Shaun Sinclair took his first maximum Hankook Scottish championship points on a dramatic Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally at the weekend - but revealed he almost did not make it to the start line because of a 'mystery fault' with his car the previous day.

Just what was wrong with the Mitsubishi Evo 9 caused much head-scratching. There was even talk of an engine change. In the event, it turned out to be nothing more than a rubber grommet which had found its way into the fuel tank.

With that 'scare' behind him, the Oban-driver was immediately on the pace in wet and slippery conditions on the second round of the Hankook MSA series.

He powered through the five Kielder and Wauchope forest stages to finish 27 seconds behind non-SRC registered Dave Weston Jnr in a Subaru Impreza 2010, with reigning champion David Bogie a further 34 seconds adrift in his Evo 9: both Weston and Bogie were using the event as a test run ahead of the opening round of the British championship this coming weekend.

Jock Armstrong - winner of the season-opening Snowman Rally - only made it three miles into the first stage before the gearbox of his Subaru Impreza packed in, while Mike Faulkner, who was third on round one in his Evo 6, pulled out on Stage 4 with a broken differential.

As a result, Bothwell's Alick Kerr now leads the overall drivers' standings by four points from Inverness veteran Andy Horne.

Following his runner-up spot on the Snowman, 21-year-old Kerr was again in impressive form to finish fourth in the SRC points in his Subaru Impreza, 29 seconds behind the Evo 9 of Lancashire-based motorsport engineer Wayne Sisson, who got his campaign back on track after a DNF on the opening round.

On the way to their first SRC win, Sinclair and co-driver Chris Hamill posted a third fastest time on the opening Hyndlee stage, behind Northern Ireland's Jonathan Greer, another BRC 'tester', who later retired his Evo 9 with gearbox trouble, and Weston.

The Oban pair were second only to Weston on the following 8.97 mile Bewshaugh test; were fourth fastest through the 8.91 miles of SS3 Falstone; were third quickest through the Redesdale 14-miler; and capped it all off with a stage win on the final 6.08 mile Wauchope test - pipping Weston by one second.

"What a turn-around from the Snowman where I just couldn't get anything to work properly," said a delighted Sinclair at the finish ramp. "The car has gone really well today, and the conditions suited me. Our championship is now underway and we need to keep the consistency going."

Bogie and co-driver Kevin Rae had hoped to run as course car to allow them to concentrate fully on settings for the Bulldog International. In the event, they had to run as Car 1, and as they came in to service after the first three stages, it was obvious Bogie was far from happy: "We've made some changes, and I'm just not comfortable with the car at all - the tail end is coming out at every opportunity".

However, by the finish, the Dumfries driver declared they had achieved their aim - despite sustaining a puncture.

"We've at last found a good set up for the car, but in terms of going for maximum points, we had to drive six and a half miles with a puncture, and that dropped us around 25 seconds. But, as I said, that wasn't the reason we were here today, so we're not too discouraged".

It was a relieved Wayne Sisson and co-driver David McFadyen who made it back to Jedburgh, after their excursion into a snow bank on the first stage of the Snowman. With fourth and third-equal fastest times through the penultimate and final stages, Class 12 winner Sisson said he came away from the event 'feeling more confident', as he embarks on his first full Scottish campaign.

"Everybody seemed to have problems of one kind or another with the conditions today which were very slippery in places, so it was just a case of knuckle down and drive. We've got some points on the board, and they might come in useful at the end of the season".

Alick Kerr, alongside navigator Neil Shanks, was another driver who drove into service after a far from encouraging first three stages ("it was absolutely terrible to be honest ") but his demeanour had changed markedly by the finish.

"It's worked out well for us - we've managed to get a good haul of points, while other front runners haven't been so lucky. Obviously there are dropped scores to take into account later, but you need to build up the points early on so I'm very happy about that. The car might be down on power - we were struggling on the long straights - but we were right on the button on the final stage where we finished 5th equal. We also changed the suspension settings which made the car much more stable, so I had a lot more confidence in it".

Andy Horne - sixth overall, fifth in the points - had one of the widest smiles by day's end, after a second strong showing in his re-engined DAM 4100GTi.

"I'm really chuffed with the result", said Horne: "After all the problems of last season, the car is showing reliability at last. We had a bit of a mental break on the third Falstone stage, we just couldn't get to grips with it and I thought there was something wrong with the car - which there wasn't, so I put my hands up to that - but otherwise we've had a terrific day. We're not quite back on the pace yet, but hopefully we'll get there".

Steve Bannister marked his return to the Hankook SRC with a superb seventh overall and first in class in his Ford Escort Mk2, which included a fifth equal fastest time on the first test along with Bogie, Sisson, and Stephen Petch, who was forced to retire early in his Hyundai Accent WRC.

However, on SS2 Bewshaugh, Bannister and co-driver Louise Sutherland suffered a puncture four miles from the end, losing them time.

"That second stage was horrendous in places - not just loose rock, but massive stones, and I think it must have knocked the tyre off", said Bannister. "But we can't complain about the result - all in all a good day".

Stonehaven's Barry Groundwater, alongside "new" co-driver Daniel Paterson, was satisfied with his eighth overall and seventh in the points in his Evo 9, declaring: "The second and third stages weren't to my liking - I couldn't get into them - but the first one, and those last two - especially the long Redesdale - were absolutely brilliant. It sets us up well for my home event, the Granite City next month, where we had a second last year, so here's hoping".

With home support behind him, Dale Robertson of Duns, alongside navigator Paul McGuire, finished a further 14 seconds further back, and third of the Hankook Group N competitors.

"We had a bit of bother with a slack manifold, but apart from that we've had a good day. We got into the groove from the start, and thinking we might be on for a good result, we backed off a little on the final two stages, which probably dropped us a couple of places. But we're still in the hunt in Gp N, that's the main thing".

Conon Bridge driver John Morrison ("After a horrendous day on the Snowman it was good to get back to something I was more familiar with") and navigator Pete Carstairs finished ninth in the points in their Evo 9, twenty two seconds ahead of the Subaru Impreza WRC of Jim Carty and Ian Fraser - the Elderslie-based driver 'showing his age' by recalling how the Redesdale stage was used on the 1976 Jim Clark Rally when it ran as a forest event.

The Alnwick duo of Carl and Rob Tuer took top honours in the 1600 category in their MG ZR S1600 - after what Carl described as sometimes "lethal" conditions - 30 seconds ahead of Paisley's Alasdair Graham in a Vauxhall Corsa.

Fife competitors Malcolm and Sarah Robertson in Class 3 - an impressive 23rd overall - in their Talbot Sunbeam Ti, with Malcolm indicating they were working on "a quicker Sunbeam" for next season.

Class 2 honours went to the Port William crew of Fraser Wilson and Steven Broll in their Vauxhall Nova, following their "gutsy" second place on the Snowman, while James Aitken and Alistair Dodd finished as the only Class 1 runners in their Nissan Micra.

Of the 111 starters, there were 37 retirements, including Donald Lewis Murray and Andrew Philip, who called it a day after three stages in their Subaru Impreza WRX on the grounds of "self preservation".

After two rounds, the number of competitor registrations for this year's Hankook Scottish Championship stands at 218 - which exceeds last year's total for the whole season.

The third round of the championship is the Station Garage Mitsubishi Granite City Rally on April 17.


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