SRC Juniors going right down to the wire
Junior Championship too close to call with huge prize on offer to the victor
The 2017 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship (SRC) has lived up to the thrilling reputation that Scotland’s premier rallying series has created for itself in previous years, with the battles in the forests and in the championship tables as captivating as ever.
The fight to become the 2017 SRC Junior Champion has been no different, with the season beginning in Inverness as it would continue, with a closely fought battle. Marty Gallagher made use of the SRC Overseas Support Scheme to enjoy an almighty scrap with 2016 Junior Champion Thomas Gray in unseasonably warm and dry conditions. The Irishman in the Peugeot 208 R2 would get the better of his Fiesta R2 rival, but only by a mere three seconds.
Ross Hughes came to the fore on the Border Counties, notching up victory in his Citroen C2 on his first outing of the year as retirement for Gray and British Championship commitments for Gallagher ruled them out of the running.
But it was the battle on the third round up in Elgin that caught everybody’s attention.
Gallagher returned to the SRC for the Speyside Stages, wading into battle once more with Gray and Scott MacBeth who had traded in his Lancer Evo IX for a Citroen C2 R2 Max after a torrid time in four wheel drive.
Any bad memories would soon be banished however, with a stunning victory on his first forest rally in the new car ahead of Gallagher’s Peugeot and Gray’s Fiesta. Again, only three seconds would cover the top two at the finish.
Come the RSAC Scottish Rally in May, it was time for some of the underdogs to emerge from the shadows.
Going about his business quietly, Max Redpath was taking to his first full season of forest rallying like a duck to water. The Peugeot 205 bagged third on the Snowman before another top five finish on the Border. Despite retirement on the Speyside, Redpath bounced back with a win on the Scottish and a strong second in Argyll to lie four points off the summit with two rallies to go.
Andy Struthers is the man who holds that position. The Citroen C2 pilot was another who slipped under the radar at the start of the season with the fireworks up front, but has been a model of consistency in 2017. Despite not taking a victory thus far, he has two podium finishes to his name and has finished every single round this year.
Gina Walker is the third genuine title contender, and has driven impeccably in her C2 in this, her second year in the SRC. The daughter of Ladies World Champion Louise Aitken-Walker didn’t start the Snowman so doesn’t have the luxury of a dropped score, but has been a strong performer across all rounds of the championship. The Juniors win last time out on the Argyll Rally brought her right into contention and she’s ready to pounce if the others slip up.
Struthers, Redpath and Walker all head to the penultimate round of the season in Aberdeenshire with a real chance of claiming the accolade. Their performances on the Grampian Forest Rally and season-closing Galloway Hills Rally will be even more crucial as they are squabbling over a free entry to the Wales Rally GB National event at the end of October as well as the silverware on offer.
“This season so far has certainly had its ups and downs,” admitted Redpath. “It all started with the Snowman Rally where we managed to get a finish despite battling with engine issues. Apart from the Speyside Stages when the engine overheated resulting in retirement and a replacement unit, things have gone smoothly with a few solid results.
“We’ve achieved good results in the Juniors which is pleasing as it’s all I’ve really been concerned about this year. I would like another two good results to keep us at the top of the pack with only Andy Struthers ahead of us just now. Having already dropped a rally it’s crucial that we finish the final two events.
“Obviously competing on Wales Rally GB would be quite an experience for us, and it’s always something to aim for. However we are just taking it one rally at a time and doing the very best we can.”
Wales Rally GB Clerk of the Course Iain Campbell re-iterated the importance of this opportunity available to the Junior Champion.
“To have the opportunity to compete on the same stages as the World Rally stars presents the ultimate high and challenge,” he said. “This year we will get to see the SRC Junior Champion compete on the same stages as the likes of Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke. The stages are longer than they will be used to, meaning concentration, fitness and car preparation will be key.”
The 2017 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship is partnered by Pirelli Motorsport, Coltel Communications and Reis Motorsport Insurance.
The championship consists of seven forest events across the whole of Scotland, taking in over 300 competitive stage miles.
The next round of the SRC is the Grampian Forest Rally on Saturday 12th August.