Competitors in next month’s Jim Clark Rally in the Scottish Borders will face a brand new challenge during this 43rd running of the event, which takes place over the weekend of May 31 – June 2, after organisers introduced a completely new 5 mile Special Stage which has never been used before.
Despite the fact that this is the UK’s only mainland ‘closed public road’ rally, finding new stages is not easy as organisers have to find a suitable stretch of road thatt also causes as little inconvenience as possible to local residents.However local businesses and local people do enjoy the spectacle and the benefits of the rally.
The Scottish Borders have a rich and proud motor sporting history, not just through Jim Clark but through the exploits of other local drivers who competed in the Ecurie Ecosse and Border Reivers motor racing teams in the 1940's, 50's and 60's, with names such as Jock McBain, Ian Scott Watson, Dougal Niven and twice British Touring Car Champion, John Cleland, enhancing the legend that began with Clark.
In rallying too, local farmer Andrew Cowan won the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon before going on to lead the Mitsubishi Rally Team which generated four World titles for Tommi Makinen. Louise Aitken Walker took the Ladies title in 1990 to become Scotland's first World Rally Champion, while the exploits of Ken Wood during the 1980's brought excitement to thousands of rally fans in the Scottish forests.
On two wheels too, Jimmy Guthrie and Steve Hislop cemented the Borders’ place in Scottish motor sporting history.
For all these reasons and more, people of the area get behind the rally each year and happily cope with the closure of certain stretches of road for up to 5 hours at a time so that the rally has priority. Even so, the organisers work hard to ensure that the rally causes as little disruption as possible.
Clerk of the Course George Hay explained, “The support of the local people is vital to the running of a good rally. Indeed many folk embrace the coming of the rally each year and add their own touches with banners and bunting proclaiming support for local drivers and other teams. We are also grateful to the many farmers and landowners who open up fields for car parking and hosting spectator points.”
On that basis, the finding of a new stage is quite special. Furthermore, finding such a road is difficult in that the chosen section of road has to provide a real challenge for rallying’s ‘knights of the road’.
George Hay said, “Most of the roads we use each year are single track country roads with passing places, but using stretches of dual lane tarmac adds a different perspective. Instead of being limited by the width of the road, drivers have to choose a ‘racing line’ through the bends – and this doesn’t always come naturally to rally drivers!”
“The new stage offers everything a rally driver wants, fast flowing bends, dips and hollows, and some tight, nadgery stuff – and a very good reason to heave a big sigh of relief at the end of it!” he added.
The Jim Clark Rally, supported by Scottish Borders Council and EventScotland, will be the third round of both this year’s MSA British Rally Championship and the MSA ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship run over the weekend of 31st May to 2nd June.