The Pirelli International Rally is a tough event and, for Kirriemuir co-driver Craig Wallace, it was even tougher given the circumstances that would present themselves.
The “Pirelli” being the third round of the British Rally Championship and Twingo RenaultSport Trophy UK, it was important to find a finish on the event and gain important championship points.
Craig takes up the story: “The Pirelli is a long event, with almost 100 stage miles and 300 road miles it takes its toll on the car, driver, co-driver and the service crew.
“Most of the stages are in the Keilder Forest complex. These are tough stages, renowned for the damage to cars, that’s why it’s known as ‘Killer Keilder”.
Pre-event planning determined that with the intervals between service halts that two spare wheels would be essential.
The car would be heavier but the risk of two punctures between service was high, so no point risking valuable points.
With the Thursday and Friday recce over it was back to Carlisle for the final preparations before Craig and Garry Pearson headed off in the ‘Pearsons of Duns’ backed Renault Twingo R1 to the pre start area in Carlisle city centre on Friday evening.
With the autograph sessions over it was time to head off to Stage 1 in Glen Dhu, a steady opening 6.5 miles, with good opening pace.
A regroup in Newcastleton enabled the service crew to fit the lamp pod prior to the one and only stage in the dark.
Stage 2, a rerun of Glen Dhu, and already the event was taking its toll. A number of competitors had succumbed to the deep ditches of Keilder and, with a stroke of serious bad luck, the Twingo also found its way into one damaging the front end. Not to worry, they made it back to Parc Ferme in Carlisle on time.
Craig commented; “We were slightly down on our pace thanks to this little excursion but every cloud has a silver lining. A spectator collected our broken front bumper and brought it to us at service in the morning. The service crew were delighted as it made their difficult task a little easier.”
Released from Parc Ferme just after 7 am on Saturday the service crew had only 45 minutes to carry out a full service, spanner check and repair the damaged front end.
“A sterling job by the service crew and, although we knew that carrying two spare wheels would possibly prevent us from making up time on our nearest competitor Steve Rokland in the M Sport backed Fiesta, it was still the sensible option.”
Stages, 3 and 4 went well and took them to a remote service at Hawkhirst where limited work is permitted under international event rules.
All was well as they headed off for stages 5, 6 and 7 before a return to Carlisle for a main 20 minute service.
Craig said: “We went well through this complex of three stages. We were working hard to gain on the Norwegian, Steve Rokland. It would be a hard task but at this level it takes very little to change the fortunes of an event.”
Indeed, the next main service at Carlisle the Twingo was in good shape and, with new tyres fitted, it was back up to Keilder for another five stages.
Craig highlighted: “This is us now heading to stages 8 to 12, 46 more stage miles in the afternoon. That’s the same as a one day Scottish Championship event.“
Stages 8 & 8 stages would be completed, before another remote service, and by now Craig and Garry had taken back the lead from the Norwegians by around 20 seconds. Although, with such a long way still to go, this lead was nothing.
Inevitably the Twingo found a sharp stone, and a large one at that, in Stage 9. The wheel was badly damaged and with a deflated front left tyre there was no option but to stop and change.
Craig said: “In these stages and particularly with a small car like the Twingo there is no option but to stop and change the wheel. It took us three minutes and our hopes for a third successive class win were gone. When the tyre punctured we also damaged the steering so we now also had a wee bit of a handling problem.”
With only ten minutes at remote service and limited parts permitted to be carried, the service crew could only check the car was safe to continue and release them into the final three stages. Still a long way to go.
Craig mused: “It would be easy to go charging ahead and try and gain time in the hope that Rockland would slip back, that might have seen us throw away what we did have so it was time for the “thinking” head and plan the last three stages, 10, 11 and 12, to try and get a finish and as many points as possible.”
With no more dramas Craig and Garry made the final control in Carlisle on time, dusty, tired and in a car that looked remarkably fresh considering the hard two days.
Final results, showed them second in Class 10 and first in the Twingo R1 category.
Craig’s final thoughts; “A hard event for everyone but we got a finish, many others didn’t.”
Craig’s next international event is Round 4 of the British Rally Championship, the Jim Clark Rally, on June 1 and 2 at Duns.