The Highland Fling

By Nigel Harkness

After the Jack Frost stages Vinnie the corsa was still in once piece, so Helen and I decided to get our passports out and have a go at the Grant Construction Stages at Knockhill. It had been years since I’d been there, and Helen had never done an event there. Scrutineering was on Saturday and as it was an early start on Sunday we thought we’d make a weekend of it. It was a lovely, leisurely drive northwards, over the beautiful new Queensberry crossing, and we arrived at Knockhill in glorious sunshine, both of us hoping that it was going to be like this all weekend. It was a new experience to scrutineer, sign on and then enjoy a gentle stroll around the stages. All 3 ½ miles of up and downs, with more gravel/mud than I’ve driven on in my life before and chicanes made of truck tyres thrown in for good measure. Have a go at moving those if you dare!

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We then staked our claim on a bit of the service area and when I finally managed to tear Helen away from Vinnie (“I’ve never left him alone on his own before.”) We headed to our overnight accommodation, where it seemed half the other competitors and officials were also staying. We all arose, pretty much at the same time on Sunday morning too, to be greeted by -8ºC, followed by lots of frantic de-icing. If only someone could have de-frosted the circuit! It was very white out there. Vinnie was very frozen, though the generator and a 2Kw fan heater soon thawed him out.

Stage 1, and we were on soft slicks on the front and soft wets on the rear. Down Duffus dip, oooh this is lively at the back end! Round the circuit we went, with the back wanting to overtake the front at every possible opportunity. Split, Square left, square right and onto gravel, mud and rough concrete. Helen was shouting “square left, square right, square left, square right” and occasionally she was getting them the right way round. Then back into service. Tyre advisor decided slicks all round.

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Stage 2 was almost dry except for the odd bit of frost, so I started to push a bit harder using the kerbs. 2 wheels up, 2 wheels down2 wheels up…there’s what sounds like giggling from the left hand seat, doesn’t she know this is serious stuff?

Back in service my navigator asks me if she’s supposed to be looking at the tarmac, then sky, then tarmac out of her window?

Stage 3 & 4 were more of the same. Stage 5 was stopped as a Subaru thought he was hard enough to take on a dump truck tyre chicane. He wasn’t, and man and machine had to rebuild the chicane.

At some point during stage 6, Helen shouted “chicane, right entry, keep off the grass on exit”. I ignored the last bit. 2 right wheels on the mud, next left hander which had been flat in 3rd with nice clean dry mud free tyres, now became a slight issue. The back end saw it’s chance to take the lead from the front! I tried to catch it, I’d caught it, no I hadn’t, yes, no, no, definitely no as we skidded across the grass, taking out the chicane marker board. Helen shouts “chicane, left entry” as we’re now pointing at the perfect angle to shove it into 2nd gear and through the chicane as if we’d planned it that way all the time.

Stages 7 & 8 were now just a case of keeping on pushing to the finish and staying off the grass! We finished 32nd overall and 7th in class. It was good to be back at Knockhill, and the circuit is even better now that they’ve widened and re-surfaced it.

Now we just need to work out how to get the H-pattern box into full throttle sequential mode!