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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 switched to a closed road format over 63 miles of undulating and twisty lanes in Glendaruel and Loch Fyne-side on the Cowal peninsula.
A top-quality field of 120 crews from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland promised plenty drama as the rally got under way on the evening of Friday June 25.
The first two stages were unique spectator stages on the streets of Dunoon town centre which attracted crowds of residents. The crews then tackled a further three stages before an overnight halt.
On Saturday June 26, the stages comprised two loops in Glendaruel/Loch Fyne and a route over the hill road from Whistlefield to Ardentinny.
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 it was 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 the 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.
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 off the top five with World Rally Championship co-driver Stuart Loudon calling the notes.
Kintyre co-driver Chris Wareham and driver Jonathan MacDonald from Glasgow, who were seeded 90 in their Peugeot 306 GTi-6, celebrated finishing in 39th position overall and third in their class.
After a cautious start, they had moved up to 68th by the overnight halt.
The Saturday morning loop saw them progress to 48th with an improvement of 10 seconds a mile over their Friday performance.
With Campbeltown man Robbie MacTaggart servicing the car between loops, it performed faultlessly all weekend.
However, the constant crests of the Loch Fyne stage proved punishing on the vehicle, with the glove box landing on Chris’s feet after a particularly harsh landing and the entire dashboard becoming detached toward the end.
The crew is looking forward to their next outing, The Mach 1 Stages Rally, which is due to take place at Machrihanish Airbase Community Company Business Park this weekend.