On a day when many of the leading competitors fell victim to the treacherous conditions Fort Augustus driver Reay Mackay kept it 'tidy' on Saturday's aptly-named Snowman Rally to record the biggest win of his motorsport career.

The 34-year-old displayed great driving skill to bring his MG Metro 6R4 home a full minute ahead of another 'local', Steven Campbell, in a Mitsubishi Evo 5.

Jock Armstrong secured the final podium place, and Group N honours, in a hired Subaru Impreza N12 - the Castle Douglas driver contesting the Arnold Clark/Thistle Hotels Snowman for the first time in 19 years.

The first round of the 2009 Hankook MSA Scottish Rally Championship had a high attrition rate. Among the notable casualties were current Scottish champion and last year's Snowman winner Jimmy Girvan, and fellow 'home favourite' Andy Horne.

Rally organisers had worked hard during the previous week to clear as much snow from the stages as possible.

Nevertheless, the leading cars were, in effect, high-speed snowploughs, and by the time the middle runners came through, the surface - although still hazardous - was becoming more rutted with distinct 'tram-lines' forming.

Mackay and co-driver Bob MacDonald started 28th and like many crews, found the first 7-and-a-half mile Meall Mor stage extremely difficult, finishing a less than promising 30th overall.

"We went out on forest tyres and that proved a complete disaster - we also visited a couple of snow banks," said Mackay.

However, a switch to snow tyres more than made up for the early problems. Reay was fastest through the 8.95-mile second stage Millbuie, hauling himself up to fourth - and quickest again through the 13-mile Torrachilty test, where he overtook Jock Armstrong for the outright lead.

"Conditions were very tricky - we just had to keep it tidy and stay in the ruts that were there," said Mackay, "but it's brilliant to have won our first forest rally, and our home event."

Steven Campbell was also delighted with his day had the wheel of his Group A Evo 5.

Having started 23rd, Campbell was 17th after Stage 1, and had gained another three places by the end of the second test. However, it was on the third stage that the 32-year-old really started to come alive, finishing second fastest behind Mackay and catapulting himself and navigator Graham Law into third overall.

A near flawless drive on the final test secured Campbell the runners-up spot, and his best ever result in the Scottish Championship.

Jock Armstrong, with Scottish Co-drivers' champion Kirsty Riddick, was well satisfied with the outcome of his first Snowman since 1990.

"We did a bit of snowploughing for those who came behind but we can't complain," said Armstrong. "We achieved what we came to do - we've got a result, we're leading Group N in the Hankook championship, and that's just fantastic."

Dumfries star David Bogie finished a further 1.08 minutes further back in fourth in his Mistubishi Evo 9, and could not hide his frustration at what had been a trying day for himself and co-driver Kevin Rae.

"I've been doing my snowploughing bit today - cleaning the stages for everybody else", said a rueful Bogie.

Having started out on snow tyres, Bogie and Rae switched to an ice tread for the second stage, but could only manage seventh fastest. They reverted back to the snow tyres, but the third test proved even more problematic and the car struggled for grip - finishing down in 17th.

The pair were back on the pace on the final 8.65 mile 4th stage - recording the third fastest time behind Steven Campbell and Rory Young - but with the fifth stage cancelled prior to the event because of the conditions, their was no further opportunity to improve their position.

Fifth-placed Dumfries farmer Rory Young - returning to competition after a six-month break in his EVO 5 with regular navigator Allan Cathers - was one of the few drivers who seemed to revel in the tricky conditions.

"I actually rather enjoy the slippy stuff," said Young. "It must be the years of sliding about in muddy farmyards!"

Oban's William Bonniwell was second overall after Stage 2 in his Subaru Impreza, but - with Neil Ewing on the notes, slipped back to sixth overall.

The Evo 9's of John Morrison/Martin Forrest and Donnie MacDonald/Ian McIvor finished with identical times, but the Conon Bridge-based veteran was awarded seventh place after a faster time to the Inverness driver on the first stage.

Shaun Sinclair and co-driver Chris Hamill had never rallied before last season - but the Oban-based pair turned in an impressive display to take ninth overall. Dundee's Malloch Nicoll and Robert Lumgair rounded off the top ten in their Evo 9.

One of the broadest grins amongst the competitors at the finish was that of leading Junior title prospect Alick Kerr, who was eleventh overall, first 2WD finisher, and first in class, after a hugely impressive performance at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta ST.

It included the fastest time on the daunting Meall Mor first stage - Kerr and co-driver Drew Sturrock emerging sixteen seconds clear of John Morrison's Evo 9.

On Stage 2, the 20-year-old Lanarkshire driver got stuck behind an Escort Mk2 losing around two minutes - but he roared back into contention on the penultimate stage, setting the third-fastest time.

The car then suffered drive-shaft problems on the final stage, and it was touch and go as to whether they would make it to the end, Kerr having to nurse it back to Rally HQ in Inverness with one-wheel drive.

"It's been excellent - to come out of the first stage with the fastest time was just amazing," said Kerr, "We struck it lucky with the car, the road position and the tyres - it just all worked out and I couldn't have hoped for a better start to the year."

In the 1600cc category, top honours went to Bruce McCombie in the Ford Puma, while Yorkshireman Steve Bannister won the battle of the Escort Mk2's to finish 22nd overall and first in class.

Scottish champion Jimmy Girvan's day started with an excursion into a snow-bank on Stage One which, if it had not been for co-driver Mike Ramsay remembering to pack a shovel, could have been terminal. As it was, they spent 25 minutes digging their Subaru Impreza out, before they were able to continue. On Stage 3, they were forced to call it a day with gearbox problems.

Other high profile casualties included Andy Horne - who put his DAM 1400Gti into a ditch - and leading Group N contender Barry Groundwater who was forced to retire his Evo 9.

Two leading Mk 2 Escort competitors from Ireland also failed to finish - Frank Kelly went off on Stage 3, and Viv Hamill was hit by clutch problems on Stage 1.

The second round of the Hankook MSA Scottish Raly Championship will be the Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally - based in Jedburgh - on March 21st.



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