THE Jim Clark Rally, which slithers its way at high speed along the closed-off public roads of the Borders this weekend, has long been one of the highlights of the Scottish motorsport scene.
This year it takes on added significance as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first of the legendary Clark’s two Formula 1 World Championships.
And while many rally fans will flock to the Jim Clark Museum in Duns, to see for themselves personal items and trophies belonging to the iconic racer, it’s the high-speed action on the tight, twisty and inevitably slippery roads which truly captures their interest.
The Jim Clark Rally remains the only event on mainland UK to be contested entirely on closed-off public roads, starting this evening with a 1.2-mile spectator special stage in the heart of Duns.
A counter in both the British Rally Championship and the Scottish Championship, around 280 crews will do battle over the next three days. Among the favourites to win the British Championship counter is Scot John MacCrone. A joiner by trade, the 23-year-old from the Isle of Mull is currently living in Forfar and working in Meigle, simply to ensure he has easier access to the British rally rounds.
It should also come as no surprise that MacCrone, who honed his early driving and rally skills on the Mull Rally – the oldest event in the UK to be held on closed-off roads, the tortuous single tracks on the Hebridean island – is looking forward to the Jim Clark.
“Tarmac is my preferred surface. It’s what I grew up with on Mull,” said MacCrone, who will again drive his Culina Palletforce Racing Citroen DS3 R3. “Having said that, the roads on the Jim Clark are very different, with lots of junctions and fast sections. You really need to keep the car straight on tarmac. You don’t want it sliding because that’s when you lose time. The Jim Clark Rally is one of my favourite events of the year. It’s one of the best-known rallies in the UK, and always attracts a big entry list and huge crowds at the side of the stages.”
Run over 16 stages and 195 timed miles, the British round gets underway this evening with three stages each run twice. The action restarts tomorrow in Kelso, with another ten stages before finishing late in the afternoon.
The Jim Clark Reivers Rally, the counter in the Scottish Rally Championship, runs through until Sunday. And MacCrone, again co-driven by Welshman Phil Pugh, is looking to build on his excellent performance in the BRC opener, the Pirelli Rally earlier this month. “We finished the Pirelli with top-three fastest times in three stages, culminating by being quickest in the event’s final stage,” continued MacCrone, who battled back to finish fifth in the Carlisle event, despite a puncture relegating him from a comfortable third, to 14th.
But, for the Scot, this evening’s opening stages are crucial in his bid to win the British round. “We’ve six stages, including two runs on the 1.2-miler in Duns, the new four-mile stage at Tweedside, plus two runs through the longest stage of the rally, the 16-miler at Abbey St Bathans,” the Scot explained. “And there’s no service between any of the stages, so the tyres we put on for the start of the first stage have to get us right through the evening. Make the wrong tyre choice, and you can scupper your whole rally.” That crucial decision will be made around an hour before the start of the first run through the opening stage. And, with the weather forecast suggesting showers, finding elusive grip on the slippery tarmac will be a priority.
MacCrone will face stiff competition from Finn Jukka Korhonen, who won the opening round, plus Ulsterman Alastair Fisher and Welshman Tom Cave. All three drivers are in identical cars to MacCrone.
And the Scot, tackling the Jim Clark for the third time, knows patience will be crucial.
“You don’t want to throw it all away on the Friday evening. But, at the same time, you’ve got to be fast enough to be in contention. We’ve a good idea what the pace is that will be needed and, if we can achieve that, then we should be in a good position for the final ten stages on Saturday.”