16 Oct: MacKinnon rules on Mull

… Beatson’s Mull Rally, 11/12/13 October 2019 …

“Good to be back” – so said a sticker on Jim McDowall’s Subaru. His was the only car that carried the sticker because he got them made up himself. In the grand scheme of things that was a tiny wee gesture, but it typified the huge spirit that prevailed on the Isle of Mull last weekend.  For many folk just setting foot on that sainted isle once again generated a deep sigh or a sharp intake of breath. Relief to be back or excitement at what lay ahead.

Or maybe not, the first thing you encountered when setting foot on the island last week was a puddle. And it got worse from there. By goad did it rain. Finland may have its 1000 Lakes, but the 2019 Beatson’s Mull Rally was to be ‘The Rally of 1000 Puddles’. Not since the 2000 and 2002 events had Mull see anything like it this century. If you were at the Targa Rally last year and thought it was wet, that was kids’ stuff. For sure that was miserable soaking wet drizzle right enough, but last weekend, this was rain, serious rain.

Such copious amounts of water, could mean only one thing, the four wheel drive boys would start the rally with a tremendous advantage over the two wheel drive brigade whether pushing the metal or shoving it.

But don’t let that take anything away from the achievements of the winners, Paul Mackinnon and Paul Beaton, and runners up, Daniel Harper and Chris Campbell. What they did over two nights and one afternoon was mystifyingly magical. How they stayed on the road at those speeds (most of the time!) stretched belief. And if they defied the laws of physics what of the efforts of 3rd and 4th placed Calum and Iain Duffy and David Bogie and John Rowan in their RWD Mk2 Ford Escorts? Belief had to be suspended as watchers witnessed their flight across wet and streaming roads, and all the while bulging eyes on stalks looking for the biggest hazard of the nights, black standing water. Not to mention the ‘shiny tar’, those stretches of newly laid surface which glittered and sparkled in the lights like sharks’ teeth, and ready to bite the unwary.

How big a challenge? This rally and these roads would make a WRC works team manager have nightmares. I kid you not.

Leg 1: 5 stages – 50.62 mls

MacKinnon made his intentions perfectly clear on the very first stage of Friday night over Mishnish Lochs. The Staffa Tours Fiesta was 21 seconds quicker than the 2 litre John Deere Mk2 of Calum Duffy – in 6.77 miles! Daniel Harper was a further 4 seconds adrift of Duffy in his Minisport MINI WRC with John MacCrone 7 seconds slower than Duffy in his 2.5 litre Tunnocks Mk2. Lewis Gallagher was well in there too on this opening stage, his Lancer Evo9 setting 3rd fastest time ahead of Duffy’s Mk2. That made 5 drivers under 8 minutes for the stage. However, Gallagher’s top six run was shortlived. He was a mighty impressive 5th quickest again through the second test over the Hill Road, but on the next, the Lancer was out with a broken gearbox.

In fact, MacKinnon was fastest on 4 of Friday’s 5 tests, Harper popping in a quickest time (by 10 seconds) ahead of a tying MacKinnon and Bogie through the 3rd test at Loch Kinloch in the southern half of the island, with MacKinnon calmly explaining: “I stalled at a chicane in there.” Meanwhile MacCrone highlighted the fact that this test was a bit drier – ‘drier’ being a relative term on this wild night – with his Escort one second slower than Bogie’s.

The final test of the night (early morning!) was a corker, 20 miles up Glen Aros and round Calgary Bay with MacKinnon in jet pilot mode, and his ‘wingman’ Harper only 5 seconds slower. They were both well under the 18 minute barrier (17m 08s and 17m 13s), but for sheer bravery and commitment, MacCrone’s 17m 53 in those wet, streaming, puddled, standing-water conditions was breathtaking. Mind you, he paid the price. An awkward landing jarred his spine forcing him to withdraw overnight from the rest of the rally. So sad.

Another forced out early was the rapid Mk1 Escort of Alan Gardiner which stopped in SS2 and Des Campbell in the 1600 Peugeot 205 dropped 5 minutes to the flying Class B leader Ally Currie in the Fiesta R2. The Peugeot struck a manhole cover on the inside of a bend on the first stage: “I knew it was there from the recce,” said Des, “but I thought I was well clear of it, then bang.” Sadly, Currie’s rapid run suffered later in the night with electrical problems causing him to stop twice to try and fix his lights. At close of play Currie was still in the class lead with 2 minutes in hand over the Ford powered Toyota Starlet of Mike Storrar. In Class A, Mark Constantine’s Corsa had a minute in hand over the Proton of Chris Woodcock.

  • Leaderboard – Leg 1
  • 1, Paul Mackinnon/Paul Beaton (Ford Fiesta R5) 46m 01s
  • 2, Daniel Harper/Chris Campbell (MINI JCW WRC) +0:13
  • 3, John MacCrone/Stuart Loudon (Ford Escort Mk2) +2:01
  • 4, Calum Duffy/Iain Duffy (Ford Escort Mk2) +3:08
  • 5, David Bogie/John Rowan (Ford Escort Mk2) +3:19
  • 6, Jonathan Mounsey/Richard Wardle (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) +4:48
  • 7, Tristan Pye/Andrew Falconer (Subaru Impreza) +4:52
  • 8, Stewart Morrison/Jason MacPhail (Ford Escort Mk2) +5:1
  • 9, Eddie O’Donnell/Steven Brown (Ford Escort Mk2) +5:44
  • 10, Donnie MacDonald/Jamie Edwards (Ford Fiesta R5) +5:55

Leg 2: 8 stages – 51.52 mls

Daylight dawned, damp but promising, for the Saturday afternoon run. Yes, there was some sunshine, but not enough to dry the roads, because every so often a fierce, heavy, drumbeat of a shower sped across the island, dowsing and drenching all before it.

Even so, there was no let up at the front with MacKinnon hellbent on extending his lead before the rest got cocky in the daylight! Harper had other ideas, the MINI was 5 seconds quicker than MacKinnon over the first daylight run, before the Fiesta snatched 6 back round Gribun and then eked out its lead over the text six tests apart from Stage 12 where Harper got a measly 6 back!

With MacCrone out, Bogie was the man to catch in the 2WD category with Duffy now slightly doubting his pre-rally choice of machine. “After the week’s heavy rain and weather predictions for the weekend, I thought the 2 litre car would be a better bet for the rally,” said Calum, “it’s a bit softer and more forgiving than the 2.5 litre car which has 40/45 hp more and just lights up the rears the minute you touch the throttle.” And that’s something you don’t want in such treacherous and changeable conditions – which puts Bogie’s mastery of the art into sharp focus.

Meanwhile Jonathan Mounsey in his Evo9 had snuck up on the battle for the final podium position splitting the Bogie/Duffy duel while Gordon Morrison was now revising his Ford thoughts. Prior to the rally start he thought his new Fiesta R5 was slower than his Subaru (which it is) but handles a lot better (which it does) as he added: “You need to be aggressive with the Fiesta, and it is said that my character and my driving is a bit aggressive anyway!”

Sadly, Stewart Morrison’s valiant run came to an abrupt end in SS7 when the Escort broke  two bottom rear suspension arms which then put additional strain on the propshaft causing it to break. The number 21 seed had been going like a shell and was lying 8th when it broke. Out too was top seed Tristan Pye. The Subaru driver got as far as SS8 when the turbo failed and stopped puffing and he dropped out of 6th place. Scott MacBeth was next. He had worked his way up to a superb 11th overall after ten stages but in the very next test through Mishnish Lochs, the gearbox seized solid halting the Lancer in its tracks. According to Scott it felt as though the car had tried to select two gears at once and just jammed solid. Tony Bardy had mixed feelings about his retirement in the Focus WRC on Stage12. On the one hand he was pleased: “I’ve never got this far before, but if my old Nissan Sunny GTIR was still available, I’d swap this like a shot!” On the final stage of the afternoon, it was Donnie MacDonald’s turn to strike trouble, this time a water filled ditch got in the way of the Fiesta. There was no damage and he was allowed to return to the fray under Rally 2 rules.

When Ally Currie’s steering broke in the Fiesta and Mike Storrar’s gearbox broke, Stevie Irwin snatched the Class 8 lead in his Nova, but there was only 7 seconds in it as Storrar managed to limp back to Service in 2nd gear and facing a quick engine and gearbox swap ahead of Leg 3. In Class A Constantine was still in charge ahead of Woodcock extending his lead to almost 2 minutes.

  • Leaderboard – Leg 2
  • 1, Paul MacKinnon/Paul Beaton (Ford Fiesta R5) 1h3 35m 23s
  • 2, Daniel Harper/Chris Campbell (MINI JCW WRC) +0:36
  • 3, David Bogie/John Rowan (Ford Escort Mk2) +5:35
  • 4, Jonathan Mounsey/Richard Wardle (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) +8:09
  • 5, Calum Duffy/Iain Duffy (Ford Escort Mk2) +8:52
  • 6, Gordon Morrison/Calum MacPherson (Ford Fiesta R5) +10:06
  • 7, Eddie O’Donnell/Steven Brown (Ford Escort Mk2) +11:54
  • 8, Stephen Thompson/Larry Higton (Ford Escort Mk2) +12:00
  • 9, Shaun Sinclair/Patrick Walsh (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7) +12:27
  • 10, John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Ford Fiesta R5) +13:46

Leg 3: 4 stages – 46.09 mls

Darkness fell over the island once again, but not as fast as that bluidy rain, ahead of the re-start for Leg 3. MacKinnon was leading but Harper was little more than half a minute behind with 46 miles of rain-slicked tarmac yet to cover. MacKinnon set off as he had done earlier: Startline – light blue touch paper – explode off line – disappear!

He was fastest over the first 4 stages of the final night and further extended his slender lead although that lead increased dramatically in Stages 14, 15 and 16 as Harper dropped 27 seconds, 28 and 35 more before reaching service where all was explained. “We booked into Stage 16, 8 minutes late so we were docked a 3 minute penalty (the first 5 minutes are penalty free) which added 30 seconds to our time,” said Chris, with Daniel explaining why: “We were off. It flew a bit further than I thought it would fly, over ‘John Shirley’s leap’. Unlike Shirley I landed in the ditch rather than the other side of the dry stane wall, and just managed to power my way out. It knocked the tracking out and filled the wheels with mud so it was a handful to get it here. We must have broken a brake pipe too because we lost the brakes in the next stage and booked into the Control late because we were trying to crimp the brake line shut and get some more fluid into it.”

There was some consolation after the final Service halt when Harper set fastest time over the remaining and last stage of the night, but by that time MacKinnon was over the hill and gone. Bogie was as relieved as he was pleased to be on the podium and first 2WD car home: “There was fog in that last stage too,” said David, “this is a rally that just keeps on giving, it’s relentless, absolutely relentless.”

Calum and Iain Duffy snatched 4th place from Jonathan Mounsey and Richard Wardle on the last stage: “We gave it everything we had,” said Calum, “we left it all in the stage. This rally had everything, it was mental out there.”

Mounsey was still pleased with 5th: “There’s not a scratch on the car. We went as hard as we could, but the fog spoiled the job on that last stage,” said Jonathan, “All the Notes in the world can’t help when the fog bounces the light straight back in your face, and even when you cut the spotlights, you still can’t see.”

Rounding off the top six were Eddie O’Donnell and Steven Brown with Eddie echoing the thoughts of most folk: “It’s good to see the rally back. It ran well, with no real delays and the organisation was slick. I just wanted to finish, that was my intention from the start but on the last stage, the alternator light came on!”

Stephen Thompson scored his best result on Mull with 7th and “loved it” with Shaun Sinclair 8th ahead of John Marshall and Craig Rutherford.

It was event sponsor Marshall who came up with one of the best descriptions: “You know when you’re watching a TV programme and somebody pours buckets of water over a windscreen and you’re sitting at home saying ‘that’s fake, it never rains like that’, well it does. It was so bad at times the wipers just made no difference whatsoever, they couldn’t clear the water!”

First time out in his Fiesta, Gordon Morrison had worked his way up to 6th but retired in Calgary Bay when: “The tail stepped out just over a Right 9 crest,” said Gordon, “it smacked a rock which broke the wheel and bottom suspension arm. The damage isn’t bad, but that was it for us.” Ross Hunter’s valiant run was halted in the next stage when the Peugeot 205 slithered off the wet road. He had been holding 12th place in the ‘vintage’ machine which was powered by a 93,000 mile Xantia engine salvaged from a scrapyard, sorry, vehicle recycling centre.

Stevie Irwin managed to hang on to the lead and win Class B with Mike Storrar 2nd after a mighty effort to fix the Toyota and return to the fray. Alasdair Ingram was 3rd in his Honda just half a minute clear of the one of the fightbacks of the rally with Des Campbell finishing 4th. Mark Constantine was a convincing Class A winner ahead of Chris Woodcock and youngster Jack Hartley who dazzled onlookers with his mastery of a ‘proper’ Mini in such adverse conditions. Crikey, some of the puddles were bigger than the Mini!

At the finish, Paul MacKinnon stepped out of the car looking like he had just been out for a Sunday drive. Yes, there was relief, but there was also a glint in his eyes. Job done, and well done at that. To finish on Mull is an achievement in itself, to win on Mull is a very rare rallying experience, but to do it on the 50th anniversary just iced the cake. It was Paul’s 3rd victory on the island: “Conditions were so atrocious on that final stage, it was an absolute nightmare, I’m just so relieved and chuffed,” said Paul, “The rally went to plan and we kept within ourselves although there was a wee bit in reserve. Daniel pushed us hard in places, but the biggest challenge was the weather. It was so changeable and conditions so unpredictable.”

  • Leg 3 – Final Results
  • 1, Paul MacKinnon/Paul Beaton (Ford Fiesta R5) 2h 17m 51s
  • 2, Daniel Harper/Chris Campbell (MINI JCW WRC) +1:41
  • 3, David Bogie/John Rowan (Ford Escort Mk2) +7:41
  • 4, Calum Duffy/Iain Duffy (Ford Escort Mk2) +11:10
  • 5, Jonathan Mounsey/Richard Wardle (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) +11.11
  • 6, Eddie O’Donnell/Steven Brown (Ford Escort Mk2) +15:53
  • 7, Stephen Thompson/Larry Higton (Ford Escort Mk2) +16:15
  • 8, Shaun Sinclair/Patrick Walsh (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7) +17:25
  • 9, John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Ford Fiesta R5) +19:49
  • 10, Craig Rutherford/Fergus Barlow (Subaru Impreza WRX STI) +21:52