who was quickest out of the blocks on the opening stage, setting the scratch time four seconds faster than Binnie who was still adapting to R5 machinery. Retson responded on the second test and moved up to second overall in the process, from then on it was a sensational tit-for-tat battle between the two crews, heading into the last stage equal on times.

Armstrong threw caution to the wind in a bid to clinch the win. But the Subaru pilot drifted wide on a left-hand bend, putting the car momentarily on its side in a ditch, with all hopes of a win evaporating.

But Retson and co-driver Paul Beaton suffered drama of their own, failing to emerge from the stage in their Fiesta Rally2, giving a surprised Armstrong the victory, adding to his 2011 tally and maximum points in the KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship.

It would be Duns driver Michael Binnie who benefited from Retson’s departure, taking second place, and giving co-driver Mole an honourable send-off as she tackled her final championship event.

Henderson struggled with a poor tyre choice over the opening loop but hauled his Fiesta from eighth on the first stage, to the final podium spot by the close. John Wink and Neil Shanks tried to pressure Henderson but lost out on third by a slender one second, to take fourth in their Hyundai i20 R5.

That left Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson to round out the top five in their Skoda Fabia R5, just five seconds adrift.

Local honours were left to Iain Wilson and Chris Williams who secured sixth in their Fiesta Rally2. Building confidence after a sizeable shunt on the Jim Clark Rally, Wilson also handed over his facility to the rally in Dalbeattie for Rally HQ and service during the weekend. He also took home the Bandeath Trophy for “Star of the Rally”.

The battle to be top two-wheel drive crew went the way of Ford Escort MKII crew John Crawford and Josh Davison who fought off the advances of Stuart Egglestone and Brian Hodgson in their Historic specification example.

The UK Armed Forces Rally Team (UKAFRT) would celebrate their 60th year at the Scottish Rally, with the familiar Land Rovers entertaining the crowds as usual in the forests and top spot went to Danny Hedges and Ben Hall.

Clerk of the Course, Jonathan Lord is thrilled with how the reinvigorated rally has been received.

“It’s always a challenge to move an event of this size to a new home but I am delighted by the feedback we have received after bringing the Scottish Rally to Dalbeattie,” he says.

“We have been welcomed with open arms by the townsfolk and it was fantastic to take the rally into the heart of the town for the re-group and finish celebrations. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Dumfries and Galloway Council for their unrivalled support and Jas P Wilson Forest Machines for the use of their magnificent facilities in Dalbeattie. After a short break, we will once again be starting our preparation for the 2024 edition of the rally”.

Former winners of the event include World Rally Championship legends such as Colin McRae, Ari Vatanen, Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist although more recently, it has been local ace David Bogie from Dumfries who has signed his name in the history books, winning the event a record-breaking seven times over the years.