The wide grins at the finish said it all - Mike Faulkner and co-driver Peter Foy had just won their first Scottish Rally Championship round after a day of drama in the forests south of Aberdeen.

It was a moment to savour for the Gretna-based Faulkner, who had been trailing David Bogie by five seconds going into the last stage of the Station Garage Mitsubishi Granite City Rally.

But then the young Dumfries driver put his Mitsubishi Evo 9 into a ditch, reflecting ruefully that it was 'his slowest off ever'.

With more than three minutes lost, it was game over as Bogie and co-driver Kevin Rae slipped back down to fourteenth.

Barry Groundwater finished runner-up on his home event in his Evo 9, with Jock Armstrong taking the final podium spot in his Subaru Impreza N11.

Faulkner's win at the wheel of his Evo 6 leaves the race for the Hankook Scottish Championship title wide open after three rounds - all of them with different winners.

"Word's can't describe it - we've had success in one-make championships, but to win a round of the Scottish series is absolutely brilliant," Faulkner said.

"We were 100 per cent focused - we decided that if we were going to do the championship justice, it was no good just getting seconds and thirds - we had to give it everything and this result couldn't be better."

The 37-year-old added that at a time of financial hardship, it was also a just reward for his sponsor BSW Timber, for whom he works as a sales manager.

Stonehaven's Barry Groundwater and co-driver Jude Wylie were also determined to kick-start their campaign after what they admitted had been a poor start to the season.

They were on the pace from the off in the Kincardineshire forests, and by the end of the penultimate Fetteresso 2 stage had hauled themselves up from fifth to third.

"We had a few scary moments on the last stage when the rain came on - making it quite slippy," said Groundwater, "but apart from that we had a pretty good day."

It was Jock Armstrong's first attempt at the Granite, and only the second rally which he and co-driver Kirsty Riddick had contested in the newly-built Impreza N11.

After a sluggish eighth fastest time through the first short Durris 1 stage, the Castle Douglas duo got into their stride and remained fourth overall, until the final stage, when Bogie's "off" elevated them to third.

"It was a bit strange, being my first time on the Granite and not knowing the layout of the stages, so to finish third is very satisfying," said Armstrong, who now leads both the provisional drivers' points, as well as the Hankook Group N category.

Fourth-placed Jimmy Girvan had gone into the event on the back of a win on the previous Border Counties round and was determined to go 'flat out' from the off in his Subaru Impreza.

However, after a third fastest time on the opening test, a puncture on the second stage - Fetteresso 1 - lost the Inverness driver and navigator Mike Ramsay more than a minute, putting them back to 13th overall.

There then followed the start of a concerted fight-back, which saw the 2008 Scottish champion back up to 9th by the end of the third stage, Glenfarquhar; eighth after SS4 Drumtochty; and fifth after the penultimate round.

Renfrewshire's Jim Carty and Ian Fraser were 'reasonably happy' with their well-deserved fifth place overall in their Subaru Impreza WRC, despite a couple of spins on the first two stages, which lost them around 15 seconds.

Calum Mackenzie and Alan Clark were the first home of three Ford Escort Mk2 crews who finished in the top ten - their impressive sixth overall - just one second adrift of Carty - achieved on the Sauchen driver's home event.

"It was very strange, it was slippy and we didn't seem to be making any headway whatsoever but here we are, I'm delighted," said Mackenzie.

Snowman winners Reay Mackay and Robert Macdonald brought their MG Metro 6R4 back to the finish in Aberdeen in seventh overall, Reay admitting at service earlier in the day that 'I'm not as much on the pace as I should be'.

Eighth-placed John Crawford and Ian Crawford had a terrific scrap with fellow Escort Mk2 exponents Steve Bannister and Louise Sutherland, the Motherwell driver finishing just two seconds ahead of his Yorkshire rival, who had opted for lower-gearing prior to the event.

The Connell/Oban duo of Stuart Sinclair and Chris Hamill continued their impressive run in just their second year of rallying with a tenth-place finish in their Mitsubishi Evo 6.

Banchory's Bruce McCombie was untouchable at the top of the 2-wheel drive category, bringing his Super Puma 1600 home in 19th overall, despite 'a wee drama' after each of the afternoon stages when the driveshaft kept popping out.

Newton Stewart's Mark McCulloch took a very impressive second place in the 2WD's in his Vauxhall Corsa after admitting to driving 'far too cautiously' on the first three stages before deciding to 'give it a go'.

Among the notable casualties were Willie Bonniwell, who went into the event leading the drivers' points, but was forced to call it a day early on when his gearbox packed in.

Double Granite winner Andy Horne had his third non-finish of the season when his DAM 4100GTi stopped in stage, and Borderer Euan Thorburn, who was running as high as second at one point, was forced to retire when his Subaru Impreza developed electrical problems.

Hankook SRC contestants now have a month to prepare for the fourth - and only tarmac round - of the series, the Duns-based Jim Clark Reivers Rally on 24th May.