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Scottish Malts 2023, Syd Stelvio Day 3 | Inverness to Inverness – 198 Miles

Scottish Malts 2023, Syd Stelvio Day 3 | Inverness to Inverness – 198 Miles

Day three, the halfway point of The Scottish Malts 2023 and also the halfway point of the working week, the question was would it be a Wednesday hump day or whisky a-go-go for the crews? Well, that question would likely yield a different blend for everyone, but the sun was shining again this morning, so at least the day started brightly for all, even if some would fall foul of a mid-week slump.

This leg was a different sort of leg than all of the others in this competition, not least because it saw the route follow a large loop, terminating where it began in Inverness. Inbhir Nis, if you use Gaelic, it translates to ‘mouth of the river Ness’, and it seemed that every other road user in the town was attempting to cross this river this morning, but once clear of the logjam of traffic, and with the Kessock Bridge disappearing in the mirrors the day could begin properly with a regularity that might not have mirrored the scenery of the first two days, but was certainly offering up confusion to a few crews.

Yes, it was clear that the navigation was getting a little more demanding, although not to extreme levels, and this would prove problematic for a few crews as the day trotted on. There was plenty of opportunity for respite though, with some super road sections punctuating the competition and three distilleries to visit, including the Singleton Distillery which dates back nearly 200 years. Licensing laws meant that purchases of their spirits inside the well-appointed visitors centre weren’t possible, which may have been for the best since their most expensive bottle of Scotch is a cool 28 grand.

The loop carried us north, well north in fact for The Malts, and many of the roads would be familiar for those who have competed on LeJog, and with John o’ Groats only 80 miles up the road it was clear just how far up the country we had travelled since departing Gleneagles just three days ago. There was a lot more time spent in valley floors today, with rivers often our friends and bridges too, of all shapes and sizes, including the Dornoch Firth Bridge, opened by the Queen Mother and the Kessock suspension bridge. Bonar Bridge though, a place that seemingly only exists because of its bridge, was flaccid in comparison and a much less impressive erection than the towers of the Kessock.

One crew that were enjoying the bridges and the roads were the inhabitants of car 37, Bron Burrell (NZ) + Suzanne Barker (GB), instantly recognisable in the 1969 ex-World Cup Rally Austin Maxi. This is the first time that Bron has been back to these parts since the 1971 RAC Rally, and her experience to that of 52 years ago is very different, most notably because it has been during the day and not through heavy snow. Bron’s discussion about the weather though seemed to have angered the weather gods slightly, as after the midday break the clouds rolled in, bringing with them the first real rain of the rally.

Thankfully, the rain seemed to largely miss the kart circuit at Golspie that offered up the first circuit-based test of the event, keeping the tarmac dry for the speed and manoeuvrability test, but as the cars headed up into the hills for the post-test regularity the weather lay in wait for them. It wasn’t just rain either, as the altitude climbed and the temperature dropped the rain turned to hail, which is the most pointless and spiteful of all forms of precipitation, (just ask the trip photographers!) and the ground was soon carpeted in the polystyrene esq balls of ice.

The hail may have dented the pace of some machines, but for the occupants of car number 4, Francisco Molinari (AR) + Hans Albrecht (DE), the weather couldn’t possibly hinder their enjoyment, as they were just happy to be on the move again after a fuel station mix-up had seen them pump diesel into the fuel tank of their Jaguar XK140. Sweeps to the rescue though and they were back on the road again.

After a tricker day on the maps, it seems only appropriate to finish with news of the competition, and the news at the top is that the Baines are back in front, with the nimble Mini skipping through the day’s three tests. Climbing up to second place after an excellent performance was the TR4 of Klaus Muller (DE) + Ilona Seewald (DE), who were best on the day with just 11 seconds of penalty, and they are now just 9 behind the Baines in first. Life wasn’t so good for the Owens, who have now slipped back to third. Life could have been even worse for father and son Stephen and Thomas, after picking up a minute of penalties on the fourth regularity of the day, but after cashing in their Joker Saving the damage was negated, although the pressure is now on for the rest of the rally but the HERO Cup Champion Stephen was defiant in the face of adversity, declaring that there was still plenty of time to mount a comeback.

Tomorrow morning the rally begins to head south again, on the penultimate day of this adventure, finishing in Pitlochry after a run through the famous Spey Valley, Scotland’s famous Whisky producing region.

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