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With 2016 Scottish two wheel drive Champion Grant Inglis not returning to defend his ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship (SRC) title in 2017, the battle to become the new king of the class was blown wide open.

The series began in Inverness with the Snowman Rally, and it was local man Dougal Brown who would make the fastest start in his Ford Escort Mk2. Brown took the top spot ahead of Marty Gallagher and Thomas Gray who enjoyed a scintillating battle in their front wheel drive R2 cars to take second and third respectively.

Mk2 legend Steve Bannister made his usual trip north of the border from Yorkshire to contest the Border Counties Rally in Jedburgh, duly winning the class ahead of Brown and the Vauxhall Corsa of Angus Lawrie who kicked off his title aspirations in the Tweed Valley.

The Speyside Stages was all about the battle between championship leader Brown and fan favourite Quintin Milne. The pair were locked in an intense and entertaining fight on the Elgin based event 12 months ago, and history would repeat itself in 2017 in more ways than one. Milne and Brown traded seconds once again, but it was the Banchory man who would take the win ahead of Brown like he did a year ago, with Mike Stuart impressing in third in his similar Mk2, staying in touch with the leading duo.

The Scottish Rally marked the season’s half way point, and saw a battle between the two main title protagonists in the forest tests around Lockerbie. Brown took his second victory of the year, but he was made to work hard for it with a fast charging and ever improving Stuart behind in second. Brown was lucky to win at all, with his Escort sounding less than healthy when it returned to the finish ramp. Keith Riddick took a surprise third place in his MG ZR, profiting from Angus Lawrie’s misfortune; the Vauxhall Corsa losing a wheel in the final stage. Despite stopping the clocks ahead of Riddick, road penalties meant he slipped behind his class three rival.

The Argyll Rally presented a new challenge for the competitors, with the SRC returning to forests not seen in the championship since 2003. Dougal Brown wouldn’t get much of a chance to explore them, sliding off the road into a ditch on the first stage. Sniffing an opportunity, Duncan MacDonald who had endured a couple of difficult events put his championship challenge right back on track with an impressive victory in unpredictable conditions. Mike Stuart took second to draw level with Brown in the championship, with Irishman Paul McErlean taking advantage of the SRC Overseas Support Scheme to take third in class.

Ahead of the Grampian Forest Rally and the Galloway Hills Rally that conclude the season, the championship is finely poised.

“Up until the Argyll we had pretty much had the perfect championship,” said Brown. “We took first on the Snowman, second on the Borders and the Speyside then we were back on top on the Scottish but had a bad result on the Argyll, going off on the first stage. Mike [Stuart] has been closing the gap with every rally and is certainly putting the pressure on us.

“At the start of the season I wasn’t planning on doing all the events, but we had such a good run we couldn’t face not doing some. I definitely want to push to win it as I don’t think I’ll be back out as much next year with budget restraints and family commitments.”

“The season has gone better than we had expected,” explained Stuart. “To be sitting so highly in the 2WD Championship after being out of competition for so long has blown my mind, I honestly didn’t know how I’d fare. The competition is superb, we all seem to be really close at such a hot pace. I’m going home from every rally on such a high.

“We’re going to knuckle down and go into beast mode for the Grampian which is my home event. I want to get the best result I can. Even if I can finish second or third, just in class seven, I’ll be more than happy with that at the end of the year.”

The 2017 ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship is partnered by Pirelli Motorsport, Coltel Communications and Reis Motorsport Insurance.

The championship consists of seven forest events across the whole of Scotland, taking in over 300 competitive stage miles.

The next round of the SRC is the Grampian Forest Rally in on Saturday 12th August..

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Images: Lindsay Photo Sport

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