Spectator Story

For more than two decades, motorsport fan Derek Stewart has made the journey north to watch the Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally. It’s a pilgrimage in a tent. Here he tells us what makes October in the Western Isles so special and so appealing.

It’s dark. Very dark. Daylight? Still two hours away. At least. I’ve just done that thing where you turn your pillow over in high dudgeon – a demonstration that sleep is still swerving this particular rally fan.

Why the wide awake?

There’s somebody snoring. In the next field.

Even worse, thumping my head back into my pillow reveals the other side has been up against the side of the tent and is now soaking wet.

The rain is incessant. It hasn’t stopped since Sunday. And when daylight does finally do its thing, this will be Thursday.

Welcome to the Western Isles at summer’s very far side.

And, do you know what, I wouldn’t change a thing. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now.

It’s Thursday, shakedown’s coming. Kettle on, tea’s made and the remainder of a half-eaten pork pie will do for breakfast. First breakfast, that is. Second breakfast is a tradition in the car park of Duart Castle: a bacon sandwich watching the last of the late brakers arriving into Craignure via Calmac.

Shakedown for this Beatson’s Building Supplies-sponsored festival of island fever enjoyed, it’s back up to Tob for a lunchtime look around the Ledaig Car Park. Our trip is always a 10-dayer to the island and one of the best things about being over there early is watching the service vans, trailers and rally cars arrive. As the car park fills, so the excitement builds.

It’s like no other rally in the world. You’ve got drivers and co-drivers still out, running one last recce before they come back and potter for another day or two on their cars. Ahead of the event, it’s so fabulously laid back, everybody’s got a moment to catch-up or share a brew.

But when Friday evening comes around, it’s time to pile back into the van and get across the Lochs to Dervaig. Get in early, park up in the village and walk back up the road a wee while.

Buried in among the ferns, we all hunker down – four umbrellas all interlinked make for a decent shelter from the continued rain. Course cars through at an increasingly rapid rate, but still nothing prepares you for the urgency of car number one.

The revs run higher, the lights burns brighter and… boom. Into view. Paul MacKinnon, Calum Duffy or John MacCrone (most likely Daniel Harper this year), it doesn’t matter who it is, the sensory overload is just the same.

Standing watching, just down from the last hairpin right, the rain is running off my nose, my wellies are slowly filling with water and this, the official programme, is something of a sodden mass in my hand. I’m transfixed. This is what brings me back to the Inner Hebrides year-on-year.

Like the thousands standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder, my year pivots around this place, this event and this very beautiful island.

Another big draw is the Bear Pit. Friday night in the Bellachroy Inn is fantastic. There’s a pint waiting with a wee dram from just down the road alongside it. All that with the sound of pintos and BDAs passing right outside the front door.

Out the Bell, turn right and straight into the graveyard for the last stage of the first night. Down the Glenn and the cars turn left towards Calgary right beneath you. The rain’s stopped, and the wind has cleared the cloud out to leave the sort of sky that would have had Patrick Moore on the edge of his seat.

Forget the aurora, these most northern of lights are spearing the inky blackness in search of the next apex. The Friday night crowd is the best, the cheers go up for the leaders, but the volume is cranked up further for anybody who offers a midnight donut at the junction.

It’s pure magic.

Back to the tent, but nobody can sleep. Nobody wants to. Why would you after what we’ve just witnessed. There’s a fire going, we gather around and share blurry videos of blurry rally cars along with a bottle of single malt.

Sunshine for Saturday morning means the gas-ring can be fired up. The smell of bacon and eggs catches on the weekend breeze and brings the campsite to life. Today has to be relished. Every moment. Today’s the one full day of sport before we embark, once more, on the 363-day wait to do it all again.

But before we get into the afternoon’s action, there’s another tradition – the queue for the chip van in the centre of Tobermory. Those in the know, know. Best fish and chips in the world and not just because they can be eaten while watching the likes of Eddie O’Donnell or Tristan Pye fine-tuning their motors ahead of leg two – but mainly because the drivers and co-drivers are likely to be landing their lunch from the same place.

Amazing to think this same stretch of road through the heart of Tobermory will be used as a stage this year – the town centre test returns to make the 50th running of the Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally.

There’s no shortage of viewing on offer through the afternoon, evening and night – but the atmosphere in Craignure at the final service before the final stage is something special. If there’s a battle on, you can cut it like a knife. If there’s a battle on and the weather’s still making its mind up, the defence of tyre choices is rivalled only by a typically knife-edge Monte Carlo WRC season-opener.

It’s brilliant.

It’s also when you want to freeze the moment. In a matter of hours, the easy-ups will be down and the service barges turned to face the boat home.

In the blink of an eye, another Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally’s done and the island reverts to being just the most beautiful place in the world.

Don’t worry, it’s only another 51 weeks before we’re back for the best rally in the most beautiful place in the world.

Just enough time to dry the tent out.

Same time next year? You bet.

Ready for the 5-0

Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally ready for the big 5-0
 

It’s entirely possible Brian Molyneux and his team missed the moment. On July 21, 1969, the Lancastrian 2300 Car Club was likely considering whether a selective from Craignure to Tobermory was cleanable. 

When Neil Armstrong nipped out of the Lunar Module Eagle and pondered the size of step he’d just made, plans for the very first Mullard Tour of Mull were well and truly underway. Like Apollo 11’s marginally more famous journey, Mull’s maiden event wasn’t the work of a moment.

It was an idea born out of a Molyneux family camping holiday at Glengorm Castle in 1968. While he might have been following the progress of the Space Race, Brian was, instead, looking at the lanes surrounding the campsite. To most, they were just a means of getting around the Inner Hebridean island. To him they represent a blank canvas ready for him to paint what would become one of rallying’s best-loved and most cherished pictures. 

That picture has been re-drawn 49 times since 1969 and now it’s ready to turn 50. 

But what really makes Mull the challenge that it is? To understand that, you need to look a little further into history. Like 50 million years ago, when lava flows weathered the island’s basalt mountain areas into terraces. It’s the geology as well as the geography which laid the foundations.

The first Tour of Mull took place nine years after the very first ‘closed’ special stage on the RAC Rally and road rallying was very much the mainstay. Saturday night in country lanes up and down mainland Britain were filled with the throaty roar of Lotus Cortinas and twin-cam Escorts.

Mull offered something different. Yes, there were the exceptional roads, but there was also the sense of adventure. Packing the car, then packing the car onto the boat and heading west out of Oban. It was different. It captured the imagination.

Two years in and rallying royalty from the moment Roger Clark was on the entry list. Sadly his car was damaged in a road accident on the way to the start and he didn’t compete. Twelve months on and Clark ended 11 years of Scandinavian dominance to win the RAC Rally. To put that into context, it would be like Elfyn Evans heading north and bringing his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 with him in October.

Born out of Lancashire, it was six years before the Tour of Mull was won by a Scottish crew when Ian Gemmell and Frew Bryden topped the metaphorical podium with their Avenger. That trend was about to be reversed. When marshals at the end of the ‘The Long One’ saw the times coming from Neil MacKinnon’s RS2000 in 1977, they knew something was on the way.

In 1980, it happened. In the sort of conditions seemingly only Mull can produce – the sort of pouring rain which leaves the lanes looking like the tide’s come in – MacKinnon edged acknowledged road rally expert Mike Pattison by four seconds to win in his Sunbeam Lotus. That was the first of three in a row – but those three in a row would grow into an astonishing record of 12 wins in the next 27 years. And when, in 2008,  the engine cried enough aboard his Subaru at the end of Gribun, guess what? His son Paul was there to pick up the mantle and score win #13 for the MacKinnon family.

The Eighties were a decade of transition for the event. The lanes themselves, for a while the domain of icons of road rallying like Pattison and Ron Beecroft, were being taken back by the locals. 

But the biggest change came in 1989. For the first year since 1969, the Tour of Mull didn’t happen. Road rallying was going through great change and when the event couldn’t secure a permit for 1988 it ran as a stage rally through the forests and across private estate roads. The only way to bring the event back to the lanes would be to take out an Act of Parliament to close the roads. The 1989 event was lost to this expensive bureaucracy, but the dream was realised at the top of the Nineties when the Act was massed in March 1990.

Later that year, rally cars were spotted in the Mull lanes in full flight – in daylight. A capacity entry took up the challenge of 170 competitive miles. Local star Andy Knight won in a Nova and did the same again 12 months down the line. Chasing a hat-trick in 1992 (and with Scotland’s only World Rally Championship-winning co-driver Robert Reid alongside), Knight was leading, only to drop it on the Lochs.

This was the year Calum Duffy made his debut as a driver. He’d co-driven as a 16-year-old in 1991, but installed his father Hugh into the left-hand seat of a four-door Escort and landed 10th overall. 

Duffy’s speed grew through the Nineties, but nobody could challenge five straight wins for Neil MacKinnon. Calum finally put the Duffy name on the trophy in 1998. For the next two decades, only two names: Chris Griffiths (1999) and Daniel Harper (2002 and 2021) would interrupt local success. 

A big change for the event came in 2010, when Mull Car Club took over the organisation from 2300 Car Club. The name changed to Mull Rally, but the ingredients were all the same. 

Arguably the biggest moment for the island came in 2021, with inclusion in the prestigious British Rally Championship calendar. The nation’s best would come and do battle with the locals in a much anticipated rally.

In the end, it was neither a local (although he pretty much is…) or a BRC runner in Harper who took a dominant win. 

In half a century, the Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally has failed to happen on just four occasions – three of those for reasons involving the politics of governance and regulation and the other one for the global pandemic – but as the 50th running gets underway, enthusiasm, ambition and appreciation for one of the world’s great events burns as bright as ever. 

Mull Full (again)

  • Mull full (again)

  • Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally sells out in a matter of minutes
  • Stars align and head for the Isle of Mull from October 13-16 
  • Capacity 150-car entry makes for a celebratory 50th running of the event 

Not only is the Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally the longest and most challenging in the UK this season, it turns out it remains the most popular.
 
Entries opened for the October 13-16 event at 1930 on Friday evening and within three hours the Tobermory-based event had already received confirmation from more than 150 crews.
 
A delighted clerk of the course Richard Crozier said: “This is fantastic news for the event. When a team gets together and organises a rally, we are fundamentally putting ourselves in the shop window. We sit alongside other events around the UK and Europe and we ask competitors to make a decision. 
 
“Overwhelmingly, they have voted with their feet in favour of Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally. I want to thank them for that – not just from our team, Argyll & Bute Council but the island itself. This event brings massive commercial and economic benefit at a time when the season is starting to wind down for the year.
 
“I’ll be honest and say there were a few nerves around on Friday afternoon as we prepared to launch the event entries online and 180 minutes later we were done.”

That capacity 150-car field is in for a real treat in October. Not only is the Tobermory street stage back for the first time since 2014, there’s the very (very) long one from Loch Tuath through Calgary and down Glen Aros on Saturday night to look forward to. 
 
The 145-mile route runs across 16 stages, two nights and one afternoon. 
 
Further details of the entry list will be revealed in coming weeks.
 
Richard added: “It’s very fair to say, all the ingredients are there for another absolute classic. There will be plenty of local rivalries being renewed and a certain Daniel Harper defending his superb 2021 victory at the wheel of his Mini John Cooper Works WRC.
 
“Naturally, we will see some of the crews falling by the wayside – this always happens. If you’re one of the competitors out there who think they have missed out on an opportunity, keep an eye on the Mull Rally Facebook page for any possible late entries.
 
“For now, I want to thank all the competitors for their incredible support and for the whole team who have already put so much work into this year. See you on the island!”

Carbon Positive

Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally is open for business and looking to the future
  • Scottish island event reveals partnership with Carbon Positive Motorsport
  • Entries for the October 13-16 event open on Friday August 5 at 1930
  • Spectacular route planned for the 50th running of the Hebridean autumn classic
With the 50th running of the Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally in October, the event’s history is very much in focus. An association with Carbon Positive Motorsport demonstrates, however, that the future remains front and centre for the Scottish island’s biggest sporting event of the year. 
 
With entries for Britain’s longest rally of 2022 opening on Friday August 5 (head here at 1930 to secure one of the 150 places), there’s never been a better time to join forces with the ground-breaking Carbon Positive Motorsport to offset emissions from the October 13-16 event.
 
Competitors visiting the Tobermory-based event will be invited to sign up at www.carbonpositivemotorsport.com to ensure their carbon emissions will be negated by a programme of tree planting, environmental restoration and rewilding.
 
Clerk of the course Richard Crozier said: “We’re all very aware of the climate challenges we face right now and that’s why I’m delighted to talk about our new partnership with Carbon Positive Motorsport, the world’s first dedicated carbon offsetter in motorsport.
 
“It’s great to know that Britain’s longest rally will have minimal impact on the planet in terms of carbon emissions. We will work with the team at Carbon Positive Motorsport to calculate precisely how many litres of fuel and number of tyres have been used on the event and that dictates the extent of the Carbon Reduction Units required to cover that emission footprint.”
 
The cost of £29.50 towards the costs of running the programme is included automatically in the digital entry form, although competitors can untick the box to opt-out.
 
Carbon Positive Motorsport is also offering all Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally competitors and spectators a 20% discount on their standard web shop prices, to encourage all travelling to the event to help bring a greater positive environmental impact.
Crozier added: “Naturally, we would love to see all 150 cars running those stickers in October. This is something which is very important for us all.
 
“This announcement comes at a really exciting time for the event, with entries opening on Friday. We’ve worked so hard on a route which is worthy of the 50th running of what we regard to be the world’s best event.
 
“We’ve got a 30-mile stage on Saturday night, the return of the Tobermory stage and a raft of other route revisions coming. This year’s shaping up to be an absolute golden classic – an event well worthy of a typically packed entry.”