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.
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.