An early start in the port town of Aberdeen kicked off day four of this years Scottish Malts, the penultimate day of competition and one that would see us heading south and west again. But on whom would lady luck smile today, and who would she scorn? With the leader board in a constant state of flux and with some monster regularities planned in for the day, it would take a brave punter to put a bet on the outcome of leg four.
On the drive west the eagle eyed would have spotted the yellow AA boxes on the side of the road, relics from a bygone era, but maintained, nonetheless. Their positioning was somewhat prophetic, an omen of what was to come perhaps as mechanical issues started bubbling up the surface for some of the cars. Before any gremlins could strike though there was a stop at the Glenesk Hotel, with its world-famous Whiskey bar that must contain nigh on 1000 different bottles of the amber liquid, although naturally the only liquid refreshment on offer to the teams was coffee or tea.
Shortly after here it was up into the hills again, and for early leaders Graham Walker and Sean Toohey it was straight into trouble. After celebrating his birthday, the previous day Graham must have been wishing he had been gifted an Elan sized umbrella, as the water ingested at the ford on the previous day had seemingly got into the electrics of the little Lotus and it was stuck fast on the side of the road on regularity no three, game over for the plucky Elan.
Another regularity followed to complete a long morning, but with lunch in the fabulous Blair Castle any road weariness would soon have been shaken off and the tremendous spread laid on by the castle would surely have remedied any road weariness, just in time to compete in the post lunch test within the grounds of the ancestral home of the Clan Murray. The high-speed hill climb would have shaken away any thoughts of a post lunch snooze, but the participation of Mark Simpson and Liam Hammond was in doubt, after their Rover P4 100 arrived at lunch with smoke billowing from the front brakes.
More regularities followed and by the time the rally had retraced its steps back into Crieff for the evening, the work had begun for the timekeepers, as the leader board had changed again. Malcolm Dunderdale and Anita Wickins had slipped out of the top five after finding their path blocked by every sheep in Scotland, as the ewes surrounded the car their challenge for the win dissolved under a woollen blanket and whilst it’s unlikely either will be sporting any knitwear anytime soon, Malcolm was heard asking another driver for a recipe for Lamb Chops.
It seemed that big penalties were being applied across the field, with positions changing everywhere. It seemed nobody was safe and with the mechanicals and other issues Joel Wykham and David Brown hauled themselves up into third place in their Alfa Romeo GTV. They had started the day in 12th place, so to climb at such a velocity was a tremendous effort, dodging the bullets as those around took hits.
Crucially, there was also a change for the lead, as Daniel Gresley and Elise Whyte dropped one minute and twenty seconds on the day, leaving Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan to muscle into first place, with a 35 second advantage going into the final day. Rallies have been lost on less of course, and with plenty more miles to travel before journeys end in Edinburgh it is all still very much to play for.
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases