At the Rally of Scotland

I wasn’t supposed to be at the Rally of Scotland this year, but got drafted in at short notice as one of the Competitor Relations Officers so find myself in Perth along with the rest of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge circus. This is a rather strange experience for me as I am at a rally without any pressures of deadlines to meet or news stories to get, however with free lattes and bacon rolls on offer in the media centre I felt it only right that I write something meaningful and post it up where it can be read. (The previous sentence was hastily cut as the lovely lady from the café brought a bacon roll through for me and then reinserted after she’d left without discovering I am a sham journalist this weekend…)

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of what’s happened so far, because you can easily get that kind of information in a number of excellent, up-to-date places. Instead, I’ll give a couple of my thoughts on what’s going on and how things are running so far. The most important thing to note is that Super 2000* cars are real, proper rally cars. By that, what I mean is that they look right, sound right and even smell right. Just circling round the service area or heading out onto the road sections, the S2000s emit an aggressive, metallic scream that leaves no doubt these machines mean business. Out on the stages they let rip with a ferocious war-whoop that rattles through the trees, far more exciting for the viewers than the low rumble and hiss of the turbocharged Mitsubishis and Subarus.

 

Colin Smith in relaxed mood hours before the rally start

 

The phrase ‘on steriods’ gets used far too much to describe performance versions of ordinary cars, but it really is appropriate for S2000s. Wide tracks, flared wheelarches and big spoilers are a key part of the Super 2000 experience, giving otherwise mundane cars a very aggressive stance. Take the Proton Satria Neo for example. It’s a Proton. The kind of car people like my dad buy. But let the guys from MEM loose on it, give it a lurid yellow and black paintjob and stick three cracking drivers out in them and it suddenly gets a place in my dream garage. It looks like it was built to race, not built to go to church every second Sunday.

These cars smell good too. Through my PhD research I’ve come to understand that rallying really is a multisensual experience, and standing next to an S2000 after it’s been on a fast run, it genuinely is the aromas coming off the thing that hit you the hardest. Rubber, hot mud, petrol, paint, oil and a hint of sweat all combine to produce a pungent, slightly sweet scent. If you’re not into rallying, you’ll more than likely be sitting there thinking ‘that’s horrible’, but it’s amazing how the positive connotations of rallying can turn this concoction of chemicals into one of the best smells on the planet.

In short, I like S2000s a lot. Granted, they aren’t cheap, but when was the pinnacle of motorsport ever supposed to be cheap? What matters is that they give all the right impressions – and generating excitement and interest is something rallying really needs at the moment in my view.

The second thing I’ve noticed is the plethora of talented young drivers out there at the moment. I remember Norwegian driver Andreas Mikkelsen turning up at a pretty standard Scottish rally in a completely white Ford Focus WRC years and years ago, so I was stunned to discover the Scandinavian is still only 21 years of age and holding his own in fourth place on the Rally of Scotland. Welsh junior Tom Cave was absolutely explosive on this event last year, so much so that I nearly changed my religious views and political views on Facebook to ‘TOM CAVE’ complete with capital letters. He’s back for this year in one of the Protons I was talking about earlier, and doing a dashed good job. Irishman Keith Cronin is also flying in another Proton, on the back of his second successive British championship.

Not far behind are young Scots David Bogie and Euan Thorburn in their Mitsubishis, with Dave Weston Junior hot on their heels in a Subaru. Estonian Karl Kruuda seems to be having a whale of a time in his Suzuki swift, despite the scrutineers’ concerns that the night-time stages would be past his bedtime.

The third thing – and related to the previous about young drivers – is the rise and rise of Colin Smith and Craig Chapman. The Grampian crew shot to prominence with an intelligent drive on this event last year, and followed their IRC initiation up with a carefully-chosen programme for 2010. They’ve not done as many rallies this year as some of their fellow Scottish juniors, but Colin and Craig have more than made up for this with the quality of events they’ve contested. Trophies in San Remo were followed with a retirement but loads of stories from Ypres – and now for their home rally the Grampian juniors have support from The Scottish Sun. Two scantily-clad women were posing with the boys next to their Honda Civic yesterday afternoon, a far cry from a year and a bit ago when Colin was thrashing a wrecked Peugeot 205 through the trees of Perthshire after a big roll on a rally.

Fourth and final is the brilliant contribution Skoda have made to this event. There are Skoda officials’ cars everywhere, ranging from the cracking wee Fabia VRSs for those who don’t need to go off road right up to big chunky Yetis for the course cars. There’s plenty of food and caffiene in the press room courtesy of the Czech manufacturer and more notebooks, media guides and USB sticks than one could ever need. And let’s not forget the two Fabias out there getting muddy and racing through the stages at a fair rate of knots – Juho Hänninen wrapped up the IRC title on the last round and is enjoying something of a victory lap, but both he and Guy Wilks are going all out to repeat last year’s Skoda win here.

For now, it’s time for another brew and a sit down to watch the live Eurosport coverage of the Errochty stage. It’s very different to F1, but I recommend you do the same.

*For the uninitiated, a Super 2000 rally car is a relatively new concept of rally car built to a very specific formula. Like the Subarus and Mitsubishis that are the backbone of rallying the world over, S2000s are four-wheel drive for extra grip and speed. Unlike the Japanese rockets, though, S2000s don’t have turbocharged engines. That means they rev higher to get the power out of their engines and are as such much, much louder.

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