Final preparations for the inaugural RAC MSA Rally of Scotland this weekend have reached fever pitch, with the teams, crews and organisers readying themselves for a true winter festival.

The final round of this year's Intercontinental Rally Challenge is set to be all-action in the forests around Perth and Stirling.

The rally route takes in more than 1000km over the three days, with 225km of timed special stages.

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Starting at the fabled Scone Palace, where the kings of Scotland were once crowned, Thursday night will see two special spectator stages in the grounds of the historic Perthshire venue. A full day's action on Friday will incorporate some of Scotland's most famous and demanding special stages, many of which have lain dormant for over 20 years since the heyday of the great RAC Rally.

Throughout the day the crews will tackle Craigvinean, Blackcraig, Errochty and Drummond Hill stages, where a carpet of pine needles guarantees minimal grip for the front-runners. The greatest challenge of all will come on Saturday, when the staggering 33km blast through Loch Ard will close the morning leg and will return as a rousing finale to the event itself.

Newly-crowned series champion Kris Meeke starts as favourite but has had a testing start to his home event, after damaging the suspension on his Peugeot UK-entered 207 S2000 on the official test. While there was some dismay in the headlines, Meeke himself brushed off the incident.

"It was an innocuous-enough thing," he said. "I clipped a log which was hidden in the grass about three inches off the road and that dinked a steering arm."

More serious was the engine failure that afflicted his team-mate for this weekend, 22-year-old Adam Gould. The Englishman, who was nominated to drive the BFGoodrich Drivers' Team Peugeot 207 S2000 by a panel of expert journalists, had his all-important familiarisation with the car truncated by engine failure. His total experience of the car - which is very different from the Group N machine he campaigned in this year's British championship - has been limited to a little over 50km.

Nevertheless the youngster remains undaunted: "I just can't wait to get to the start line," he said. "The car is absolutely fantastic - just amazing! The noise is sensational."

With six manufacturers and the cream of British-based talent preparing to go head-to-head in this final round of the IRC, many big names will be vying for a shot at beating Meeke on home soil. None more so than Meeke's career-long rival Guy Wilks, who has competed with Proton on this year's IRC but switches to a Skoda UK-entered Fabia S2000 in Scotland.

It was the Fabia that ran Meeke closest to the title in this year's IRC points battle, with the works drivers Jan Kopecky and Juho Hanninen both claiming rally victories. On home ground and at the head of Skoda UK's first international event since its all-girl team on the 1997 RAC Rally, Wilks is ready to take the fight to Meeke.

"The car looks mega in Skoda UK colours - and it drives as good as it looks!" Wilks said. "It inspires confidence in you as a driver. It has loads of grip and we felt right at home straight away. I can't wait for the rally to start now."

Taking Wilks's seat in the Proton Satria Neo S2000 is none other than former British and Asia Pacific rally champion, Alister McRae. The younger brother of 1995 world champion, the late Colin McRae, Alister has flown back from the Rally of China with hours to spare in order to join in the first international series to visit his native soil for 14 years.

Adding further spice to the line-up are two newly-crowned champions of Britain - Ireland's Keith Cronin, who has a works-prepared Abarth Grande Punto S2000 - and Scotland, in the form of local hero David Bogie in his familiar Ralliart Lancer Evo IX. Leading Honda's assault on the 2WD Cup - and hoping to repeat his overall points finish on this summer's Rally Russia - is Estonian hotshoe Kaspar Koitla.

All the 60 entrants in this weekend's event must brave the elements both night and day. The weather will be crucial for tyre choices and strategy in Scotland - and heavy rain is set to be the main feature of the event. An absolute deluge forecast until Thursday night's opening stage is completed. Friday will however dawn brighter and without rain - but it is nevertheless set to return for Saturday's closing action.

Ticket sales to the spectator stages is undiminished despite the worst that autumn can throw at the event, and the RAC MSA Rally of Scotland will be a national celebration led by First Minister Alex Salmond and three-time F1 world champion Sir Jackie Stewart. For fans wishing to catch the action at home there will be a premier TV experience including four hours of live coverage across the Eurosport global platform - with Australia joining the Eurosport Asia Pacific network coverage for the first time.

With British Eurosport viewers benefitting from the addition of 2001 world championship-winning co-driver Robert Reid to the commentary team, it's clear that a high quality high octane finale to the 2009 season is in store.

The stage is set and the contenders are ready: let the inaugural RACMSA Rally of Scotland begin...