On the eve of the launch of Rally of Scotland, the penultimate round of this year's Intercontinental Rally Challenge which runs on October 15-17, the clerk of the course Iain Campbell describes the event.
Q. Why has the event moved to a weekend format?
Iain Campbell: When we approached Eurosport about moving to a weekend format they were very supportive, as long as it could fit in with their television schedules. From an organizing point of view it means that we can get a really compact event that will hopefully attract more amateur competitors. With reconnaissance starting on Thursday morning and things finishing by tea-time on Sunday the amateur competitor can take part in this international event and only take a couple of days off work. It also helps greatly with attracting the huge numbers of volunteer marshals and radio operators required to run the rally safely.
For our partners it means we should be an even more attractive event to spectators, bringing more recognition to the areas we visit and returning an even better economic impact than in 2009, which was very impressive.
Q. Last year there were two service areas – one in Stirling and one at Blair Castle – and a remote service. This year you only have one in Perth, what was the reasoning for this?
IC: In 2009 we had a great base in Stirling for rally headquarters and for day two service. Blair Castle was a great backdrop for the service area on day one, but it meant a great deal of traveling for the teams, meaning more expense for them and difficult logistics. The ideal scenario for 2010 was to have one base for the weekend and we have achieved this with Perth Airport.
There is a remote service on day two in Callander. This gives the competitors 15 minutes to fit any spares carried in the rally car, but doesn't really add to the cost of the event to the teams as only 4 mechanics can attend this service and no parts, other than tires can be fitted. It is a real shame not to be back at Blair Castle this year, but it just wasn't feasible with the chosen stages, maybe in 2011 we can do something special there.
Q. You mention the chosen stages, you have dropped two stages from this year's itinerary and shortened others. Is this a lesser event than the inaugural one that drew much praise for its route?
IC: Over the two days there is actually about six kilometers more competitive distance to be covered. The challenge is greater than last year due to the length of the loops the crews have to tackle and also the 93 kilometers on day two, which is only split by a remote service. Blackcraig is dropped in favor of two runs at the Craigvinean, Drummond Hill, Errochty loop. Due to access issues, Blackcraig is not accessible by spectators, so we now have a full day's rallying that the spectators can get to. The repeat of these three classic stages also gives us more mileage.
Errochty has been shortened to accommodate the broadcasting requirements of live television. It is quite a technical challenge to broadcast live from the middle of a forest in bits of remote Scotland and the equipment Eurosport needs requires space and strong satellite signal; things we could not offer at the 2009 finish line.
On day two we are offering the very best of the Trossachs stages. These two stages received universal praise last year, with Meeke commenting that Loch Ard was the best stage he had ever done and Matthew Wilson saying that was the best loop he had ever contested in the world. Fairy Knowe was a very short test that took immense manpower to run due to its close proximity to Aberfoyle and to a housing scheme. We have all the distance we need to match the other IRC rounds without having to possibly create problems for local residents who may not be so keen on rallying as others.
There is no way this is a lesser event, as Alister McRae has already stated he feels this could be the hardest event on the calendar due to each stage having a distinctively different character.
Q. The event starts once again at Scone Palace. The stage has almost doubled in length and had a great atmosphere last year, but many spectators had to endure walking through a sodden field to get to the Palace. What changes are in place for this year?
IC: Scone Palace is just very 'Scottish', it sums up the whole character of the event and makes it stand-out. We have increased the test significantly and once the competitors leave the main Palace roads it is very fast on a part gravel surface around the perimeter of Perth Race Course to the stop line, it will still be very tricky. On top of this there is the ceremonial start for the top 10 cars and an autograph session to meet the top crews also.
This makes the two stages here have more importance to the whole event but still brings rallying to the people on a Friday evening. The extra length offers up more viewing opportunities. With regard to the conditions underfoot last year; central Scotland had almost three weeks of solid rain in the run up to the event and the ground here normally drains quickly but it could not cope with the continual deluge and became waterlogged. The lessons have been learned and while we cannot tarmac or gravel the pathway to the Palace we will have wider areas marked for access with improved lighting.
Q. Last year was a brand-new event put together in just 12 months. Has this year been simpler?
IC: The 2009 RACMSA Rally of Scotland took a lot out of the team, but the team also took a lot of pleasure, pride and satisfaction at the end with the comments from the event partners; Event Scotland, Perth and Kinross and Stirling Councils, Eurosport, the FIA and the competitors. There were very few criticisms, but lots of praise. So far the planning for 2010 has been simpler in some aspects in that we are now a known entity, the residents know what kind of event is coming to their area, our partners know what we are looking for from them and what we can deliver in return, we know what Controls work and what needs improved.
On the other hand we have a completely new location for service park, rally HQ and media centre that has to be planned, a new venue for remote service and some changes to the stages, so it is taking as much time and effort as 2009 did but in different avenues. It really does feel that it hasn't stopped since the announcement the rally was coming in November 2008. What we do know is that we can't rest on our laurels, we have to improve in lots of areas and also have to ensure that we can deliver a world-class event Scotland can be proud of.
Q. As the last round in 2009 you suffered from some of the regular IRC teams not entering, does this concern you this year? What kind of entry do you anticipate?
IC: I was perhaps one of the few people who didn't know whether to jump with joy, or to cry when Meeke and Peugeot UK won Sanremo. It was a fantastic result in year one of their program and fantastic for British motorsport, but I knew that it would have a really negative impact on Rally of Scotland. In some ways it maybe did us a favor in that we could run our first event with a smaller entry, but financially it really did hurt. From the plans that teams have released already this year it would seem that we could have a really strong international entry with maybe 15 S2000 cars and some surprise names as well.
I have already got my fingers crossed for at least four drivers still being in the hunt for the driver's title come October and the manufacturer's trophy still being up for grabs. Last year Franz Wittmann, Jan Kopechy and Juho Hanninen all did the Recce but not the event itself, so it would be good to see them all here, then we have McRae, Meeke, [Guy] Wilks, [Andreas] Mikkleson, [Burcu] Cetinkaya, [Nasser] Al-Attiyah to name a few and that is before the young guns from the BRC who did so well last year come into play. I think it will be a real show to the fans out on the stages.
Q. With moving from the November date to a month earlier, this brings you closer to the Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally. There must be some concern that you will end up using the same stages within a three-week period?
IC: Tay Forest District covers a huge area of Central Scotland with lots of good forest tracks throughout, the issue is that not many of these gravel roads are through roads most are dead-ends so it true that we will have to end up with some duplication of route. I have been in touch with Coltness Car Club, the event organizers throughout the year and I would like to express my gratitude to them for their very kind gesture that they gave us last month.
The organizing committee took a unanimous decision that they would not use the Errochty stage in 2010 to ensure that Rally of Scotland could showcase the very best of stages and stage conditions to the Eurosport audience for our day one live TV stage. This is a very unselfish act that should only help the sport in Scotland to grow and to encourage new talent to come forward.