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It was worth the wait. Three years on from the last Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally and 50 years on from the first, the Hebridean island once again echoed to the sound of 150 rally cars competing along some of the world’s most entertaining roads.
And for the first time since new legislation was passed in Scotland earlier this year, the roads were closed by Argyll and Bute Council.
For competitors and fans, absence has undoubtedly made the heart grow fonder. In August, 53 minutes after entries opened for the first Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally since 2016, two things happened – the list, including reserves, 174 in total – was full and the event’s website melted.
Not long after, there wasn’t a bed to be had on the island during rally week.
Once again, this Tobermory-based event doubled the population of the island and generated revenue measured in the millions of pounds.
Clerk of the course Andy Jardine said: ‘At the start of the year, when we were working really hard with Argyll and Bute Council, Police Scotland and Event Scotland to put our plans together, we didn’t know if the change in legislation would get through Parliament in time.
‘Holyrood didn’t let us down and the people who came here demonstrated why that legislation is so, so important. Just for a moment, let’s put the rally aside and take a walk through the town. It’s packed. It’s not the school holidays, the summer’s gone and it’s raining.
‘The hotels are full, restaurants are doing a roaring trade and the chip van’s working overtime.
‘And everyone’s smiling. Or they would be if they weren’t asleep! Three years has been too long without this rally. Like we said before the start, autumn’s normal again. It’s been amazing.
‘I have to say a huge, huge thanks firstly to the volunteers who have braved the elements through the nights to make this happen. They’re the absolute troopers. We have to thank the competitors and the spectators for coming and joining us and, of course, Beatson’s Building Supplies. We couldn’t ask for a more enthusiastic sponsor for this rally.
‘As well as those guys, Police Scotland, Argyll and Bute Council and EventScotland who funded this year’s Mull Rally as part of VisitScotland’s directorate have been absolutely brilliant. The golden anniversary of this rally will live long in the memory.’
Motorsport UK chairman David Richards returned to the island in rally week for the first time since co-driving in a Ford Lotus Cortina in 1975.
‘It’s been a great event,’ said David. ‘I wanted to come up here after we’ve spent quite a lot of time and effort helping the Scottish Government on the closed-road legislation and the results have been fantastic.
‘To see so many volunteers, so many marshals putting so much time and effort in is great. And, of course, the organising team led by Andy [Jardine] and Iain [Campbell] who came directly up here from Wales Rally GB last week is tremendous.’
Event sponsor John Marshall was another man smiling come the early hours of Sunday morning in Tobermory. The owner of Beatson’s Building Supplies, who placed his Ford Fiesta R5 ninth overall, said: ‘This has been an incredibly tough event and I have to thank the car for getting me here, but I absolutely love this place, this island and this rally. The 50th anniversary of the Mull Rally is a really special one and for Beatson’s Building Supplies to be sponsoring it at such a milestone event, well that’s pretty special for me.’
Local star Paul MacKinnon (Ford Fiesta R5) celebrated his third victory on the Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally in the early hours of Sunday morning, taking a comprehensive win from Lancastrian Mini John Cooper Works WRC driver Daniel Harper.
MacKinnon led the 17-stage, 148-mile event from start to finish, belying his lack of time in the car and early set-up issues to clinch a 1m41s win.
‘That’s fantastic,’ beamed the winner at the finish. ‘After the disappointment of 2016 [when he went off the road] and then having to wait for three years, this is just fantastic. The car’s been great and I have to say Daniel [Harper] has driven really well. We really had to keep it all going this afternoon.
‘But that last stage, jeez, I thought we’d seen everything, but that was an absolute nightmare.
‘The conditions were atrocious. I couldn’t see a thing in the fog, but I just feel so relieved and so chuffed to make it.
‘The only downside is going back to work next week. Rally Mondays are such a come down after the adrenaline of the previous week. This amazing car will be gone, replaced by a bunch of bills and a big hangover. The only thing we can do is push on with the celebrations and make it a rally Tuesday!’
A Mull regular since 1993, Harper admitted he was happy with second after total brake failure through Ben More and Scridain.
‘I think it was a heavy landing that broke the brake pipe,’ he said. ‘But we came through two stages with nothing. We put the car back into road mode, but still trying to bring it through wasn’t easy.
‘The moment came on the Hill Road. We flew just a bit further than I thought we would over a crest. We were in the ditch for a good hundred yards after that. Look, I’m happy to get it home and we’ll be back for more next year. I love this place.’
Ahead of the event, much of the talk was of who would win the Mk 2 Escort battle. Those honours went to David Bogie. The five-time Scottish Champion delivered an inch-perfect drive to score a maiden Mull podium with third.
Nine-time winner Calum Duffy’s hopes of top two-wheel drive went out the window when he spun twice and stopped to change a puncture that wasn’t punctured on the second run over Mishnish Lochs. He dropped more than two minutes, but recovered to finish fourth with a stunning final stage to edge Jonathan Mounsey’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 by one second.
Eddie O’Donnell rounded out the top six in his Escort.
Stevie Irwin (Vauxhall Nova) and Mark Constantine (Opel Corsa) were the class winners outside of the top 10.
Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally… loving live World Rally Championship reporter Colin Clark spearheaded an all-new initiative for this year’s Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally, delivering coverage of the rally via Facebook Live to hundreds of thousands of fans around the world.
Clark said: ‘It’s been a genuine honour and privilege to work with such a committed and enthusiastic team. When we first talked about covering the event live, we did so sitting in a warm coffee shop looking at a map and fondly remembering full 4G.
‘The reality was a wee bit different, but I have to say, I’m very, very proud of what we achieved on this event. To walk through Tobermory and have people coming up to you, shaking your hand and thanking you for what you’ve done for the event is astonishing and truly humbling.’
The reach of the Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally live shows have been huge, with people watching from as far afield as New Zealand, Dubai and Canada combining to generate more than 150,000 views.