This year's RACMSA Rally of Scotland (7-9 October) has been widely hailed as the best yet.
The third running of the event - the penultimate round of the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge - attracted a record entry and provided three days of dramatic and thrilling high-speed action in the forests of Perthshire and Stirlingshire. Both those counties' councils and national events agency EventScotland were once again invaluable partners to the rally.Building on the success of the first two events which received widespread praise from drivers, teams, fans and the world's media, the 2011 Rally of Scotland further enhanced its reputation as one of the world's true classic rallies with spectacular special stages set against the backdrop of stunning scenery and legendary landmarks.
This year's event started and finished at two of the nation's most historic venues - Stirling Castle and Scone Palace - and, for the first time, featured competitive sections run in darkness. Though heavy rainfall in the preceding week made the forests tracks more slippery than 12 months ago, the world's top drivers responded to the challenge in fine style. And, once again, they were thrilled to push themselves and their cars to the limit on what many hail to be some of the world's most challenging and rewarding special stages.
"Scotland is always a real test, especially with the conditions we had this year with the water and the night stages. It has every aspect of rally driving and is tricky but very enjoyable. That is what rallying is supposed to be," enthused a delighted Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) after achieving his maiden IRC win.
"The stages and the landscape make this a very special rally," confirmed reigning IRC champion Juho Hanninen (Finland) who finished runner-up to Mikkelsen. "The landscape is some of the best in Europe. The stages are so fast and so flowing. We were unlucky with the weather because it was rough in places but this is still one of my favourite rallies."Frenchman Bryan Bouffier was making his debut in Scotland but, despite his lack of experience, he joined the two Scandinavians both on the podium... and in praising the event. "For me it was a big challenge because I'm new to the stages. But they are beautiful stages and really, really nice to drive," he grinned.The fans certainly enjoyed watching the breathtaking action - this year's event attracted greater numbers of spectators while live television coverage of the action was beamed instantly to millions of households across Europe via the popular Eurosport channel. A re-group of the competing cars in Perth city centre further brought the spectacle to the public. And adding to the event's global media exposure, reporters and photographers from throughout Europe were out in force in Scotland as well as some from as far away as Japan. Budding journalism students from Stirling University also got a taste of working in a demanding sporting environment as they were given privileged access to the event that enabled them to mingle with regional, national and international press plus the IRC's star drivers.As in previous years, the rally was masterminded by Iain Campbell. As the Clerk of the Course, Campbell has received positive feedback from all involved."The teams have all come back and said of the three events to date this is the one they have enjoyed the most," he reported. "Everyone on the event's organising team has also said the same - because they had experience of the previous two years, they were able to raise their own game and be a bit more confident in certain situations and in their own abilities."Campbell was also quick to praise the hundreds of volunteers and other organisations who continue to make the high-profile event such a major success with all involved."A great big 'thank you' to all concerned, especially to all those who've been there for all three years and put in so much hard graft," commended Campbell."Local motor clubs provided more than 260 officials and marshals without whom it would be impossible to run an international rally like this. They came from throughout Scotland from a host of different clubs including the Highland Car Club, 63 Car Club, Aberdeen & District Motor Club, Stonehaven & District Motor Club, Glenrothes Motor Club, Dunfermline Car Club, Scottish Motor Marshals Club, Scottish Sporting Car Club, Isle of Skye Car Club as well as both Edinburgh and Glasgow University Car Clubs. I would also like to thank all those at the Forestry Commission Scotland who are totally supportive and understand what this sport is about."
Campbell concluded: "We all take a great deal of satisfaction from having taken what was a blank piece of paper and turned it into what's firmly established as one of the IRC's top events of the year."