When we first heard that Jimmy McRae was entered in the rally, Nick was pretty excited by it all. I would receive random text messages from my 32 year old brother saying "...I need to get Jimmy's autograph...." or "Do you think we will be able to get Jimmy to take a photo with us and the car?". Anyone who knows Nick will understand why I found this so amusing. He very rarely gets excited about anything. Sure, he was looking forward to the rally, eager to get started and was in awe of the fact that we'd managed to pull it all off to get here, but full blown "kid-on-Christmas-morning" excitement was unusual for him.
So when he found out that our Uncle Jeremy knew Ian Grindrod, Jimmy's co-driver, his main mission was to convince Jimmy McRae to sign the rally car.....oh yes....we'd graduated from a simple autograph or photo to actually signing the Canadian flag vinyl on the roof of the rally car.
While waiting for the start festivities to get underway, Nick actually accomplished his mission. I saw him standing there waiting for him to wander over & was surprised I didn't see Nick jumping up and down with his marker pen! hahahaha.....thanks Jimmy, you're a good sport!
"HANS done up?"........yep
"Helmet done up?".....yep
With our stage start safety ritual complete, the fire extinguisher armed, lights on, first handful of corners read out and the ALS switched on, we now sit and wait for the countdown in "5.....4.....3....2....1, GO!"
It turns out the stage is slightly faster in the rally car than the recce car! Go figure! What a start. Hot out of the gate, it takes us a kilometre or so to get into the rhythm but it doesn't slow us down much. Nick attacked the stage straight away in his usual style even though the conditions were rather wet and the rain was still coming down. Trusting our note writing skills, it was now just a case of me reading what was in front of me and Nick driving what he hears. Good notes help us go as fast as possible right off the bat. Other than when questionable road conditions (like Rallye Perce Neige in the snow & ice) come into play, we very rarely 'take it easy on the first stage'. We don't want to put it off the road but we didn't come all this way to have a scenic Sunday drive around the coast either!
Suddenly after passing the 6.36 mile marker and radio car, things start to take a turn for the worst. Luckily it's a fairly straight section but for a couple of seconds I lose my interior light. At first I'm not sure exactly what's wrong and I'm trying to fix my overhead light when Nick coasts to the side of the road voicing "No Power".......no power as in no lights? no ignition?......it turns out no accelerator. We have had similar incidences where its been necessary to switch the car off and on a couple of times until it starts, but this didn't seem to be working.
As usual, Nick gets the obligatory 5 seconds to attempt to get us out of our current situation before I am popping my belts and running off down the stage with my triangle. We were parked up on a fairly straight section and well off to the side so it wasn't really necessary for me to slow cars down too much.
As I'm down the road, in the dark...because I always forget to grab a flashlight as I'm booking it down the road before the next car catches us.....I hear the car start up again. Really?? This reminds me of Tall Pines last year! Despite the yelling from spectators who had somehow found their way out to the middle of the stage, that I should "go go go....he's got the car going again...", I had to wait for another car to pass so I know I have about a minute before the next car is upon us. Once it passes us, I take off sprinting back up the road. As much sprinting as I can do, in the dark, uphill on wet tarmac in my race suit and helmet.
The relief that the car was running again was short lived and we managed to coast it about 100ft up the road before it stopped again. Cue my stage running abilities again. It seemed the car only wanted to move a few feet before we lost momentum so the next 5 minutes was spent with Nick switching the car on and off and seeing if he could get it to a safe place to park it off the road. Which meant my job was stand out in the road with the triangle, moving it up every so often once he was able to drive the car a little further. Still with no flashlight..........Enter from stage left - Random Spectator group number 2!! While the one helpful guy was assisting Nick parking up the Subaru, his buddies were shining their giant flashlights on the road so I could see where I was going. Along with cheering me on and requesting engine noises as I was running! Not sure about engine noises, but oxygen sure sounded like a plan right about then!
Eventually finding 1 bar (of signal, not alcohol) I made the call to the Emerg number. The emerg number located on every page of the routebook connected you straight to radio control. It was an easy way for them to know exactly where you were and if you were ok or not. We had been instructed at the drivers meeting to give names, car number, location and situation - not to just ring in and hang up. Once I'd confirmed we were fine but the car may need flat towing out I called our crew.
Iain attempted to explain, with poor signal and wind whistling past my ears, how to cut and splice wiring in order to bypass the wires with the issue...oh ok I'll get right on that!!
Cautiously climbing my way back down the rocky hill I tried to explain our wiring mission to Nick. He looked at me like I was making it up. "I swear that's what Iain told me to do!!"
With no clue as to what we were actually doing, we went beneath the dash, unplugged wires, jiggled fuses, and without having to cut and splice anything we managed to get the car started, and kept it running for a long time. It couldn't be that easy? could it?
Back in service, the parents, who had found us a good service location in Tobermory had to repack all the equipment and head back to the house. Our chase car crew also headed home having been sat at the side of the road waiting for us to come through the 2nd stage before heading to SS3 Glenaros.
On our drive back the car never faltered once, until we turned into the driveway and out of the blue Nick decided to test his handbrake turn skills. The wheels locked and the car went straight! hmmmm That's not supposed to happen!! File that away as another point to mention to Iain.
By the time we'd returned to the house after we had everything organized for the next morning with the competitor liaison officers making sure we could re-start the next day, it was late and we left our crew to it. If they could fix it they would, if not.....well.....we weren't going to think about 'if not' because we'd come a heck of a long way to run 6 miles.
4am - That's what time dad and Iain finally finished working on the car. To keep things simple....plus I don't really understand it all myself.....they had to remove the diff controller completely which appeared to be causing issues with relays and by unplugging the wires the previous night we had somehow managed to reset enough to drive us home, but by no means fixed the issue. Ok, so now we were heading into the 2nd leg of the rally with no diff controller, the centre diff locked and no handbrake. Oh this sounds like fun!!
Woohoo!!! A full stage completed!! Granted only 2.6miles but it felt great to have done it, setting the 6th fastest stage time at that! Passing fellow competitors and long time family friend Nicola Harper and her co-driver Suzanne as they were heading towards the stage, they were all smiles, honking the horn and giving the thumbs up to us! Finally, lets get this rally started.
Pumped up after a stage with no issues we headed over to SS8 Loch Kinloch. Now this was a stage I was looking forward to, perhaps because it started outside the house we used to vacation at as kids, who knows, but I did know it was going to be a lot of fun.
With a very dicey corner mid-stage and a chicane we didn't realize was there we managed to set a 24th fastest stage time. Our 'note-to-self' from that stage was "When you mark a corner as 4Rcut/Jmp....you actually have to CUT the corner.....otherwise it's much tighter and the road isn't where you thought it would be when you land!!" Two wheels off in the grass/bush when we landed a was a BIG moment, but Nick recovered well and we went on to finish the stage. The in-car footage captured it all and even watching it now I cringe at the landing thinking we were VERY lucky!
The surprise chicane? well that was all my fault. In the route book its actually marked as a type of junction, but glancing through the routebook on recce it didn't jump out at me, so essentially the regular road goes straight but the rally route jogs off left, down a drive, around some huge hay bales and then back up onto the main road again. Luckily we hit this in the daylight, because the night before the same stage was run in reverse and it would have been the black plastic wrapped bales that we came across first on a flat out left hander in the dark. Yikes!
Next, onto the Griburn Rocks stage, but in reverse, named Knock SS9. My favourite stage on recce and although it was quite daunting in areas, I couldn't wait to run it. We made it all of about 2 miles into the 8.3 mile long stage before our 2nd retirement of the weekend. This time, bellied on the skid plate in a ditch on the outside of a corner. The car just seemed to let go mid turn and we dropped our right wheels in there. For once it wasn't me running up the road with triangles it was Nick as my door was stuck against the ditch and I couldn't get out of the car.
The ditch was just deep enough that the car was grounded on the skidplate so we had to try to jack it up high enough to get the ground clearance. With the ditch being a couple of feet deep numerous trips up the hillside were made to gather stones. We'd jack the car up.....fill the ditch with stones.....jack it up more.....add more boulders. We attempted to fill the ditch high enough so that we could get enough momentum to pop ourselves back out. To no avail. Even with the help once again of a couple of random spectators we couldn't budge it. We have been asked many times why we didn't get someone to tow us out, but the daylight stages are run at 30second intervals between cars, so we felt it was too dangerous to have someone stop to help with so little time between competitors. There are other tricks of the trade that we'd learnt over the years, but they would have involved us blocking the road and therefore again not safe at all!
So we sat there. Trust me, a valiant effort was made to get ourselves out, but once we maxed late there was no point continuing to run up the hillside. As we knew it would, the recovery truck took all of 3 seconds and 2ft to pull us out of the ditch. VERY FRUSTRATING!
I'd already called us in to radio control, letting them know we were stopped, the road was clear, we were safe and reassuring them that no spectators were getting too close to the rally cars. It seemed we were getting to know radio control better than any time control marshals. I called the number and told them car 29 was off on stage but ok......to which they replied "ok Kelly, thanks for letting us know" oh great...they know me by name....that's exactly how you want to be remembered!!
Again, the service crew (both in Tobermory and the Chase car) head back for a few hours. Dad is convinced the people located near them for service don't believe they even have a rally car to crew for, and that perhaps they just like setting up the equipment and pretending seeing as that's 2 days in a row they've sat there in the same spot watching other rally cars come and go.
Having scrutineered AGAIN in order to restart leg 3 we were slotted back into the pack where we had started the event, in 25th position. With only 2 stage times to assess us with we were grateful the organizers felt they could still let us run in that position.
Leg 3 started with SS16 the in-town Tobermory stage. 0.89 mile around the harbor and up through the houses in the town. You then made your way back down to the harbor front to start SS17, the longer 7.3 mile Tober/Mishnish Lochs stage.
The very cool thing about these two stages was that they both started at the same place. Back to running minute intervals for the night stages, once you had completed SS16, you slotted back into the pack at 30 second intervals to run SS17. Just before the end of SS16 there was a junction. For the short stage, competitors turned left heading for the flying finish just beyond it, but for SS17, competitors went straight ahead, in the direction of Dervaig. Slotting in 30 seconds behind cars still running the in town Tobermory stage meant the cars on the longer stage were still 1 minute apart. Very well run. It seemed to run very smoothly from a competitors point of view, and allowed spectators to see lots of cars coming through the town stage. Great fun along the harbor front but the tight hairpin uphill between the shops could have been better assisted with a handbrake!
Transitting back through the Glenaros stage towards Salen Nick turns to me and says "huh, I wasn't wearing my glasses". What??!! Nick always drives the rally car in the dark wearing glasses, I'm surprised we made it through the stage as well as we did!
When we pulled into the side of the road where they were located, the grins from them was fantastic. Yes, we finally got far enough for them to see us, and we were still good to go to the next stage! With only a water top up needed for me, we bid them farewell and headed to Griburn Rocks and Scridain. By this point it was a case of lets just get through the stages, don't go too crazy and get to the end. As much as I loved Griburn, our pass through it was a little dodgy. I don't really remember too much about either stage to be honest, it was just a case of read the notes, get in and get out. As much as I trust Nick's driving, at this point I really didn't trust the car, and Griburn is NOT the stage to be doing if you don't trust the car you are in.
Thanks to friends of ours taking a look through our route book, we were able to locate the 'surprise chicane' so we didn't come across those hay bales all of a sudden, and Scridain was much the same as Griburn with a couple of 'moments' of its own; get it done, get to service, and lets tackle this 34KM final stage of the night.
Well, that didn't quite go to plan either. I mean, nothing else really has all weekend so why should it?!
Pulling into the finish time control of SS19 Nick noticed the temp gauge was high, and when I say high I mean off the charts!
Heater was on, ALS was off, there wasn't much more we could do. It was a case of baby it back to service or pull over and park it. Luckily we had signal and managed to call our crew. We were 15 miles from service and with no coolant leaks that we could see we gently drove it to regroup where we were able to collect enough bottled water to make a slight dent in the temperature, and the 20 mins cooling down period helped us.
Finally our first attempt at service and with a suspected head gasket issue we were done. Retired. Again. Wow! What an event. Everything that could go wrong did. We filled up the rad and again gently drove it back to the house. On the plus side, the HUGE stag crossing our path just outside of Craignuire was magnificent!
We are the first to admit it was not how we wanted our event to go at all. We knew we had the pace to set some respectable times and yet we didn't really get chance to prove ourselves. Rallying isn't always sunshine & smiles though. You have to take the highs with the lows. The fact we'd made this trip over there, as a family, met up with friends we haven't seen for years and fallen back into easy fun & conversation like we'd never been away was fantastic. What an experience. An amazing rally, and if we can ever save up enough money to return, we'd be back in a heartbeat!
The following day we headed to the prize giving ceremony in Tobermory. Both of Graham's daughters finishing the event - with Donna & her driver taking 2nd place in Class 3 and 13th O/A - and many other friends we'd made along the way also doing very well. It was great to see Calum Duffy and his co-driver Iain topping the podium in their MkII Escort. Flanked by two Subarus they'd all pushed hard and had a great run all weekend. With one of the wettest Mull rallies to date, everyone seemed to have had a fantastic event.
As it turned out we wouldn't be going home empty handed. Picking up the Gary Bratt Memorial Trophy for a Service Crew award. Having been preparing for this event since Oct 2013 and all the work that went into getting the car to Scotland, setting up phantom service areas at the event etc, our service crew definitely deserved to be acknowledged!
Hahah pretty sure that will be MINUS the rally car though, but I'm all up for another Mull vacation in 2015.
Thanks to everyone involved with the event; organizers, volunteers, spectators, fellow competitors, family & friends. It was an adventure that's for sure. Without the hard work of everyone pulling together to make this all happen we wouldn't have had the chance to participate. Congratulations to the event organizers themselves for putting together a great rally. Not only was the promotion & running of the event very well done, but we were made very welcome, and sure hope we can return to compete in the future.
Thanks to our crew at Planet Motorsport for prepping the car....lets hope we can figure out what the issues are and get it back on stage roads as soon as possible.
Also the amazing support we received from friends following back home was great. With limited cell signal we were unable to update social media regularly the way we had intended, but we were constantly flooded with well wishes and encouraging words to keep us on track. It was very much appreciated.
Until next time Mull. Thanks for the fabulous memories. It was a BLAST!