The Scottish Malts Rally 2023 finished on Friday 28th April in front of the fabulous Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder. After five days of rallying and 915 miles, the winners of the bi-annual regularity rally were car 20, the 1965 Austin Mini Cooper of Dick Baines (GB) + Harry Baines (GB). Second place went to no 7. Graham Platts (GB) + Neil Ripley (GB), 1956 Austin Healey 100M, and third to no 5. Stephen Owens (GB) + Thomas Owens (GB), 1962 Porsche 356B.
A total of 43 cars began the rally, with participants from as far away as America and Australia in a truly international field, on a route that ran a loop around Scotland, as far west as Oban and as far north as Loch Brora, just an hour or so from Wick, beginning and ending of course at the famous Gleneagles. Along the way, the rally passed through unbelievably beautiful scenery, from coast to mountain top, and visited 12 distilleries, as is traditional for this competition, although it is important to add that the visits were strictly alcohol-free.
Despite going up and down the order a few times, the resplendent red Mini of father and son crew, Dick and Harry Baines eventually won out with an overall lead of 51 seconds at the end of the rally. In truth the London to Lisbon 2022 winners were always there or thereabouts. Son Harry being a dab hand on the navigation also took the Clock Watchers award for best navigator, and driver Dick getting the maximum out of the indomitable Mini on the tests, with his history of oval racing in Minis coming to the fore. This pair have passed along the training ladder at HERO-ERA, beginning with the Novice Trial and now with two long-distance wins under their belt have shown just what is possible.
Dick Baines: “It’s great, a really good rally. There was a little less pressure on us at the end of this one than London Lisbon though!”
Harry Baines: “We’re really pleased, another great week and we’re really happy.”
The most intriguing battle of the rally was the scrap for the final podium places, with several cars threatening to take second and third throughout the event, including no 15. Richard De Watts (GB) + Arati De Watts (IN), 1973 MG B, and no 23. Klaus Muller (DE) + Ilona Seewald (DE), 1964 Triumph TR4, who would eventually just miss out in fourth and fifth respectively. Second looked like it would belong to current HERO Cup champion Stephen Owens, and his son Thomas Owens, who had been pushing the Baines hard in Stephen’s stunning 1962 Porsche 356, but on the final day of the competition, they were baulked by local traffic on a regularity. The valuable seconds that they lost allowed no 7. Graham Platts (GB) + Neil Ripley (GB), in the immaculate 1956 Austin Healey 100M, to snatch second at the death.
Graham Platts: “At the start of the rally we said a top ten finish would be good, so to finish in the top three is brilliant. We feel very lucky, and I feel for Stephen, he got baulked and so he and Thomas were second really.”
Neil Ripley: “We started on this adventure 6 years ago, Graham said I’ve bought a car, get yourself over to France, and we practiced Tulips on the public roads with our wives as Marshals, so to be here six years later I can’t quite believe it.”
Stephen Owens: “Thomas has done a great job; he only does this once every two years! We had a great fight back, but congratulations to Dick and Harry.”
Thomas Owens: “We came into the final day hopeful we could push the Baines, but we got baulked on a regularity, and that scuppered our plans of second and first.”
As the dust settled and the prize giving took place, Clerk of the Course and Route Planner Nick Reeves reflected on a rally that had seemed to tick all the boxes. Special praise was reserved for all of the competitors, which included many novices, who had got stuck into the event and enjoyed it to the full, which is what rallying at this level is all about. There are certainly more difficult events out there, but the Scottish Malts represents an important rung of the ladder to those building up to harder and longer endurance rallies, so for this reason it will always hold a special place in the hearts of competitors and organisers.