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The Dunoon Presents Argyll Rally delivered a spectacular curtain-raiser for the Scottish Rally Championship amid the stunning scenery of Cowal – but it was a Welshman who grabbed the headlines.
Making a radical switch from the forest road event that has taken place since 2017, the Mull Car Club-organised rally took place on closed public roads, starting with a dramatic Dunoon town centre circuit on the evening of Friday June 25.
The Argyll Rally made a return to the British rallying calendar four years ago after a 13-year sabbatical.
First known as the Burmah Rally, the event originated in the early 1970s but failed to run after 2004.
The rally was revived in 2017 by Mull Car Club and this year became one of a few closed road stage rallies in the country.
This was the season opener for the KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship, joined by the Northern England Tarmacadam Rally Championship – and a top-quality field of 120 crews promised plenty of drama as the rally got underway in front of the residents of Dunoon.
Castle Douglas driver Jock Armstrong with Tobermory’s Cameron Fair on pace notes led the event in their Fiesta Ford Rally2 after the town stage – but with three more stages in Cowal to come that night, it would be short-lived as the Aberdeen/Aberystwyth team of Freddie Milne and Patrick Walsh stormed to the front to take the overnight lead.
Eighteen seconds behind Milne was the MINI WRC crew of Daniel Harper and Chris Campbell with David Wright and Paula Swinscoe third in their Fiesta R5.
Milne stayed ahead across undulating, narrow stages in Glendaruel, Strathlachlan and Whistlefield, opening up a gap approaching 20 seconds. A one-minute chicane penalty on stage seven, however, dropped him out of contention, leaving Wright to pick up the top spot.
More drama awaited as a similar penalty befell Wright on stage 11. With Welshman Meirion Evans and co-driver Jonathan Jackson Volkswagen in their Polo GTi R5 mounting a last loop charge, it would be Evans who came out on top after 13 stages of an impressive two-day event.
‘It’s a great feeling,’ said Evans at the finish.
‘We did our job as well as we could and to be rewarded with a win is more than I could have hoped for after the first loop Friday night.
‘For quite a short rally, it was so challenging. The margin for error was zero on every stage and you couldn’t afford any lapse in concentration.
‘I have to say I enjoyed it; the rally ran well and to schedule in difficult times which is something we have to credit the organisers for. Maybe we’ll have to come back next year with [number] one on the door again.’
After a clean run throughout the weekend, Harper secured second overall with Milne taking the final podium place.
His result would also give him the Scottish Rally Championship victory, a small consolation after his impressive run.
Wright landed fourth with Armstrong taking fifth place and second SRC contender, as rallying returnee John MacCrone of Mull rounded out the top five with World Rally Championship co-driver Stuart Loudon alongside calling the notes.
Clerk of the course Chris Woodcock was delighted to see the rally return despite the challenges of Covid.
‘There were certainly times that we thought that the rally could not go ahead over the last few months,’ he said.
‘But I’d like to extend a huge thank you to the organising team who worked very hard to pull everything together and of course all the authorities and sponsors for working closely with us to ensure we had everything in place to be able to abide by the current restrictions.
‘It’s been a very successful rally and that has been down to the support and co-operation of the residents, businesses and authorities in Dunoon and Argyll and Bute.’