Guy's sat chatting to me about the Rally of Scotland. Guy's a rally driver. A very good one. He won the event last year. It's his favourite rally he tells me. The best one. "It's the scenery," he says gesturing towards the magnificent loch to our right. It's at this point I feel the need to assert myself. Not that I disagree with him about the quality of the rally or beauty of the Scottish landscape, it's just that the landscape he's talking about is blurring past us as 110mph and we appear to be heading towards a tree. Guy pushes the stick down to 3rd, the engine screams and the Skoda skids round the bend. Guy Wilks is grinning.
I'm north of the border for the Rally of Scotland weekend, which made its début in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in 2009, won then by Darlington lad Guy. I'm here with the Skoda team, who've already tied up the IRC manufacturers' title, with Guy's colleague Juho Hänninen in the other Skoda already having a big enough lead to claim the drivers' title. The mood is good, Skoda are happy, Juho's happy, Guy's happy.
Sadly for Guy, there was to be no repeat of his 2009 triumph. After a blistering start on the Friday night - which kicked off in spectacular style in the moonlit grounds of stately home Scone Palace complete with peacocks, gravel driveways and a chapel - his car's transmission broke on the Saturday morning after a collision, writing off his chances of top spot on the podium come Sunday. It was a better day for Juho, who led going into the last day, and led at the end, claiming first place overall, in a setting even more breathtaking than the opening - the glorious Stirling Castle, perched high above the city and shimmering in as unseasonably crystal clear and sunny a weather as it gets in this part of Scotland. The locals were breaking out the factor 50.
I do here him say: "We're at 110mph now." I've barely done 110mph on the motorway (officer) let alone whilst heading towards a tree
That's the stats out of the way but what's it like to watch a rally? Well, it's actually quite hard work. Those blokes you see perched on embankments or amongst the shrubbery on the side of the stages, have had to do a lot of leg work to get there. Quite literally. It's not easy to get into the middle of nowhere in the depths of the Scottish woodland. Early starts, long mini-bus journeys along minor roads, then bumping over rough dirt tracks is not only slow going but rather stomach churning, especially if you've been enjoying the Scottish hospitality the night before and happen to have a hangover.
There's then a trek that the stoutest of ramblers would appreciate, sliding down muddy tracks, clambering up mossy banks and avoiding getting sucked into bogs just to be able to grab the best roadside vantage point. A roadside vantage point that will see you being peppered with rocks the size of Maris Pipers, as the cars tear past every 3 minute or so. It's certainly not for the faint hearted and the rewards for this effort aren't great. There's no last minute goal to see or a triumphant crossing of the finishing line. Pick your spot and wait for the cars to come into sight for those few brief seconds. They come round the corner sideways, backfire, spray you with rocks then hurtle over a crest out of sight. Short but impressive. Want to see another stage, it's another hike, another bumpy journey on the road and more walking. For the motor racing fan, it's evidently worth it. There's plenty of them about, of all nationalities, and they're enjoying it.
Some eager Irish chaps striding past me as I rest on a tree stump ask me some very specific racing question. I look blankly on two counts. Firstly their thick accent, secondly I've no idea if the car they were asking about has gone by, or even if it is a car they're talking about. I say I'm not sure, or something, they seem happy, maybe it's the official looking passes round my neck, maybe they assume I must know what I'm on about to be all the way out here, and stride on, pointing to a spot where they'll get a good view further through the woods. Quite clearly these are two chaps who would have written to Jim'll Fix It for a chance to ride alongside Guy Wilks in a rally car.
It's also difficult to hear what he's saying above the kind of noise, coming from the engine, I last heard at a My Bloody Valentine gig
Which brings us back to where we came in. Guy's chatting away as if we're on our way to Asda, rather than racing along mud and rocks between trees and a loch that might be the one with the monster in for all I know. It's also difficult to hear what he's saying above the kind of noise, coming from the engine, I last heard at a My Bloody Valentine gig at the Apollo in Manchester. I just nod and say yes. He could be saying anything. I do here him say: "We're at 110mph now." I've barely done 110mph on the motorway (officer) let alone whilst heading towards a tree. I think of Marc Bolan. Would friends and relatives revere this tree in the same way as Marc Bolan's? It's a pretty cool way to go I suppose. I then realise Guy is just as unlikely to want to end up upside down in a ditch as I am. When I ask him to confirm this he laughs, or at least I think he did I couldn't hear. He could have been telling me to fuck off, but he seemed far too nice for that. We're round the tree, into a clearing, handbreak turn and we head back the way we came. Only faster.
A couple of miles in just a few minutes, and when he pulls over at the end, I want to do it all over again. It's exhilarating. Better than any theme park ride. I wish I'd filmed it, and later discover that the News of the World's Michelle Tomlin had done just that a little while before yours truly. You can see her video below.
So am I now a rally fan? Well I can certainly see the thrill of being in the car, but being a roadside spectator is strictly for the hardcore, and a lot of work. I'd met some blokes who seemed to have the right idea on the Sunday. Watch all the sections of all the stages and see all the cars with all the times from the comfort of a pub. On the telly. It is, as I said, hard thirsty work, this rallying.