Brits gunning to spoil Juho's partyposted in RSCOT14 | 10 | 2010

    FINN JUHO HANNINEN may well be using RallyScotland as nothing more than a lap of honour having, to all intents and purposes, already clinched the Intercontinental Rally Championship for Skoda, but three Brits will be doing their utmost to spoil the Highland party when it gets underway at Scone Palace tomorrow.

    Intriguingly, one of his most fire-up rivals is his own Skoda team-mate Guy Wilks. The Darlington driver inherited victory in last year's inaugural RallyScotland when Kris Meeke's Peugeot was thrown out for a minor technical infringement days after he'd celebrated his 'win' at Stirling Castle.

    This year Wilks — whose season was disrupted after he broke his back in a huge crash on Rally d’Italia-Sardegna in early June, forcing him out of action for three months — returns determined to win it through the 12 stages.

    "Winning last year was fantastic," the Skoda driver said, "and I'd love to do it again. The competition's going to be exceedingly tough this year with my team-mate Juho also being here, but I'd love to deny him the win.

    "I really got to grips with the car in the forest stages the longer RallyScotland went on last year. Hopefully I can get on the pace right from the first stage this year and push the pace.

    "This is a terrific event and while the first two stages are a good run-out for everyone, the real action starts on Saturday when we head out into the forest. I can't wait."

    Another who can't wait is Lanark's Alister McRae. The former British champ, now based in Perth, Western Australia, is keen to get back out into the forest stages he knows so well and compete in front of his home support.

    "I haven't competed in Scotland since last year's RallyScotland," McRae, who has contested the Asia-Pacific Championship and starts today bidding to improve on the second place he achieved in his Proton Satria S2000 12 months ago, said.

    "There's nothing like rallying in front of your home fans and I'll be doing everything I can to go one step better than last year and finish on the top step of the podium.

    "After the atrocious wet weather we had last year the forecast, certainly for Friday and Saturday, is dry, so I think we're going to be in for a very, very fast rally; and that will suit the Proton."

    But without question the driver with the biggest hunger to win RallyScotland is Meeke. The 31-year-old from Dungannon, who has seen Hanninen wrestle the IRC title from his grasp after a miserable season punctuated by crashes and technical problems, was left deflated after last year's RallyScotland win was taken away.

    Today Meeke, a protégé of former world champ Colin McRae, will start his final event for Peugeot before switching to the World Rally Championship in 2011 when he will lead the new assault by Mini.

    "Next year will take care of itself," he said, avoiding any questions about WRC and Mini. "The next three days is totally focused on making sure we win our final rally with Peugeot.

    "Last year was tough to take, especially after the way we dominated RallyScotland from start-to-finish. But that's gone; now we have to do the business all over again.

    "It's going to be tough, but RallyScotland is the best event in the IRC and the some of the stages are, without question, the best in the world. This is a great place to sign-off my IRC career, and I'd love to do it with a win."

    RallyScotland — which will generate around £2 million for the Scots economy — gets underway with two runs through the grounds of Scone Palace tomorrow evening before the 47 crews tackle six Perthshire forest stages on Saturday.

    Sunday sees the drivers complete two runs through two of Scotland's most famous stages — Clashmore and Loch Ard — in the Trossachs before returning to Stirling Castle for the victory celebrations.

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    Jim McGill

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