Stonehaven rally driver Andrew Ritchie and his co-driving brother Gordon were back in harness on the Elgin-based Speyside Stages Rally at the start of August. Due to the cancellation of the Argyll Stages rally the previous month, this was the first event for the Ritchie’s Ford Escort RS bearing the colours of new sponsors AMC Engineering Ltd of Findon.
Before the event Andrew was looking forward to being back behind the wheel: “It’s been a delayed return to the forests but hopefully we can get back to the pace we found on the Granite City. We missed this event last year but the stages are well known to us and should be a good mix of fast and twisty sections.”
The rally started in Elgin town centre at the Cooper Park with two tarmac stages run through the park roads, giving the many spectators a great chance to see all the cars at full speed. For these stages Andrew chose to use well-worn forest tyres in contrast to the racing tyres most others were using.
“We’ve tried this stage before on both types of tyre - one year we swapped back from tarmac to forest tyres as the rain had left deep standing water on the route. I expected the worn tyres this time to slide more than they did but they had really good grip - hence we weren’t getting the big drifts around the tighter corners.”
Moving east the rally entered the forests at Mulben, marshalled by Stonehaven Motor Club members, and Clashindarroch before a service stop at Huntly mart. Though dry at the time earlier rain had left patches of mud to catch the unwary. This made some of the artificial chicanes, set on the course to slow the average speed on the faster stages, very slippy on entry and exit. At the first of two service halts each minute was needed to refettle the AMC Escort.
“On the road section back to Huntly I noticed the alternator light glowing- this turned out to be due to the alternator mount breaking. It probably happened mid-stage but remarkably the damage was repairable and both the alternator and the belt were still there despite being thrown off. We were very lucky that it happened when it did, otherwise we’d have been out of the event. We also adjusted the clutch as I wasn’t sure if some of the high-speed wheelspin we were finding was due to that.”
The very fast Gartly stage was next up, the hard-surfaced long flowing sections countered with several chicanes. The quarry detour, used to slow the speed, was as wet as usual but didn’t hinder the Ford which had succumbed to drowning there on a previous occasion. Heading west again towards Keith, another fast stage led the competitors 9 miles around Balloch Hill, a stage with it’s own distinctive loose surface.
New tyres and a more relaxed service halt preceded a return to Clashindarroch, this time using roads further into the huge forest complex and proving to be the most enjoyable stage of the day so far.
The final stage, seven miles in Monaughty, west of Elgin featured no less than ten chicanes, all extremely slippy and tricky. With some of the straights allowing the Escort to hit the rev limiter in top gear at 110 mph perfect braking for these obstacles was required. The stage also saw the largest crowds of spectators, all seemingly impressed by the rear wheel drive competitors. At the finish at Elgin Town Hall Andrew and Gordon were very pleased to finish third in class.
Andrew summed up the day, “ We’ve had a great rally and it’s great to finish well despite mechanical misfortunes trying to prevent it. I’ve had a lot of remarks and comments from well-wishers as it’s my 30th anniversary in this sport so it’s been a good day all round - the story published in the Mearns Leader led to the Motorsport News picking it up and doing their own article. I never realised the local paper was read in London!”
Special thanks go to sponsors AMC Enginering Ltd and Connons of Stonehaven for their generous support, and also to Kevin and Duncan for their service assistance during the day.