By David Love
Most if not all of us will have been at a Spectator Special Stage in the grounds of a stately house at one time or another and have seen people being dropped off at the house. They then disappear inside only to reappear, glass in hand, to take their seat in the grandstand that’s blocking your view of the stage 5 minutes before the first car. These lucky souls are hospitality guests who are being wined, dined and getting the best views free of charge. On the Rally of Scotland I was one of them, in a fashion.
It all started with a phone call from Brian Kinghorn who, when he discovered I wasn’t marshaling on the rally asked if I fancied a couple of days driving Skoda guests around. He was working with John Parker setting up forest testing locations for Skoda and arranging transportation for their media and dealer guests during the rally. He said he needed capable drivers with a good knowledge of rallying but as he couldn’t find any more I would do. As the local contingent included Chris Walker, Allan Blake, Eric Ritchie, Rob Grant & Alan Cathers it sounded interesting. Skoda had invited approximately 140 Dealer guests and 30 Media guests so Brian and John had recruited 20 drivers for the weekend.
Chris and I decided to travel up together so at 10 on Friday morning we arrived at the Crieff Hydro Hotel, a very impressive place. I would love to describe the opulence of the bedrooms but as we were staying in a small B & B hotel, the closest I got to opulence was using the Gents at the Hydro. The Dealer guests were staying there and the Media guests were at the Dunkeld Hilton. We found Brian in a car park full of Skoda UK Motorsport liveried minibuses. In total there were 13 fifteen seat Ford Transits, 3 fifteen seat VW LTs and 2 nine seat VW Transporters plus 2 Skoda Superb demonstrators. Three of the Transits were already away on various stages of picking up guests from Edinburgh Airport. Within 10 minutes Chris and I were in one of the Superbs taking a Fast Car magazine reporter to Dunkeld. Chris drove and I navigated, ie I set up the sat-nav. The car seemed to go well so I grabbed the driver’s seat to give it a workout on the way back. It was only when we got back to Crieff that I noticed that there was less than 150 miles on the clock. Well new cars don’t need running in now, do they?
Brian briefed us on the plans for the next couple of days, gave us the keys to our buses, our Skoda UK Motorsport jackets and most importantly our hospitality passes. We then headed down to check-in to our hotel only to discover that there was only a double room left. Chris’s first response was “You’re sleeping on the floor”. Thankfully there was a misunderstanding and I got a bed to myself. Once back at the Hydro we got ready for our 5pm departure to Scone Palace for dinner and the Start and first two stages of the rally. That’s why the hospitality passes were so important, they got us a free three course meal and unlimited drinks. Shame we were driving so had to forego alcohol. We then got to watch proceedings from a temporary grandstand
in front of the Palace. After the stages were finished we loaded up the guests and took them back to the Hydro. We got back to our hotel after 11pm and we decided that we’d have to get up about 5:15am to get a shave, shower and s**t before breakfast at 6pm. Then Chris suggested going for a pint, I heard a voice in my head saying “Are you mad, we’re up in less than 6 hours” but the voice in my mouth said “Sounds like a plan”. So 6 of us head up the road to find a bar, we hauled another 4 drivers from their hotel beds to join us. We didn’t drink much but the crack was good and we got to bed by 1am.
Saturday dawned fresh but dry and by 6:45am we had six buses parked outside the Hydro’s reception waiting for the guests. Amazingly I was the first one only because I along with Chris had volunteered to take guests to Edinburgh Airport in the afternoon and we wanted them in the right buses from the start. The plan was to have two convoys each of six buses visiting three stages, a distillery and Dunkeld Hilton for lunch at different times. The first convoy left at 7:00 for Drummond Hill and the second at 8:00 for Erochty. Two buses were left in reserve at the Hydro and the other four were transporting the Media Guests. Surprisingly, given the free booze from the night before, all but one of our guests made the 7:00 start but they were fairly subdued. Our viewing point was high in the stage at an uphill double hairpin and we dropped the guests off about 20 yards from it. The only problem was that the track was too narrow to turn the buses round so we had to reverse 1/2 mile downhill to a junction turn them round and reverse back up the hill. I was the last to reverse up and about halfway an Astra came flying up to my bumper, started flashing his lights and gesticulating that he wanted past. As there was a steep drop one side and rock face the other I wondered where he expected me to go. He started to drop back then accelerate up to me a couple of times, which started to annoy me so I stopped, got out and asked him what the problem was. He replied in a Scandinavian accent that he had to take photos and the stage started in 5 minutes. I told him he should have got up earlier, explain a couple of things in Cumbrian, strolled back to the bus and continued uphill, slowly. As soon as we got near the other buses he abandoned his car and ran up to the stage muttering something which seemed to contain the word ‘madman’ as he went past. A Scandinavian pleasantry, no doubt. I parked the bus, strolled up to the stage and waited 10 minutes for the first car. It’s a rally, you don’t expect it to run on time. After 20 cars we shepherded them back to the buses and headed to the Dewar’s distillery at Aberfeldy. The guests did a tour and got free whisky, we got a cup of coffee. Then it was on to Dunkeld for lunch. When we got there I thought I better check that everyone on board was going to Edinburgh. There was a chorus of yes’s and one no! ‘Good one, you’re joking’ says I. ‘No, I’m flying out of Prestwick’ says he. ‘I hope you can handle disappointment’ says I. Then I remembered he was a Guest so I told him that we’d sort something out while he had his lunch. It was quite entertaining seeing the colour drain from Brian’s face when I told. ‘Prestwick’s tomorrow’, he said. ‘Not anymore’, I said. Thankfully as two buses had been held in reserve so were two drivers so Eric was volunteered to go to Prestwick in one of the Superbs.
From what I hear he was kept busy on the Sunday & Monday chauffeuring in it and enjoying every minute. Our missing guest had caught a taxi to Dunkeld and was refreshing himself in the free bar. It was probably a coincidence that he was Irish. He was also flying out of Edinburgh so I inherited him in my bus. As we were loading passengers after lunch he appeared at the bus he answered a question that no one probably thought of asking. “How many bottles of Stella can an Irishman carry” the answer-10. 2 in each side pocket, 5 clasped against his body with his left arm and an open one in his right hand for drinking. Once loaded it was off to Craigvinion which was just a few miles away up the A9. This time we were about 100 yards from the viewing point which was a fast wide 90 right. After watching all the cars through it was time for Chris and I to head to Edinburgh while the rest headed to Errochty. It seemed a long journey to Edinburgh mainly because my bus was limited to 62 mph, even downhill. At least my new Irish passenger was well mannered even offering me a bottle of Stella on the journey. Chris and I were in touch by two way radio and as we neared the airport he told me that he had 3 passengers who needed to go to Waverly Station. What a treat driving into the center of Edinburgh at 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon. After successfully depositing guests at the airport we headed into Edinburgh with Chris in the lead. We both knew how to get to the station from the South but not from the West so it was out with the Satnav, only problem was that I had it. The logical thing would have been for me to take the lead but that would have been too easy, so I relayed the directions over the radio. Amazingly we got there first time, dumped the guests and pottered back, at 62 mph, to Crieff, dump the buses and head for home. It was an interesting and enjoyable couple of days for me, but I’m sure Brian and John had spent many hours, days or even weeks organising everything, which paid off on the weekend.
Give me a ring next year guys.