This year's RACMSA Rally of Scotland has been widely hailed as the best yet.
The third running of the event – the penultimate round of the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge – attracted a record entry and provided three days of dramatic and thrilling high-speed action in the forests of Perthshire and Stirlingshire. Both those counties' councils and national events agency EventScotland were once again invaluable partners to the rally.
Building on the success of the first two events which received widespread praise from drivers, teams, fans and the world's media, the 2011 Rally of Scotland further enhanced its reputation as one of the world's true classic rallies with spectacular special stages set against the backdrop of stunning scenery and legendary landmarks.
This year's event started and finished at two of the nation's most historic venues – Stirling Castle and Scone Palace – and, for the first time, featured competitive sections run in darkness.
Though heavy rainfall in the preceding week made the forests tracks more slippery than 12 months ago, the world's top drivers responded to the challenge in fine style. And, once again, they were thrilled to push themselves and their cars to the limit on what many hail to be some of the world's most challenging and rewarding special stages.
“Scotland is always a real test, especially with the conditions we had this year with the water and the night stages. It has every aspect of rally driving and is tricky but very enjoyable. That is what rallying is supposed to be,” enthused a delighted Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen after achieving his maiden IRC win.
“The stages and the landscape make this a very special rally,” added reigning IRC champion Juho Hanninen, who finished runner-up to Mikkelsen.
“The landscape is some of the best in Europe. The stages are so fast and so flowing. We were unlucky with the weather because it was rough in places but this is still one of my favourite rallies.”
Frenchman Bryan Bouffier, who was making his debut in Scotland, joined the two Scandinavians on the podium, despite his lack of experience. He also praised the event: “For me it was a big challenge because I'm new to the stages. But they are beautiful stages and really, really nice to drive,” he grinned.
The fans certainly enjoyed watching the breathtaking action - this year's event attracted greater numbers of spectators while live television coverage of the action was beamed instantly to millions of households across Europe via the Eurosport
A re-group of the competing cars in Perth city centre further brought the spectacle to the public.