Jock Armstrong bounced back from the disappointment of exclusion on the previous round to take his first ever Scottish championship win on Saturday's Merrick Forest Stages Rally, the penultimate round of the Hankook MSA series.

The Castle Douglas driver won four stages out of five in his Subaru Impreza N11 to finish 40 seconds ahead of Belfast's Jonathan Greer in a Mitsubishi Evo 9.

David Bogie from Dumfries took the final podium spot, a further 24 seconds back, in his Toyota Corolla WRC, having seen Mike Faulkner - his main rival for the Scottish crown - crash out on the first stage with a broken driveshaft.

Borderer Euan Thorburn was fourth overall and third in the SRC points - a result which keeps him in touch in the overall standings with one round remaining.

However, the day belonged to Armstrong and co-driver Kirsty Riddick, the victory all the sweeter following exclusion from the Speyside stages for a Group N technical breach, for which their zero score must be included in the end of season tally of six rounds out of eight.

For the Merrick, Armstrong had taken his car out of GpN by fitting a 34 mm restrictor to the car, giving him an extra 25 bhp. The change of specification paid handsome dividends from the start.

On SS1 Arroch Hill, Armstrong and co-driver Kirsty Riddick were second only to 2008 BTRDA champions Hugh Hunter and Andy Marchbank, who were making their first foray north of the border in their ex-Colin McRae Ford Focus WRC 01.

Over the 3 miles of SS2 Palgowan, Armstrong and Riddick took 10 seconds out of Hunter to win the stage and reduce the overall deficit to 3 seconds.

Another fastest stage on SS3 Jenny's Hill, and it was down to 2 seconds, and after Hunter suffered two punctures on the daunting 15.62 mile Poultrybuiehill test, the Castle Douglas pair were firmly in control with Greer the closest challenger. They then nailed the final 13.58 mile Glentrool test to secure a famous victory.

After the trials and tribulations of recent weeks, Armstrong was delighted with his first SRC win, and with the way the car had coped with the difficult conditions.

"The stages were very tricky, very slippery after all the rain, but it seems to play into your hands with a more powerful car," said Armstrong. "It doesn't get away from you so easily and it does have more punch down the straights.

"I had one massive moment on the second stage when Kirsty called a corner, and for some reason I was two gears up and we went wide into the trees and I thought our day was over, but we had luck on our side today I reckon. All in all it's been fantastic for Kirsty and I to win our home event, and we'll see what we can do on the final round, the McRae Stages."

Although not eligible for SRC points, Jonny Greer and Brian Crawford were well pleased with their day's work - Greer using it as useful gravel preparation for the next British Championship round, the Trackrod Rally Yorkshire later this month.

"It was a very enjoyable day - it was a bit slippery at the start of the day but it dried up and the stages were in good condition," said Greer. "It was also a very well run event, so hats off to the organisers. I hope to be back".

After seeing Mike Faulkner's misfortune - the broken driveshaft causing his car to go straight on at a left 7 - David Bogie and navigator Kevin Rae decided to err on the side of caution and proceed wearing what Bogie described as their 'sensible championship heads'.

"It was a good end result for us in terms of the championship", said Bogie. "Obviously when Mike went off on the first stage, it made it very difficult for us to maintain a pace where we weren't catching anybody and we weren't losing time - not easy to do. But we're more than happy to be second in the championship points today."

Euan Thorburn of Duns, with Campbell Roy on the notes, took top honours in Hankook GpN, and achieved his pre-Merrick aim of securing a strong finish to keep himself in the title hunt.

"The stages were very fast, and you had to be 100 percent committed if you wanted to push on," said Thorburn. "But all in all we're pretty pleased with the result, which gives us a fighting chance of the overall championship, as well as making sure of GpN which is all but sown up."

Shaun Sinclair and Chris Hamill from Oban were Thorburn's nearest challengers in GpN in their Mitsubishi Evo 9, the pair coping well with the slippery conditions to finish a further 14 seconds adrift, fifth overall and fourth in the points.

"We had no worries at all - there was a problem with the clutch on the last stage, but it didn't hold us up in any way, and apart from that the day went very well," said Sinclair. "The stages got better and better as the day went on, so it's been quite a successful day for us, and we're still pushing second place in Group N."

Alick Kerr and Drew Sturrock produced another fine performance to end the day sixth overall in their Subaru Impreza, following a week of frantic repairs leading up to the rally after the gearbox input shaft on the car snapped during a test run. However, the event itself was not without its dramas.

"It's been a day of real highs and lows," Kerr explained. "We've had three punctures - on the first stage it was a front puncture which put us down the leaderboard, then we had a soft tyre on the second stage, then things started to improve and we were fourth quickest on SS4, but unfortunately we got another puncture on the final stage. If it hadn't been for that we reckon we'd have been fourth overall and third in the SRC points."

Seamus Donnelly and Damien Duffin from Northern Ireland secured seventh place in their Mitsubishi Evo, ahead of that of Stonehaven's Barry Groundwater and Jude Wylie from Jedburgh.

"We were sleeping a bit in the morning on the first two stages and I really didn't get into it at all," said Groundwater. "But then after first service we got a good bit of speed and hauled ourselves up a good few places. So everything has been okay, considering the conditions."

David Hughes and Bruce Harper from Dumfries turned in their best result of the season - ninth overall, in their Mitsubishi Evo 9, with Donnie Macdonald and Paul Beaton of Inverness rounding off the top ten in their repaired and repainted Evo 9 following a big off on the Speyside.

Frank Kelly and Jason Harron from Northern Ireland were first home of the 2-wheel drive competitors, bringing their Escort Mk2 home in 13th overall, eight seconds ahead of Elderslie's Jim Carty and Ian Fraser from Mull who took first in class in their Group A Subaru Impreza.

Among the other class winners, the Mull crew of John and Peter Maccrone put in another storming drive to take top honours in Class 3 in their Peugeot 205GTi while Newton Stewart's Mark McCulloch and Craig Wallace of Kirriemuir endured the fumes from a blown exhaust on their Vauxhall Corsa 1600 to put themselves back on top in Class 4.

Among the notable retirements were Andy Horne and Jim Howie, the pair still without a finish this season after rolling their DAM 4100GTi on the penultimate stage.

Of the 91 starters, there were 63 classified finishers.

The 2009 Hankook MSA Scottish Rally Championship now concludes next month with the Colin McRae Stages, based in Perth.