My long road back

John MacCrone: My long road back

For John MacCrone, the last 12 months have been like no other in his life. But a year on from the horrific crash which claimed the life of his friend, and co-driver Andy Mort, he returned to conquer the demons and win the Beatson’s Mull Rally. John spoke to Jim McGill about the challenges he’s faced, and what it meant to win his home event again.

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TWELVE MONTHS AGO, John MacCrone’s Beatson’s Mull Rally ended with his car on fire after the 90mph crash in which his co-driver, Andy Mort, tragically died. A fortnight ago, the 27-year-old from Dervaig returned home to tackle the high-speed rally on the island’s high-speed tarmac roads and sealed an emotional victory.

It’s difficult to even begin to comprehend the internal maelstrom of thoughts, images, memories and fears which must have tumbled around MacCrone’s mind in the build-up to the start of the rally in Tobermory on the Friday night.

But as he sat next to Uddingston’s Stuart Loudon — the co-driver with whom he won the Mull Rally in 2013 — in their 2016 Ford Fiesta R5, MacCrone had one goal: to win.

Sitting on the start line, in control of a high-powered rally car capable of reaching more than 100mph on narrow, single-track roads, and in autumn darkness with driving rain turning the surface even more treacherous, is not the time to allow self doubts or reflections of previous life-changing moments to rear their heads.

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But MacCrone was ‘on it’ right from the start, setting fastest time through the opening 6.77-mile stage at Mishnish Lochs. It was a lead he was never to concede, eventually winning — after 18 special stages, 160 miles and a nailbiting finale — by 10s, ahead of his old rival and nine-time winner Calum Duffy.

As he rolled his Tunnocks-liveried Fiesta R5 to a halt in Tobermory after the flying finish, and confirmation reached him he’d won, the dam of pent-up emotion, stored privately for a year, burst through.

Head in his hands, still sat in the car with Loudon, MacCrone finally allowed the tears to flow. Outside, the crowd of family, friends, supporters and rival competitors, all too aware of the significant catharsis taking place in front of them, stood back and allowed the moment to unfold uninterrupted.

“It was one of those things we just had to have between ourselves,” Loudon, explained afterwards..

“The good thing was, everyone knew what was going on, and what John had come through: there was a huge amount of respect from everybody who gave us the time, and didn’t automatically pull the doors open.
“We have to thank everybody for that. It really was a fantastic, and very special moment.”

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For MacCrone, the moment might well be seen as the end of one phase of his life, and the start of another. But it is a life which will, forever, carry the memory of his friend, Andy, with him.

“This was difficult. What happened last year is something which has affected my life a lot: and in little ways you don’t think about sometimes,” MacCrone said. “I just knew I had to be here to do it.

“At the back of my mind, all the time, is what happened last year. When you’re rallying you’re not thinking about stuff like that, but it’s always there. This is something that’s happened which will never go away, and in many ways it’s surreal.

“It’s still something you think, ‘did that really happen? Was that real life?’

“To come back for the first time, a year after what happened, to win the rally is an absolute dream come true. It’s the absolute best thing that could have happened to me.”

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MacCrone’s road back to Mull started when he committed to do this year’s Scottish Rally Championship, with co-driver Rhianon Gelsomino. His performances improved throughout the season, culminating with a win in the Grampian Stages.

But he reflects that few people realised how big the challenge he faced was.

“A lot of people tipped us to go well in the Scottish Championship, but I knew it was going to be a struggle to come back … and go fast straightaway,” MacCrone admitted.

“My bottle on some of the fast sections has definitely … last year happened on a fast section … and to come back and drive fast, in the fast sections was a massive challenge.

“I took a massive knock to my confidence; you wonder about your pacenotes; about the car; about your tyres; you wonder if everything’s going to work ok? Then you start wondering, what if this happens?

“So we had to build that up over the year. It all came together for Mull, and that feels to me like the best place for it all to have made sense.”

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In many way’s this year’s Beatson’s Mull Rally was the archetypal ‘blank canvas’ for MacCrone. His pacenotes, the Holy Grail of confidence and speed for any rally driver, were destroyed in last year’s car fire.

“I had to write a whole new set of pacenotes,” he explained. “I went out with my brother Alasdair, and uncle Peter before the rally to write new ones, because Stuart was really busy before the rally at San Marino; so he was away. So I wrote new notes with them.”

And it’s that support from family, friends and fellow Muileachs which has been pivotal to MacCrone’s journey of recovery over the last 12 months.

“The support from Mull has been incredible. My family and my friends have had to put up with a lot from me: I’m probably not the most straightforward person in the world. I can be quite complicated at times … but everybody stood by me and supported me 100%.

“Even all the competitors; all the guys I was up against, they all wished me well, and it feels quite special, to have managed to do what we’ve done.

“I don’t feel I’m alone in enjoying this success. It feels like quite a widespread thing, so I’m obviously very, very happy.”

Jim McGill

All photographs copyright of LindsayPhotoSport

John MacCrone Interview

John MacCrone Interview

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MULL RALLY WINNER — JOHN MacCRONE INTERVIEW

Before the Presentation Ceremony in the Aros Hall in Tobermory, winning driver John MacCrone spoke to Jim McGill about how this year’s Beatson’s Mull Rally was the toughest he’s ever tackled; dealing with the rally loop-by-loop; having to create a whole new set of pacesnotes after his originals were destroyed; the challenges he faced over the last 12 months; and the importance of friends, family and Muileachs.

JM: How tough have the last three days been physically and emotionally?
JMac: It was a massive challenge. There’s no doubt it’s been difficult. I came into the rally with a game plan, and we stuck to that from the first to the last stage. We knew it was going to be a long, hard event, so we knew we didn’t necessarily have to push 100% everywhere, so that’s what we tried to do.
The conditions were hellish. They were so changeable; one minute it was dry; the next there were streams running across the road. D-Mack did a good job for us: we’ve used just about every compound they have.

JM: I imagine that’s the toughest one you’ve done?
JMac: Aye; it was really hard. After last year, it was important for me to be here and do it. It was difficult.

JM: How difficult was it mentally to deal with?
JMac: No doubt about it, it was difficult. It’s something which has affected my life a lot: and in little ways you don’t think about sometimes. I just knew I had to be here to do it.
We got the deal together with Stuart and Tunnock’s, and D-Mack. That was the first hurdle overcome: then we had to go out and see how we got on.

JM: But dealing with what happened last year must have added another severe test?
JMac: At the back of my mind, all the time, is what happened last year. When you’re rallying you’re not thinking about stuff like that, but it’s always there. This is something that’s happened which will never go away, and in many ways it’s surreal.

JM: Did you start the rally taking it one stage at a time?
JMac: Perhaps on Friday night, but overall not really: on the Saturday we were concentrating on each loop of three stages at a time. Probably the biggest drama for us was the front-left driveshaft we broke on the long stage; I honestly thought it was all over at that point.
It happened six miles from the end of the stage, so we still had a long way to go; plus we had another two stages to go before Service.

JM: How good were the guys changing the driveshaft?
JMac: Incredible. And you’ve got to remember they did it in the dark, it was at the side of the road, and they didn’t have all their tools. And they did it in just under three minutes. That allowed us to check-in on-time, and not pick up a penalty which would have ruined our hopes of winning.

JM: How did you prepare for the final stage?
JMac: Just like all the others really. We knew it was going to be slippy, so we eased ourselves into it with the tyres. The bit over the Lochs we had a little bit of a go. It was just a case of being clean and fast.

JM: If you can, can you give us an insight into your emotions once you’d crossed the line and realised you had won.
JMac: We’d been concentrating on doing the rally for however long we’d been doing it; certainly many months ago. All that’s on your mind is to … well, first of all, get a car and a deal together, which is never an easy thing to do in the first place, as you know.
Then you think about pacenotes. I had to write a whole new set of pacenotes this year because all my notes got destroyed last year in the car, so it was essentially starting again from a blank canvas.
I went out with my brother Alasdair, and uncle Peter before the rally to write new ones, because Stuart was really busy before the rally at — I think — San Marino; so he was away. So I wrote new notes with them.
Then, obviously you start the rally. You’re trying to do the best you can all the time. Like I said before to you, because we were leading we were never chasing, so we were always having to manage our pace.
We weren’t going flat out: we were concentrating on going at a pace which is safe, you’re not going to do any damage, but it still has to be fast enough not to lose too much time. So you’re concentrating on that.
But then, once we got to the end and realised we’d done it, it was just a big release of emotion. Just a … the bigger world all kind of becomes real again.

JM: For everyone who is part of the Mull Rally, they could fully understand — well, only begin to feel we understand — what emotions you must have been experiencing sitting in the car with Stuart at the end.
JMac: For me, last year is still a surreal experience; it’s still something you think, ‘did that really happen? Was that real life?’
To come back for the first time, a year after what happened, to win the rally is an absolute dream come true. It’s the absolute best thing that could have happened to me.

JM: Was there a feeling that it marked the end of one phase, and the start of another in your life?
Mac: Yeh, I think so. It’s definitely been something which has affected me all year. Even doing the Scottish Championship; a lot of people tipped us to go well, but I knew it was going to be a struggle to come back … and go fast straightaway.
My bottle on some of the fast sections has definitely … last year happened on a fast section … and to come back and drive fast, in the fast sections was a massive challenge, to be honest.
I took a massive knock to my confidence; you wonder about your pacenotes; you wonder about the car; you wonder about your tyres; you wonder if everything’s going to work ok? Then you start wondering, what if this happens?
So we had to build that up over the year. And it’s all come together for Mull, and that feels to me like the best place for it all to have made sense.

JM: Finally John, how important has the support of all the people on Mull been to you over the last 12 months?
JMac: The support from Mull has been incredible. My family and my friends have had to put up with a lot from me: I’m probably not the most straightforward person in the world, I can be quite complicated at times … but everybody stood by me and supported me 100%.
Even all the competitors; all the guys I was up against, they all wished me well, and it feels quite special, to have managed to do what we’ve done and I don’t feel I’m alone in enjoying this success. It feels like quite a widespread thing, so I’m obviously very, very happy.

Photos: Copyright of Lindsay Photo Sport

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Stuart Loudon Interview

Stuart Loudon Interview

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Before the Presentation Ceremony in the Aros Hall in Tobermory, winning co-driver Stuart Loudon spoke to Jim McGill about how tough the rally was; the subdued build-up to the final stage shoot-out; navigating by the light of his mobile phone … and those private emotional moments in the car with John MacCrone seconds after it was confirmed they had won the Beatson’s Mull Rally for a second time

JM: Congratulations Stuart: great win. How tough, from your perspective, have the last three days been?
SL: It was a very good rally, very well run by the organisers, considering the issues they had with stoppages and stuff.
It’s probably one of he toughest rallies I’ve ever done, certainly in relation to the conditions. Plus we had the clutch starting to go on Friday night, and then the driveshaft at the beginning of the final leg.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, on the start line for the final stage the map light broke, so I didn’t have a map light to read the notes all he way through the last, crucial 15 miles.
Basically I had to lock my phone and use the light which was coming off the screen from the phone to read the notes. Let’s say, it was interesting.

JM: How did you prep for the final stage?
SL: We parked-up about a mile-and-a-half away from the start of the stage, and it was just us, and Calum and iain. It was very subdued; very quiet. We just chatted away amongst ourselves. Then there was a shake of the hands, and a ‘good luck’. Then go for it and get our heads down.
It was one of those moments where we knew what we had to do; just keep clean and tidy. And we were hoping that when we got to the start of the stage there wasn’t going to be a big delay, because we’d been caught out with that before.
But we were lucky: we got to the start of the stage and we were straight in within a few minutes, which meant everything was warm and working well … apart from the map light.

JM: Did the stage then go as planned?
SL: Yeh, it did. We had no moments at all, apart from one slight one near the end of the Lochs, but nothing really to write home about. It was pretty safe. A very, very measured drive from John.

JM: From your perspective Stuart, and you know John probably more than anyone in terms of being in a car, how difficult have these last three days been for him?
SL: We’ve spoken about it, and he’s said it’s been the toughest rally he’s ever done. And I don’t think that’s just physically; I think that’s mentally and emotionally too.
But you look at — and of course, this is the second time we’ve won — the first time we won in 2013, and everything went in our favour. Calum went our very early-on on the Friday night, and then the weather that weekend was bone dry.
This weekend we’ve had terrible weather conditions; we’ve had Calum on great form in his new car; and then we’ve had some mechanical gremlins as well.
But it’s just showed that John has the mental strength to be able to block out those things and just keep the head focused on the job.

JM: And clearly the release of John’s emotions at the end, once you both came through the finish line; those few minutes in the car with him must have been pretty special.
SL: Yeh, it was. And that’s one thing from the start of the rally, right up until we arrived down in Tobermory at the end of the final stage, there had been no emotion. There had been nothing like that. We were there to do a job, and that was it.
But then once we came over the finish, and it all basically became real and we knew we’d won, that’s when the emotion started.
It was very special. But it was just one of those things we just had to have between ourselves.
The good thing was, everyone knew what was going on, and what John had come through: there was a huge amount of respect from everybody who gave us the time, and didn’t automatically pull the doors open.
We have to thank everybody for that. It really was a fantastic, and very special moment.

Photos: Copyright of Lindsay Photo Sport

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Car 18 update

DOUG WEIR and LINDA BROWN: UPDATE

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The crew — Doug Weir and Linda Brown — of Car 18, which went off in last night’s final stage and who had to be taken to hospital, have been in contact to give us an update, and thank the people involved in their treatment.

Doug is now back at his house on Mull, resting. Co-driver Linda was flown to hospital in Glasgow for further examination and tests. These proved to be clear, and she will remain in hospital overnight simply for observation.

Both Doug and Linda wished to pass on their thanks to the rescue crew, marshals, ambulance and doctors who treated them at the scene. They are also grateful to all the well-wishers who have sent them their support.