Report by Chris Pedley
Tour Of Mull 2003
Chris Pedley (Jnr) and Chris Pedley (Snr)
Having first visited the Isle of Mull in 1977, servicing for my brother, I fell in love with the place, and recognised the event as one of the premier clubman events in the rally calendar. I achieved my personal goal in 1986 when I entered with a friend, but unfortunately didn’t finish. That year I was accompanied by my 2 year old son, Chris junior, his first word had been “car” and his second “rally!!” Over the next few years we maintained our interest in rallying from a distance (wife’s orders!) mainly spectating and occasionly servicing, we visited Mull on a regular basis and Chris’s love with the island was growing. When Chris reached seventeen and passed his driving test, the next step was obvious – his own rally car. Through fellow High Moor member Michael Plant, we managed to locate a Rover Metro, which we felt was ideal for Chris to learn the basics of our sport. We did a couple of single venue events in the early part of the year, but both events resulted in retirement due to mechanical problems, but all our planning had one thing in mind – The Tour of Mull in October. When regs were published we sent off our entry and waited. Eventually we received news that we were reserve – 17th!!! Over the next few weeks, it was a slow process of watching the website as we slowly moved up the reserve list. We then had a major decision to make. We were due to travel on the Tuesday before the event, but we were still 3rd reserve, do we take the car all the way to Mull or not? Chris was totally single minded in this and insisted that if we had a slight chance of a start then we take the car.
After an overnight drive, we arrived on the island and spent the day checking through our pace notes. As is Mull tradition, we spent the evening visiting the Tobermory hostelries and catching up with friends from previous years. In one such establishment we bumped into Peter Kenyon the entries secretary, who mentioned in passing that we had a start at number 144. This brought a flurry of mobile phone activity and at around 10pm we located our service crew were who back in Manchester, waiting for this call. Thursday was spent on recce and checking over the car, due to unavoidable work commitments our service crew was down to one person and arrived in the shape of older brother Dave (who I had serviced for on the ’77 event) later in the day. This meant that my youngest son Craig who had travelled with us was now the chief spannerman!
Friday came and the tension in the camp was noticeable, the first hurdle was noise tests and scrutineering. We sailed through noise recording 93db, but scrutineering was a little trickier. We were taken to task on a couple points, mainly the extinguisher pull cable being too stiff and the spot lamps obscuring the number plate! After much WD40 on the cable and fixing a second number plate to the front, we passed and were ready for the start. Our service back-up arrived in the form of Michael Plant who has lots of experience to share and has competed on the previous two Mull rallies.
With car 1 starting at 8pm, we had a start time of 22.09, we returned to our digs and made the most of our free time to snatch 40 winks or in some cases 80 winks!! Arriving at Tobermory around 9pm, the start procedure was in full swing and we parked in the main car park alongside fellow competitors and share thoughts and expectations. As our start time approached Chris was becoming very nervous and had took himself away to gather his thoughts. The culmination of a boyhood ambition was about to come true. The time came for us to get in the car and approach the start ramp. The first problem appeared before the start, due to the front spoiler on the car being so low, we couldn’t get on the ramp! We then had to drive round the ramp scattering the assembled crowd as we went. The nerves continued as we arrived SS1, a car had gone off and there was a 10-minute delay, whilst they recovered the stricken car. Eventually we got to the line and as the green light appeared Chris got straight into his stride and I settled into calling the pace notes, the first thing that struck me was Chris’s pace in the opening couple of miles, he seemed so at ease with the car, and she was running just perfect. After having negotiated the dreaded Mishnish Locks section, which has claimed so many people on the first stage for many years, we approached the Dervaig hairpins. I called a tight R1 downhill with caution, then looked up to see us sailing into the countryside, eventually coming to rest in a tree stump, eight foot off the road, with the rear wheels off the ground. I jumped out and my first impression was that we weren’t coming out of there. Then as can only happen in rallying, six figures appeared out of the darkness, bounced the car off the tree stump and literally picked the car up and put it back on the road.
We later learned that our guardian angels were fellow competitors whose engine expired on the way to scrutineering and had decided to marshal instead, thank goodness for their misfortune!! We had lost the best part of ten minutes in the ditch, but at least we made it to the end of the stage. Dave was waiting for us at emergency service, fearing the worst, as we were last car out of the stage. The only thing he could do was cut the bottom spots off and we were off to stage two. Having been off and now running in last place, Chris approached SS2 in a much more cautious manner, the plan was now to get through Friday night without any more drama. Having completed stage 2, we proceeded to the start of SS3, only to find a line of about 60 cars waiting at the start line. This immediately starting alarm bells ringing that something was seriously wrong, and this thought was to be proved in the worst possible way. The marshals at the start line didn’t have any information other than a car had gone off and the stage was cancelled, we were then driven through the stage in a convoy to clear us from the area. At the next control, which should have seen us booking into service, we were told the rest of the night’s stages had been cancelled and to go home and await further developments.
After a restless couple of hours trying to sleep but trying to guess what had happened, I got up and saw the website had been updated to include the tragic news that the co-driver in car 84, Susan Cameron had died in an accident on SS3. The rally organisers were to make a decision on the rest of the rally later in the morning but we were asked to report to Tobermory for our scheduled start time. Arriving at Tobermory, we learned that the organisers had consulted with the husband of Susan Cameron and his wishes were that the rally should continue. For obvious reasons the police had closed the road involved in the accident, which meant the organisers had to do a very quick route change, and all credit to them, they managed to avoid the road in question, but maintain some competitive mileage, and stay within the limits of the road closure order. We then had an hour to wait before the new start times and just before car 1 was due to start, a minute’s silence was immaculately observed in memory Susan Cameron. We then had a big decision to make – did we carry on or not. The events of the previous night had ignited a whole range of emotions, and for a nineteen year old who had never encountered anything so tragic, Chris was completely mixed up with his thoughts. Other competitors were facing exactly the same predicament and there were those who made the decision not to continue, most noticeably Daniel Harper, the winner of the 2002 event. After several discussions, Chris decided to start the first stage and see how he felt. The first stage of the afternoon section was a re-run of the first stage of Friday night, where we went off! So when we approached THAT corner, it was called more than once with more than one caution, we got round it with a huge sigh of relief. The afternoon stages were really enjoyable as Chris put his reservations behind him and started to enjoy himself. The other thing was the amount of local support we had, having been to the island so many times and stayed with the same people for many years, their families and friends were out cheering us on, and we saw them!!!
Going into the Saturday night section, we were still classified last, but still going which is all we wanted. The first stage of the night was SS16 was a 21.94-mile marathon and at the end of it, Chris was absolutely exhausted and I had all but lost my voice!!! SS17 was the first stage of the rally run in the opposite direction, heading back into Tobermory and we encountered our first spots of rain, after finishing this stage we had a long road section back into service and by the time we got there the heavens had opened. We then took the option of changing to intermediate tyres as when it rains on Mull it rains sideways! This was a good move as we immediately felt an improvement in the handling of the car. As we left service we both agreed that we had come this far, we weren’t going to throw it away, we were going to finish whatever happened. The start of SS18 was littered with cars in all sorts of positions; the rain was having its say and catching out those who dared to risk it. As planned we played safe and the next two stages were dispatched without incident. Bring on the last stage, 14 miles between us and the finish and what a road, it featured “The Hill Road” and then the blast down “Glen Aros” Taking care not to trip up on the hill road section, we approached the Dervaig junction, and even in the dark Chris suddenly recognised where he was and went for it. I doubt he even listened to the notes down that last section by that time he was in a world of his own, knowing that we had a finish on the cards, he drove brilliantly and our little Metro was singing. Passing over the flying finish was a fantastic feeling and our job was done. Lots of self-praise followed and as we came out of the last junction, Dave and Craig were waiting for us and took the picture that proved we’d made it! As we returned to Tobermory the results were being displayed on a big screen in the results room, and as our names appeared as last classified finishers, we realised we would be bringing home ‘The Ultimate Trophy’ awarded to the last classified finishers. A pot on his first Mull – The boy done good!!! In truth we only went to bring that pot back home to High Moor as Michael and Dean Plant won it in 2001!
The presentation was a very subdued affair with not a lot to celebrate, more of a remembrance of what had happened on Friday night. The loudest ovation and quite rightly so, was reserved for the co-driver of car 87, Steve Hallmark who is a trained paramedic, they had followed the Cameron’s car into the stage and come across the accident moments after it happened. Along with Susan’s husband Duncan, he put all his training into practice and even that wasn’t enough to save Susan.
We came away from the island with very mixed feelings, ecstatic that we had achieved our goal, yet devastated that the island had claimed its first victim in over 30 years of first class motorsport. The members of Mull Car Club have set up a memorial fund for Susan Cameron, to erect a permanent memorial on the island, and donations are welcome. Full details are on the Tour of Mull website at www.2300club.org on the notice board page.
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