MACCRONE DOES IT FOR MORT ON MULL
Maccrone and Loudon take second Mull win as Duffy gives Skoda brilliant Mull debut.
Amere 10 seconds separated the winners from the runners-up after 150 miles of stages on the Beatson’s Mull Rally, and the result was in doubt till the end of the final 18th stage.
Repeating their 2013 victory, the Ford Fiesta R5 crew of John Maccrone and Stuart Loudon held off the constant threat posed by the Skoda FabiaMillington of Calum and Iain Duffy.
Relief and satisfaction were both evident at the finish as Maccrone sat in the car for long moments with his head in his hands. A year on from the tragic accident which claimed the life of friend and co-driver Andrew Mort, this was an exceptionally emotional experience for Maccrone. A comforting hand on his arm from co-driver Stuart Loudon steadied the crew before they were greeted by the Duffy duo. It wasn’t only a fair sporting result, it was the right result, especially after what had happened 12 months ago. “This one’s for ‘Morty’,” said an emotional Maccrone.
The expected three-way fight lost its third protagonist on the first stage when Paul Mackinnon and Daniel Barritt put their Subaru off the road on cold tyres. Thereafter there was little to choose between Maccrone and Duffy, but Derek Mcgeehan achieved a personal target, finishing on the podium in third place.
The first stage was wet and the second one was dry, so crews were already having to make difficult decisions. Not only that, the start of the first stage was within walking distance of Tobermory so there was little chance to warm up tyres. That would be crucial as it turned out.
Maccrone opened proceedings with fastest time by five seconds from Duffy, but there was no sign of Mackinnon.
“I got caught out under braking on cold tyres, it just slid,” he said. “I put one wheel on the grass, and I was off. It was my own fault.”
That earned him a maximum time and dropped him to 138th place overall. Shaun Sinclair suffered a similar fate. “Cold tyres, slippy tar – and driving beyond my ability,” he said. The Mitsubishi Lancer E10 struck the wall at Bakery Corner, damaging the frontoffside corner, but he managed to keep going. Donnie Macdonald was another to succumb to cold tyre syndrome, smacking the side of his Lancer E9. The impact pushed the door in and struck his arm, which he then had to have strapped up to finish the rally.
On the next stage, the tortuous 14-mile run over the Hill Road and down Loch Tuath, Mackinnon took half a minute out of Duffy. The fightback was on. Meanwhile, Maccrone was having the best of it with Duffy admitting: “It was all down to bad tyre choices. We went out on supersofts and they were knackered halfway through.”
Behind those two, Daniel Harper was trying hard in the BMW Mini. He broke a wheel against a bridge parapet in the first test, but the tyre stayed inflated, then the car slid fully off the road in the next. “All four wheels on the grass, I was auto-crossing,” he said.
Less flamboyant, but carrying no less speed was local driver Lewis Gallagher. First time in the Subaru since last year’s Mull, he was right on the pace. Sadly, that battle ended abruptly in the fourth test when the Mini’s throttle cable broke and after temporary repairs, the clutch failed.
On his third visit to the island Derek Mcgeehan was battling with the Subaru of James Macgillivray, Jonathan Mounsey in the Mitsubishi and Tristan Pye in his Subaru. On the final stage of the night, Pye’s fuel pump started to fail, the car developed a misfire and he switched off rather than risk the engine. Tony Bardy didn’t even get that far. The Ford Focus developed a gearbox fault on the downshift and he was out on stage three, with Billy Bird going out in the next stage, also with a broken gearbox.
By close of leg one Mackinnon was back in 12th place, with Maccrone leading Duffy by 45 seconds. Gallagher was already two minutes behind this pair but ahead of Mounsey and the top 2WD machine, the Ford Escort Mk2 of David Bogie, but his wasn’t the only 2WD machine in the top 10. Stephen Thompson, the number 43 seed, was having a marvellous run in his similar Escort.
Saturday featured a longer run than usual in daylight with a total of nine stages, and it was dry, mostly. It also suited Mcgeehan: “I don’t mind the dark, but the local boys can get away from me – they don’t get as far away in the daylight.”
Mackinnon started leg two as he finished the first, at full chat. It didn’t last long. On the second test, the Subaru lost grip on ‘shiny’ tar, spun, damaged the car’s nose, broke the steering and blocked the stage.
That left a straight two-way fight for the lead between long-time scrappers, Maccrone and Duffy. Initially the Ford man had the upper hand, but then the Skoda started to top the stage times.
“I’m going as hard as I think it’s safe to go in these conditions,” said Maccrone, with Duffy having to push that little bit harder in heavy rain. “At least it makes tyre choice easier,” quipped Duffy, “I’d rather have it really wet than patchy wet.”
Gallagher was still holding third place although Bogie had displaced Mounsey for fourth. “The car was aquaplaning at road-going speed, never mind rally speeds, there was so much standing water,” said Mounsey. Only one second behind him was Mcgeehan going well in daylight. Shaun Sinclair was going well after his earlier bump and was up to seventh ahead of Matt Tarbutt. Sadly Thompson lost out on a potential 10th-place finish when the Escort’s rear wheels just slipped off the edge of the road and dragged the car backwards into a ditch.
The 2005 Mull winner Macgillivray’s strong showing also came to an abrupt halt in Mishnish Lochs when the Subaru broke a driveshaft, while Bruce Edwards beached his Darrian nearby and both joined the growing ranks of the retired.
It was almost dry for the start of the final leg with Maccrone’s lead having been reduced to 36 seconds, and with still 50 miles left to run.
Duffy continued to pull back a few seconds each stage, but Maccrone had a major piece of good fortune. Although a driveshaft broke on the penultimate stage, it was near the end and he was able to reach service for repairs before the final push.
Not so lucky were Bogie and Gallagher. Gallagher’s fuel pump overheated while he sat in the queue waiting to start the Scridain test and that was him out, while Bogie’s disappearance was rather more dramatic. He had been experiencing wiper motor problems and on the Loch Tuath stretch, he slid straight on at a ‘left one’ which followed a ‘left two’. No damage, but the Escort sunk to its axles in peat!
Sinclair was more fortunate. The Lancer’s rear ‘diff broke as he
approached the end of the penultimate test and was able to clatter his way into service and have it replaced.
There was bigger drama on the final stage when 11th placed Doug Weir and Linda Brown crashed out of the running and the stage had to be stopped to extract the crew.
That left the simple matter of winning to be decided between two drivers. Duffy had reduced Maccrone’s advantage to 18 seconds by the start of the final stage – which was 15 miles long.
As things turned out, it was too big an ask. “I gave it a go,” said Duffy, “but I cooked the tyres halfway through.” Nevertheless, he had cut the winner’s margin to 10 seconds at the finish.
Behind Mcgeehan, Sinclair and Tarbutt rounded out the top five.
And so ended the 47th Beatson’s Mull Rally. Maccrone and Loudon scored a hugely popular second victory on this event after their 2013 win, while the Duffy brothers just missed out on their 10th. Mcgeehan can be well pleased too with his podium finish, always reckoning that to do so had been the result of a three-year plan.
This being Mull, the rain had the last word. For the first time in seven years, the prize-giving had to be held indoors, but before he went inside Maccrone ‘toasted’ his friend and poured the victory champagne over the ‘Morty’ sticker on the front wing of the Fiesta. Job done.
Maccrone sprays champagne after his toast to Andy Mort
Mackinnon crashed out early