Rallying: Just one reason why we love motorsport
As we trudged through a pitch black forest on the way to the first stage of the RACMSA Rally Scotland, torches guiding the way, the silence was suddenly broken by a monumental bang and a hard-revving engine drawing ever closer.
We rushed to the path where some faint lights in the distance had been erected by eager spectators, all awaiting the aural thrill that is a rally car speeding past you. I looked ahead, poised on a rock and as close to the edge of the grass as I could be, without falling on to the gravel track.A look up the track could not reveal anything except a marshall close by, wearing a high vis jacket. Two minutes passed and a whistle blew; the sign to remove yourself off the track sharpish. A deep roar could be heard from the trees, raw and unrestricted, and a cluster of headlights approached at a phenomenal pace, blinding me instantaneously.
The Skoda S2000 zoomed past in a flash, assaulting my ears with its ferocity. Just as soon as my eyes had recovered from the intense white lights, the red rears were fading fast into the distance as the car lurched round a sweeping corner. And that was it. Five seconds of pure heaven and it was all over. The smell of the high octane racing fuel lingered in the air momentarily. Another two minutes would pass with me waiting eagerly for the next car to spring out.
My first ever rally experience was now in full swing and it was one that I will never forget. All of the stages are unique, each offering a different way to see and photograph the cars. The buzzing atmosphere in Scotland adds to the whole event; rallying is a national treasure here. Most people I spoke to from spectators to enthusiasts had some previous rally experience.
I was told by an ex-mechanic at Prodrive how staying out at night in the pouring rain and sleeping in a car until the next stage or shivering in a ditch, was a small price to pay for the experience. And it's true. Mums and Dads had taken their young children, cheering the drivers on and banging drums to show their appreciation. Gone was my perception that only hardcore fans sat it out in the wet. It was fantastic.
On Special Stage 7 we saw the tail end of Colin McRae's Subaru Legacy swing round, as driver Jim McRae ceremoniously opened the stage. The next car came storming through and I managed to catch it with my camera, only to see a barrage of mud hurtling towards my face. The whole group of spectators was covered from head to toe. Usually I would not revel in this, but it felt like we were so close to the cars that you could almost smell them.
Rallying is not without its dangers though. Unluckily for one fellow journalist, instead of mud aiming for his face he was struck near his eye by a rock kicked up by the back wheel. He suffered only a minor cut, but it made me stand back for the rest of the stage and as the cars motored past I flinched a little every time. The same happened with some official photographers, who decided to stand on the outside of a sharp corner and were promptly battered with stones.
The service parks allowed members of the public to get up close and personal with the trained mechanics working like well-oiled machines on the cars. Every part is made to come off with ease and a full exhaust system change, suspension change, propshaft and gearbox modification takes on average just 22 minutes for experienced rally sport mechanics.
As the final stages drew to a close and the crowds whistled and cheered as Mikkelsen, Hanninen and Wilks took their places on the podium, a look around confirmed that this really is a family event that should not be missed.
Similar to DTM and other motorsport categories, the IRC gives fans the opportunity to get up close to all the action and it has cemented my love of rallying forever.
Roll on the final round at the Cyprus Rally in November, where this awesome spectator sport will only get better.