Consisting of 13 public road stages, the 2021 Dunoon Presents Argyll Rally made a very welcome return to Cowal as the addition of a Town Centre stage proves a major hit and shows that the Rally has initiative and is able to adapt.
Forming a round of the KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship, drivers competed over the weekend (25th/26th), tackled 13 stages with absolute precision in order to set the timing sheets a light to finish the event quickest and to take home the honours.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic affecting Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, the Argyll Rally is the first to take place as part of the Scottish Rally Championship since March last year.
Organised by the Mull Car Club, Dunoon and Cowal saw the return of rallying in 2017 and has been a permament fixture since with drivers eager to take on the challenge the area provides. For this year's entry, it only took four minutes before the event for competitors were sold out.
The three Legs, consisting of the 13 stages, totalled approximately 63 Stages miles, 110 road 'link' miles taking place on tarmac rather than gravel roads.
Of the 13 stages, five took place on Friday night with a tight and challenging course round Dunoon's very own Town Centre for Leg 1.
Taking place on the pubic road, the drivers started the event just outside the Queen's Hall before making their way through the town.
The drivers jinked left, then jinked back right through the town before quickly approaching their first big challenge. Trying to slow and position the car, drivers had to spot their braking point as they turned left from Argyll Street to Hanover Street just outside the Burgh Hall.
Facing an upward battle, drivers faced an extremely tight left turn alongside Albert Crescent before a short run up to Royal Crescent.
As the road met, the drivers were wary of applying the throttle as they figured which line was the best to take round the long and sweeping right. Getting inches to the kerb, the drivers sped round Royal Crescent and now had to slow at Milton House. Turning left, it was then a short dash to the top of Hilfoot Street, a blind right was next.
Hurtling down Hilfoot Street, passing Dunoon Primary School and the office of Title Sponsor Dunoon Presents, another blind corner was next.
Drivers either turned left or headed straight for the hay bales. Turning left, the drivers now faced their final hurdle.
Picking up speed, the cars flew past the DIY shop Dae-it-Yersel as the drivers tried to find the best position heading into the final corner. The final corner, sweeping past the Highland Mary, seemed to go on forever as the drivers tried to hug the left-hand swoop. A few were caught out and heavily hit the kerb on the right-hand side.
Carrying the remaining speed and momentum, the drivers crossed the finish line just beyond the Rock Cafe and in front of The Argyll Ferry terminal.
The drivers would lap the circuit twice with the fastest lapping the circuit in just under 50 seconds. Continuing on from crossing the line, drivers then headed for another three stages at Glendaruel, Loch Fyne and Whistlefied.
From then, the drivers had put themselves in the best position heading into the next day and the remaining eight stages.
Early on Saturday morning, Leg 1 began with drivers heading to repeat Glendaruel, Bealack, Loch Fyne and Whistlefield.
On the Whistlefield stage alone, drivers pushed to the maximum and hit speeds of 100mph while spectators battled the ever-consistent flies.
The third and final Leg was a repeat of the Leg 2 morning stages with drivers getting one last crack in attempt to secure their place in the final standings.
The battle to win in Argyll was tightly fought and with just four stages remaining, eventual winners Merion Evans and co driver Jonathan Jackson were more than 15 seconds behind the leaders and sat in third.
As the final 4.27 mile test remained at Whistlefield, Evans and Jackson had taken a slender lead at the top. For Double Scottish Rally Champion Jock Armstrong and co driver Cameron Fair, the successful duo sat in fifth and their challenge to secure another victory in Argyll extinguished.
With a superb final run, Evans and Jackson secured the overall win.
With any event that happens, it has it's own challenges and organising the Town Centre Stage could not have happened without the support of the businesses. Some businesses and shops had to close or change their trading hours to accomodate the rally but were happy to do so for the good of the town.
Local Dunoon resident, Louise Carson, was working in the town on Friday night but was able to have a sneak peak at the drivers making their way up Hanover Street. Being in amongst the crowd, she witnessed the electric atmosphere.
She said: "Brilliant. First class. Such a cracking thing for Dunoon and the surrounding area to host and great to see our wee town buzzing after such a rubbish year and a half. Already can't wait for the next one... hopefully next time I won't be working and can see much more of it."
The reaction from visitors, residents, business owners and organisers is that once again, the rally is one of the best events on the calendar with fans and competitors already looking forward to next year's event.