Britain’s Guy Wilks grabbed an early advantage as this year’s RACMSA Rally of Scotland burst into action after sunset last night.
After last night’s ceremonial start against the grand backdrop of Stirling Castle, the competitors immediately headed off for two tricky timed runs through the renowned Carron Valley Forest with darkness making the opening pair of speed tests tough challenges for the 37 starters.
Having spent the past two days driving slowly for the recce through all 19 special stages, the drivers were well aware of the tricky conditions laying in wait and recent rains made the gravel tracks treacherously slippery in places.
Watched by huge numbers of spectators under a chilly starlit sky, the early action was predictably spectacular, fiercely fought and drama-packed.
British star Wilks, winner of the event in 2009, was first to show his hand in his Peugeot UK-backed 207 – setting the early pace to top the overnight leader board 4.4sec clear of last year’s victor Juho Hanninen. The Finn, though, is well placed in the fastest of the Skoda Fabia S2000s. “It’s a good start but there’s still a long way to go,” reported the 30-year-old Wilks. “We could have pushed a little harder, but we didn’t want to take any risks and it’s paid off.”
Swedish ace P-G Andersson caused the biggest shock claiming third place for the Proton team – eight places clear of his team-mate Alister McRae in the second of the Satria Neo S2000s who holds 11th place.
Next up in fourth was promising 21-year-old Irishman Craig Breen in his Ford Fiesta to make it four different manufacturers in the top four positions. Underlining the international nature of the event the top six on the overnight leaderboard represent six different countries.
There was bad news for one of the local Scots, David Bogie. The newly crowned British and Scottish Rally Champion suffered an intercom failure in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX and has dropped more than a minute behind the leader to languish in 18th place. “It was a disaster,” he reported. “The intercom failed on the third corner. We couldn’t have had a worse start.”
That said, neither Irishman Robert Barrable (Skoda Fabia S2000) nor Scot Graeme Schoneville (Honda Civic Type-R) completed the night’s stages.
With the action kicking off early this morning, SS3 saw the overnight leader board change in what will not be the last change this weekend in Scotland. Mikkelsen won the morning’s first stage to move into second overall, 3.5sec behind Wilks.
Defending champion and last year’s Rally of Scotland winner Juho Hänninen said he was too cautious in his factory ŠKODA on the rain-hit test north of the event base in Perth. As a result he was 20.4s slower than Mikkelsen and drops from second to fifth in the overall standings.
Thierry Neuville was third fastest in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207 and climbs ahead of Proton Motorsports’ PG Andersson into third position as a result. Andersson was fourth quickest in his Satria Neo S2000.
Bryan Bouffier set the fifth fastest time for Peugeot France with Alastair Fisher a strong sixth in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000.
Karl Kruuda completed the test with a front-left puncture. The Estonian also dropped time spinning near the start and finish of the stage.
But, the lead changed once more on the 13.16km-long SS4, as Mikkelsen, chasing his first IRC win, jumped into the lead with an advantage of 3.4sec over Wilks.
Overall Standings after SS4:
01) A. Mikkelsen/O. Floene
Skoda Fiabai S2000 – 28m 47.1s
02) G. Wilks/P. Pugh
Peugeot 207 S2000 + 03.4s
03) T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul
Peugeot 207 S2000 + 17.5s
04) B. Bouffier/X. Panseri
Peugeot 207 S2000 + 23.8s
05) PG. Andersson/E. Axelsson
Proton Satria Neo S2000 + 24.1s
06) J. Hanninen/M. Markkula
Skoda Fabia S2000 + 28.9s
07) P. Sandell/S. Parmander
Skoda Fabia S2000 + 38.0s
08) A. McRae/B. Hayes
Proton Satria Neo S2000 + 56.5s
09) J. Kopecky/P. Stary
Skoda Fabia S2000 + 58.4s
10) T. Gardemeister/T. Suominen
Skoda Fabia S2000 + 01m 18.2s