A wet Dick surveyed the sodden scene in front of him, driver of car no 20, the little Mini, and leading the field at the beginning of the penultimate day of The Scottish Malts 2023, he glared at the rain in the only way a weather hardened farmer can. We had been lucky up until now, but overnight the heavens had opened, and the fourth day of the competition was set to be a soggy one.
Still, at least Dick had a roof, as did the other drivers at the sharp end of the fight. Further back and Patrick Burke (GB) + Martina Grattarola (IT) were very much open to the elements in the indomitable Frazer Nash 328 Special, but as the rain dripped from their goggles they headed off down the road regardless. Sure, the downpour was unpleasant, but this is rallying, and everyone involved just gets on with it.
As well as being the day of the rain this was also the day of the distillery, with five on the cards as the route book took the machines south through the famous Spey Valley. Glenlivet was on the list, with its exceptional visitor’s centre, although as Bentley driver Oliver Treutlein appeared at the control all that was on his mind was a hot cup of coffee, as he declared he was chilled to his bones. In contrast, his Bentley driving brethren in car no 3, Berend Groeneveld (NL) + Ellen Groeneveld-van den Dool seemed to only have whisky on their mind as they left the distilleries with fistfuls of the peaty loot, “We have a special compartment” said Ellen, “We are smugglers!”
They were also a pair that had forgone the protection of a roof, and as the day drew on and the rain got, well, wetter, their choice of vehicle may have felt like folly. As well as the plethora of distillery visits today there was also plenty of competition, with six regularities. This rally might be a friendly affair, but there are those that want to win and with things tight at the top today was a day when form could easily go awry.
Playing catch up were father and son pairing Stephen Owens (GB) + Thomas Owens (GB), after some troubles in the Porsche 356B the day before, although the sight of father feeding son paracetamol first thing this morning showed that despite the competition, they were still having fun. Brain ache aside by lunchtime they were back into second place, although the Baines in first had still posted a better morning. Elsewhere 7. Graham Platts (GB) + Neil Ripley (GB) had clawed a little bit of time back on 23. Klaus Muller (DE) + Ilona Seewald (DE). The best crew of the morning though were 37. Bron Burrell (NZ) + Suzanne Barker (GB), with just 5 seconds of penalty across the four regularities.
Back to the fun though and the lunchtime halt was in what appeared to be a bit of a shack, but once inside the hall was like something straight out of a clan chief banqueting hall and the catering was provided by a team that used to be Billy Connoly’s personal caterers. The Big Yin didn’t put in an appearance himself, but he would no doubt have approved of the location.
Lunch dispatched and it was back to the (sort of) serious business of rallying, into a short regularity that would deliver the crews right into the back garden of His Majesty at Balmoral. Well, not quite the back garden, but very close and within sight of the end of reg boards there was the Royal Lochnager Distillery, the fifth and final distillery stop of the day.
Braemer followed and then a road section that was definitely one of the highlights of the event, on the A93 up and past the Glenshee Ski Centre, the iconic Snow Road. Those that have competed in Scotland before will be no stranger to this pass, and it is often covered in snow, and whilst there were drifts high in the peaks, today it was the rain that beat down on the asphalt, whilst at its peak the clouds engulfed the road. Whilst visibility was challenging there is no doubt that the weather gave the section a special atmosphere, ethereal in places and oppressive in others, but certainly impressive along the full length of the stretch.
Just before the descent into Pitlochry, and an evening of whisky tasting laid on by the Blair Athol Distillery, there was one final regularity which would prove to be a complex affair for many, with a tricky little cut through a farmyard that befuddled the crews and saw many posting maximums for that particular section. Whilst not quite falling that far, one car that did lose time on the final reg was number 23, Klaus Muller (DE) + Ilona Seewald (DE) who would lose 23 seconds to the days last competitive section. Ultimately this would allow Graham Platts (GB) + Neil Ripley (GB) in the 1956 Austin Healey 100M to reclaim a spot in the podium positions, with Stephen and Thomas Owens just a little further ahead in second. Top of the pops again is Dick and Harry Baines, and barring any major errors they will surely be confident of claiming victory tomorrow when the rally reaches its finish in Gleneagles.