Hanninen dominates RallyScotland 17 | 10 | 2010

    THE GLOOMY, DARK autumnal skies which shrouded the finish of the final 18-mile stage at Loch Ard in the Trossachs were in complete contrast to the beaming smile and delight of RallyScotland winner Juho Hanninen.

    The 29-year-old Finn, whose third victory of the season also confirmed him as the winner of the Intercontinental Rally Championship, celebrated on the roof of his Skoda with his co-driver Mikko Markkula.

    "We had absolutely no problems from the first stage at Scone Palace on Friday evening, to the finish today," Hanninen, who also won in Argentina and Sardinia, said before heading to Stirling Castle and the podium celebrations.

    "This is the toughest rally of the year and it's terrific to clinch the championship with my third win of the year. The stages were fantastic and I can't wait to come back again next year."

    Hanninen's only minor concern through today's final four stages was whether Andreas Mikkelsen would make a charge in his Ford Fiesta S2000 to try and overcome the overnight 11.1-second deficit.

    The challenge though never materialised as the Norwegian opted to consolidate his position and guarantee his first IRC podium finish; the gap at the finish had opened to 25.5secs.

    "This result is far better than I ever expected," Mikkelsen, who hit a deer as it leapt from the undergrowth into the path of his Ford on Saturday's second stage, admitted. "It's been an amazing rally for me and the team and the car has worked perfectly."

    Without question, Mikkelson's achievement was aided by the misfortune which befell the three principal Brits — Kris Meeke, Guy Wilks and Alister McRae — on the punishing first day in the Perthshire forest stages.

    Wilks, the 31-year-old from Darlington and last year's RallyScotland winner, rearranged the aerodynamic efficiency of the front of his Skoda when he clattered into a rock face at high speed midway through the nine-miler at Drummond Hill. It was testament to the car's strength that it survived to continue. His progress was terminated though in the afternoon when the car's rear differential packed in.

    Meeke, meanwhile, suffered when his Peugeot had a puncture and then lost its rear brakes and 50% of its front brakes.

    The 31-year-old from Dungannon, bidding farewell to Peugeot in his last IRC event before switching to the World Rally Championship with Mini next year, recovered to finish third overall, despite another puncture early in the final stage.

    "That basically sums up the year," the 2009 IRC champ said. "Bad rally, bad season. I've had to drive the car 110% this year just to try and be competitive against the Skoda cars, and that's what's us to run into trouble throughout the year.

    "This result though clinches third in the championship which, to be honest, was the best we could realistically expect this season. I tried to mix it with the Skodas this year, but we've never really been at the races."

    It was a pretty miserable homecoming for Lanark's Alister McRae. The 39-year-old, now based in Perth, Western Australia, struggled with an erratic alternator problem in his Proton on Saturday and finally ground to a halt in the middle of the forest in Errochty when the battery packed in.

    "Not a happy day," McRae, who is favourite to take the Peugeot seat vacated by Meeke for next year's IRC campaign, sighed. Though both Wilks and McRae returned to contest Sunday's final four stages, it was nothing more than a glorified test session for the duo.

    But there was drama in the final stage of RallyScotland, the second running through the 18-miler at Loch Ard.

    First 18-year-old Welshman Tom Cave speared his Proton nose-first into a deep ditch, denying himself a top 10 finish, then Ireland's Jonny Greer lost a wheel on his Mitsubishi to promote Scot David Bogie up to fourth overall and first GroupN car.

    "That was awesome, just awesome," the 22-year-old from Dumfries, double Hankook Scottish Rally champ, beamed. "If someone had offered me fourth, top Scot and GpN winner before the rally, I'd have bitten their hand off.

    "This is just the perfect end to what has been a fantastic season. Winning my second Scottish Championship was fantastic, and this result rounds of a great year."

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    Jim McGill

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