Intensive preparation paid off last weekend for Penrith rally co-driver Rachel Medich when she successfully completed the notoriously difficult Tour of Mull car rally. Rachel and driver Dave Edwards took their Vauxhall Astra to 47th place from a start number of 145.
The rally took place on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland, and it used closed public roads for the 144 competitive miles of the event.
Preparations for the rally started over two weeks before the start with Edwards and his service crew checking everything over on the rally car to make sure it was up to the job of surviving the tough conditions that Mull would present. Having contested the rally last year Rachel already had pacenotes for most of the course but these needed rehashed into the correct order for the 2009 event. The crew travelled to the island on the Monday before the rally and had a busy few days of making pacenotes for the new sections of the course and then driving each stage several times both in the daylight and at night where necessary to check the notes and try and remember as much of the stages as they could.
Friday evening arrived, the rally was due to start, and a usually calm Rachel was feeling nervous.
“I don't really get nervous before events any more but this one is a whole different ball game,” she said. “We weren't as nervous as last year that’s for sure but we were definitely biting our nails before the start.”
Their rally kicked off at 10.16pm on Friday night with two short stages in Tobermory. They were pleased to be only nine seconds down on rally leader Dougi Hall. Several crews crashed out of the event during the opening night with many more suffering mechanical problems. Edwards and Medich battled through the treacherous conditions to end the night in 80th place.
“The stages were very very slippy with the rain and there were cars off all over the place. It was a relief to get through the night. Some of the stages were cancelled and there were a few hold ups – we didn’t get back to our accommodation till 5.30am!”
“We had our first major moment of the event on the Loch Tuath stage, we took a jump a bit too quickly and when we landed all the lights went out! In the ensuing confusion I turned two pages in the notes but luckily we only had one corner and a long straight to go before service where our excellent crew fixed us up again.”
The rally restarted on Saturday afternoon with five stages in the daylight. The rain that blighted the opening night of the rally had gone and Edwards and Medich put cut slick tyres on the Astra. A good run through the stages saw them move up to 55th place at the end of the second leg of the event although the afternoon was not without incident.
“We had a big moment on the Hill Road stage where the road disappears hard right over a crest and then tightens. Added to this there is an off-camber to it and a 100 foot drop on the outside. We locked up under braking coming into it, that was a moment to have you tightening your belts believe me!”
The crew had a few hours to rest before the start of leg three which would see further stages through Saturday night into Sunday morning. Most of the stages were dry but torrential rain on the final stage nearly caught the Astra crew out.
“The whole of the final stage was one big moment, we set off into it and it was dry, yet 100 metres in the heavens opened and we had to back right off as we were on slick tyres. We kept expecting to be caught as we thought we were going so slow but as we headed up Glen Bellart we caught the car in front and chased him to the finish. We were very lucky not to put the car off the road in those conditions.”
Despite the long hours the rally attracted vast numbers of enthusiasts who braved the variable weather conditions to support the event and create a unique atmosphere.
“The atmosphere is like nothing I've ever experienced before on an event. Everyone you meet is really friendly, even the poor marshals stood outside in the driving rain and freezing wind in the middle of the night still manage to retain their sense of humour!”
“When there is a hold up, even though it's pitch black and you can't see faces, every competitor is out of the car and chatting, it's like a mutual respect for everyone that has the guts to compete on such a difficult event.
“There are some remote sections of the rally where you feel very alone, all you see whilst going through the stage is the occasional light from a radio car or a marshal's fluorescent jacket. Then you come to a spectator area or popular stage and there are thousands of people cheering you on, some with camp fires (don't blame them in that cold) all enjoying the rally and staying to watch the final competitors through.”
A tired but elated crew arrived at the rally finish at 3.06am having survived the event to finish 47th overall.
“We are absolutely thrilled to bits with the result. We went to the island with the intention of improving on our cautious result last year when we finished 65th and we really did that! 47th overall from a starting position of 145 is a massive improvement on seeding and it's an achievement we are very proud of.”
“We really need to say a huge thanks to Chris Thomas, Mal Atkinson, Colin Longton, Christian Parker and Adam and Graham Foxcroft – without them we couldn't have got the result. Also thanks to Dave's family, Sandra, Peter and Ailsa Edwards for looking after us so well.”
After their fine performance Rachel hopes to return to the island in 2010 for a hat-trick of finishes.
“We’re planning to be back next year and hope to improve further. I have already been given the task of providing a talk to the kids at Tobermory High School on rally safety next year so I hope we will get an entry to the event… hint hint!”