Anyone considering a quiet drive through the quaint country lanes which bisect the Scottish Borders this weekend would be well advised to change their plans; it’s the 40th running of the all-tarmac Jim Clark International Rally.
A total of 280 cars, with engines screaming like wailing banshees, will take part in what is traditionally biggest single motorsport event of the year in Scotland.
A counter in the British Rally Championship and the Hankook Scottish Rally Championship, as well as Scottish and Irish Tarmac championships, the event is the only rally in Britain to be held on closed-off public tarmac roads.
The event gets underway this evening at 6pm with the ceremonial start in the centre of Duns and just feet away from the first competitive, 100mph flat-out special stage set through the streets of the old market town.
“It’s one of the highlights of my rallying year,” defending British Rally champ, Bantry’s Keith Cronin, admitted. “Not only is it brilliantly organised, but the tarmac stages are amongst the best in the world.
“And that, allied to the association with double Formula One world champ Jim Clark, makes the event unmissable.”
Cronin will start as favourite to win his first Jim Clark in his Subaru Impreza and knows he must get back to winning ways after suffering massive disappointment in the last round, the Pirelli Rally.
“Yeh, that was a nightmare,” Cronin, who won the opening round in Wales, admitted. “we were leading the event comfortably when the car suffered a puncture within site of the end of the final stage.
“Bad enough, but the punctured tyre ripped the wiring loom and that was us stuffed. We didn’t even make it to the finish. Hopefully we can win again this weekend.”
But Cronin knows he faces stiff competition from the Mitsubishi of former British champ, veteran Welshman Gwyndaf Evans. The Dolgellau driver, who capitalised on Cronin’s misfortune to win the Pirelli, is eager to maintain his winning ways.
“I’d love to win here,” Evans, tied with Cronin on 20 points in the championship, 12 behind the Mitsubishi of current leader, Irishman Jonny Greer, said, “but these stages are notoriously quick and you have to be so precise. One mistake and you’re rally’s over.”
While Greer will be happy to score good championship points in the event, two Scots are expecting to push for podium finishes.
Subaru ace, Duns-based Euan Thorburn, knows the Borders roads like the back of his hands and will be looking to capitalise on any mistakes the leaders make, will 19-year-old Dave Weston jnr is looking to regain his early season form.
“We finished second in the opening round in Wales, then failed to finish the Pirelli, so we need a good points score this weekend,” the Subaru driver said. “We’ll certainly be doing our best.”
The international field will tackle a total of 335 miles, 134 of those through 14 timed special stages. The crews tackle two loops of three stages near Duns this evening before heading back to rally HQ at Kelso for an overnight halt.
Tomorrow sees the first cars on the road at 8.30am before they tackle the first of the day’s eight stages which will decide the outcome of Scotland’s fastest, and most dangerous rally.