Amazing scenery: check. Amazing roads: check. Special tests at Scotland’s most famous whisky distilleries: check
Competitors from as far afield as New Zealand and Argentina brought an array of 53 classic and vintage vehicles to the start of the Scottish Malts at Gleneagles Hotel, near Perth in Scotland. They would then compete over 1072 miles on some of Europe’s finest roads, taking in checkpoints and tests at several landmark whisky distilleries. Cars varied from a 1934 Hooper-bodied Bentley 3½ Litre Sports to a 1980 Porsche 924 Carrera GT.
The Malts this year ran clockwise from the start at Gleneagles, heading north to Crieff, and then west to finish the first first day at Loch Lomond. A beautiful dawn over the water greeted the crews, before they set off for the Isle of Skye. En route, they traversed the mighty ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ hillclimb and passed through Oban and Fort William before reaching Skye via the Glenelg Ferry.
Next day, the challenges started almost immediately. The Pass of the Cattle, Scotland’s answer to the Stelvio Pass, took competitors north to Ullapool and then via a series of regularities to Strathpeffer. The traditional Distillery Loop on day four took place with checkpoints and tests at the more prominent whisky makers’ premises.
A meaty regularity took competitors towards Charleston of Aberlour, home to Cardhu, Aberlour and Macallan – the Rolls-Royce of single malts. To make sure the crews didn’t fall asleep after lunch at Dowans Hotel, a brace of short regularities were next on the list, heading just south of Aberlour to Glenfiddich distillery. Glenlivet was the final distillery visited before heading back towards Inverness and a final section of regularity that caught some crews out, with multiple junctions in a short piece of road making the navigation tricky. Accurate use of trip meters became the order of the day.
Mark and Sue Godfrey were dominant throughout in their 1965 MGB, holding off the Graham Walker/ Sean Toohey 1973 Lotus Elan Sprint to the end, and not even the final day’s run over the Devil’s Elbow and the Spittal of Glenshee could shake them.
According to HERO director and event organiser Tomas de Vargas Machuca, driver and navigator are equally stretched: ‘It’s not just the navigator who gets tested: the driver has driving and manoeuvrability tests to attend to. These can take the form of a hillclimb, a car park full of cones similar to auto-testing, or a run through a forest, and they take place on private land.’
Some of the competitors took advantage of HERO’s ‘Arrive and Drive’ scheme, which provides a rally-ready car plus a dedicated team of historic vehicle mechanics, should anything go wrong.
A gala dinner and awards presentation finished the event back at Gleneagles Hotel. One competitor was overheard asking: ‘Can we do it all again?’ They had travelled from the United States to take part and didn’t want the magic of Scotland to end.
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases