David Henderson and Chris Lees claimed victory at Saturday’s [12 August] Voyonic Grampian Forest Rally after a sensational day-long battle in the forests of Kincardineshire.
Recovering from a slow start, the Cumbrian driver would take the lead of the event on the fifth stage and was forced to “dig deep” to retain it over the final test to take the win in his Fiesta Rally2.
The runner up spot went to Mark McCulloch in his Proton Satria, just three seconds shy of the win whilst number one seed and Subaru Impreza driver Jock Armstrong rounded out the podium places, just two second further back.
The Banchory-based event saw an impressive array of top-flight drivers from around the UK assemble to tackle the popular motorsport gravel rally and fans were not disappointed as an action-packed day saw a cluster of drivers vying for the lead in one of the closest rally finishes in recent memory: just nine seconds separated the top five crews after 43 miles of competitive driving in the Fetteresso and Drumtochty Forests.
And the war began on the very first test with Duns driver Michael Binnie and co-driver Emily Easton-Page fastest out of the blocks in their Fiesta R5. Behind them, no less than four drivers tied for second place with a time two seconds slower, setting the stall out for the reminder of the day.
Binnie grabbed another valuable two seconds on the next test whilst the remainder of the top ten began to settle, with John Wink’s Hyundai i20 R5 in second and Henderson third as crews entered the first service of the day.
Clearly in the grove, Binnie extended his lead over the next loop despite reporting overheating issues in the Fiesta, meaning he was forced to turn off the car’s anti-lag system. Ten seconds was the gap with two stages remaining, although a strong run saw Armstrong become the nearest challenger as Wink slipped back to fifth.
But the final two stages brought the curtain down on the event in dramatic style as on the penultimate test, Binnie’s Fiesta left the road into instant retirement. Such was the proximity of the victory race; it was third placed Henderson who vaulted into the lead with three seconds in hand over McCulloch who briefly left the road after seeing Binnie’s stricken Ford.
Young ace Finlay Retson made a brief appearance in third in his Fiesta Rally2, but Armstrong fought back over the final test to secure the podium position, whilst McCulloch and Henderson tied on times once again, ensuring he bagged his second KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship maximum score of 2023.
“That was so close to the end; having so many drivers battling throughout the event and into the last stage for the win was amazing, but it’s nice to come out on top,” said Henderson.
“It’s been a brilliant day. I was a little slow starting but we started to feel a little more confident [as the day went on] and we dug in on stage five. That really put us in a position where we could consolidate and get that position at the end. But yeah, I`m over the moon”.
McCulloch and co-driver Michael Hendry bagged their best Scottish Rally Championship result of the season whilst Armstrong and Hannah McKillop’s third place further strengthen their hold of the championship lead.
Retson and co-driver Paul Beaton secured fourth after a strong run whilst Huntly’s John Wink and Neil Shanks rounded out the top five after an encouraging start to their day.
Banchory’s Bruce McCombie upheld local honours to take eighth place with Michael Coutts on the notes. He would be using his newly acquired Ford Fiesta R5 for the very first time and a top ten result was the reward for a positive outing in the new machine. Alford’s Scott Beattie was another to be getting used to his new Fiesta R5, taking tenth overall with Welshman Peredur Davies in the co-driver’s seat.
For a second year in a row, the rally partnered with Carbon Positive Motorsport to provide carbon offsetting for competitors and organisers' event vehicles, as part of a long-term roadmap and commitment to mitigate the event's carbon footprint.
The event has chosen, as part of its environmental plans, to use high-quality UK-sourced and certified carbon offsetting projects. The rally is on track to offset over 16,000kg of CO2e, using a world-class carbon offsetting project based at Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland.