The Tunnocks Tour of Mull was an 'unforgettable weekend' for 2009 John Easson Award winner Mark McCulloch and co-driver Craig Wallace – even if it didn't quite go to plan.
In fact, the pair enjoyed it so much, they're already hoping they will be successful in getting an entry for next year which will allow them a second crack at 'the best rally in the world'. The midnight oil burned bright in the days leading up to the event, with Mark's Corsa 1600 undergoing some extensive repairs following damage sustained on the 'McRae Stages' the previous weekend.
Mark and Craig headed to Mull on the Wednesday for the recce and to acclimatise themselves with the demanding stages.
Said Mark: "After we had covered around 500 miles of the recce, we were happy we had a safe set of notes to tackle our first ever Tour of Mull. Instead of the normal procedure of adding things to the notes to make us quicker, we actually found we were trying to slow them down, as the tricky nature of the roads was all too apparent".
As usual, there was a great atmosphere and sense of anticipation as the event got underway from Tobermory, and the nerves really started to kick in as Mark and Craig watched the first few cars blast along the waterfront. However, they still had an agonising wait of an hour and a half until it was their turn!
Once underway, the Corsa crew faced their first big challenge – the heavy rain making for some dangerous driving conditions.
"Thanks to Tony the Kumho tyres representative, we had the car out on the best tyres for the conditions on the Friday night", said Mark. "We hit the first two stages running through the town and set some reasonable times and got rid of any nerves."
With SS3 and SS4 cancelled because of an earlier incident, it was on to the fifth stage for the Mull 'rookies', and the nerves were again beginning to jangle.
"It was only about my 5th tarmac stage in the car, my first time at night, and with the reputation of Mull uppermost, my heart was going ten to the dozen before the start marshal even said 'go' ", recalled Mark: "However it went well, we took it in our stride and I revelled driving in the dark."
So much so, that by the end of the evening, the pair had pulled themselves up to 52nd overall and 3rd in the 1600 class from a start number of 95.
Saturday dawned with what looked like dry conditions. From the start in Salen, Mark and Craig put a slick tyre on the front and went out to tackle the days' stages. The first half of Loch Tuath worked particularly well, but half way through the heavens opened and after slowing down to ensure the grip was still there, they continued to the end of the stage at a good pace, with Mark admitting to getting some 'big air' over the hump back bridges.
The Hill Road stage was next up, and following the recce, Mark thought this would be one of his favourites. However, following a wait of around half an hour, any heat in the tyres had gone and a steady run was all they could manage in the wet conditions.
However, events were about to take a dramatic turn, as Mark explained: "Into Calgary and it was going great, the roads had dried out a little and the grip was coming back into the tyres. Unfortunately when we got down to Calgary village we got under the trees and back onto wet tarmac. My inexperience and over exuberance ended up with us down in the ditch – ripping off the front wheel on the driver's side. It was a bitter disappointment after the run we'd been having".
The service crew worked flat out to get the car back out for the Saturday night Trophy Rally which, under strict orders, Mark drove for the finish and to get more mileage under his belt.
In appreciation of their tireless efforts, the rally organisers presented Mark's support team with the coveted Service Crew award.
"I must thank the 2300 Club for giving me this great opportunity and I am just sorry I couldn't quite keep it on the road", said Mark, adding: "Im also very grateful to Allan Durham the John Easson Award Scheme Manager for all his advice, to Tony at Tyres (South Shore), Kumho Tyres Motorsport Manager Steve Thompson, Alan Brown at Questmead and everyone else who helped along the way. It was a weekend I will never forget"………..