The night before the Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally, I experienced one of the highs of rallying as I compered a fantastic discussion between Jimmy McRae and six youngsters on starting out as a rally driver. Less than twenty-four hours later, I was sitting in stunned disbelief at Perth Racecourse with the rest of the rallying community, struggling to take in the news that double Scottish Champion Jimmy Girvan had lost his life. A fantastic driver and ferocious competitor, but also a true sportsman and a genuinely nice guy, Jimmy was the perfect model of what a rally driver should be.
I came into Scottish rallying not long after Jimmy had made his return to the stages, and although I’d only known him for a short while he left a big impression on me and my colleagues at the Ecosse Challenge. I first met him when I was Press Officer for the Scottish Rally Championship, at the time when Jimmy and co-driver Mike Ramsay were in serious contention for the SRC title. It was the end of the Border Counties Rally and Jimmy and Mike were battling to have a chicane penalty scrubbed, rifling their way through the rules and looking for a clause or sub-section they could point out to the Competitor Liaison Officer. The rally had been delayed, deadline time for the national papers was approaching and there were stories to be phoned in. Not wanting to delay Jimmy and Mike from the serious business they had to tend to, I tentatively approached the pair to get a brief explanation of what had happened.
What I got from Jimmy was a terrific, blow-by-blow account of how the rally had been and how he hoped the season would pan out. Despite having only met me a few times previously and having the pressing issue of a time penalty to deal with, he still made sure I had all the information I needed for my reports – and then proceeded to chat with me about rallying and life in general. Upon mentioning I hailed from the Black Isle, Jimmy glanced down at the name embroidered on my fleece, the connection twigged and his eyes lit up. “You’re Mrs Mabon’s son!” he exclaimed. “Your mum was my daughter’s favourite teacher at school!” It had been more than ten years since my mum had taught his daughter.
On the Jim Clark Rally later that year, I was again on the receiving end of Jimmy’s perfect balance between competitiveness and approachability. Jimmy hadn’t started a tarmac rally in more than fifteen years, and at the first service halt the blue Subaru was conspicuous in its absence. A good twenty minutes later, with a horrendous clatter the Impreza limped into view, two wheels running on their rims and trim hanging off at all angles. Normally, I hate approaching cars that have sustained damage with the inevitable question “what happened?” – helmets stay on, monosyllabic answers are mumbled and the reporter leaves knowing full well he’s the twentieth person to irritate the driver by asking the same question. Not Jimmy. He brought the car to a halt right where I was standing, rolled down the window and explained in great detail what had happened, before going on to assure me he would return for the next rally and be back on the pace (he was right on both counts). The people I have the utmost respect for are those that have time for everyone regardless of who they are, and Jimmy Girvan was an exemplar in that regard.
The following year when he won the Scottish Rally Championship outright with Kirsty Riddick, Jimmy came along to the prizegiving early to present the trophies for the 205 Ecosse Challenge. It was going to be a huge night, with Jimmy’s new car on display next to the stage and a mountain of awards to pick up, but that didn’t stop him from coming along to the Challenge ceremony first. There was no better example for the 205 crews – many of whom were in their first season of rallying – of how to be the perfect rally driver than to see the Scottish Champion-elect taking time to get to know those that had just started rallying.
The fact I can remember these anecdotes, and many more like them, for someone I’d only known for a few years – and even then only in the context of rallying – speaks volumes. Gazing out of the window on the bus into Inverness the other day, I saw a Saltire flying at half-mast outside the village hall close to where Jimmy lived, a reminder that aside from being a brilliant rally driver, Jimmy Girvan was one of life’s good guys. Scottish rallying has lost a true legend.
I extend my deepest sympathies to Jimmy’s family and friends at this very difficult time, and to all those involved in this terrible incident. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish Jimmy’s co-driver Mike Ramsay a speedy recovery.