Scotland's — and many people say, Britain's, even the world's — most intense, fastest and demanding Tarmac event, the Tunnock's Mull Rally, roars into action for the 44th time this week.
As the late autumn darkness closes in on the island on Friday, October 11, the near 120 crews head out into the first of 19 stages and 157 miles of high speed, all-out action over three days and nights.Much of the attention will focus on the battle between the two drivers who finished first and second last year, Dervaig duo Calum Duffy and John MacCrone.
Plus, fellow Mull driver and 2005 winner, James McGillivray, returns to action determined to last longer than the 100-metres his Ford Escort MkII did last year before being halted by a mystery electric gremlin.
From south of the Border, John Cope from Walshaw, third last year, returns in his Impreza, while Richmond's Tony Bardy has repaired his battered Nissan Sunny GTi-R after ending last year's event upside down.
Duffy, last year's winner, has had his Ford Escort MkII refitted in Ireland ahead of the high-speed event. But significantly, he admitted this year's Tunnock's Mull Rally will be his first action since victory 12 months ago. Increased work commitments have limited his time for rallying.
"I've no trepidation about going into the rally without having rallied since last October," Duffy, co-driven again by brother Iain, stated matter-of-factly. "I've done it before and everything's been fine, though it might take a couple of stages just to shake the rust off. "It's also a long rally, which works in our favour, because if we drop time on Friday night, we can usually pick it up on Saturday."I've also nothing to prove: we'll just go out there, do the best we can, put the times up on the board, and if someone comes along and beats them, then fair dues to them."
MacCrone meanwhile, who has been contesting the British Rally Championship in his Culina Citroen, returns to the island in his M-Sport-prepared Ford Fiesta S2400, co-driven by Glasgow's Stuart Loudon.
Only the car's second outing, the engine — a 2.4-litre, rather than the 2.0, and producing 325bhp — is sitting in the bodyshelll that Miko Hirvonen took to victory in Monte Carlo.
In it's new configuration, the car has been designed for competitors using the S2000 in national championships.
"It's always great to come back and do, what I think, is the best rally in the world," John said. "We came close last year, but we'll really need to up our pace if we're to beat Calum. But it's definitely going to be fun."Rounding off last year's top three, John Cope returns having just rebuilt the gearbox of his Subaru Impreza. It's more than 10 years since someone from off the island won the Tunnock's Mull Rally, and this year all drivers will have to adapt to a number of changes."Most of the changes this year have been introduced to offer the thousands of spectators more opportunities to view the cars in action," Iain Campbell, Clerk of the Course, explained. "Friday night has the first two stages centred around the junction in Dervaig, and the opening Leg even finishes in the village at the end of the seventh special stage. "The biggest change comes on Saturday afternoon when after completing the two southern stages of Scridain and Gribun Rocks, the northern loop of three stages are run twice. This gives the spectators the opportunity to see the cars for a second time in the daylight."The closing loop mirrors that from 2012, with the action starting with the blast up Glen Aros, through Dervaig village and over Mishnish Lochs. "That's followed by the final stage, ‘The Long One,’ 22-and-a-bit miles that finishes outside the Churchyard in Dervaig. Only then will we know the winner of the 2013 Tunnock's Mull Rally."
Tunnock's Mull Rally — Top 10 seeds:
1. Calum Duffy (Dervaig) / Iain Duffy (Dervaig) Ford Escort MkII;2. John MacCrone (Dervaig) / Stuart Loudon (Uddingston) M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2400;3. Tony Bardy (Richmond) / Neil Colman (Stockton-on-Tees) Nissan Sunny GTi-R;4. John Cope (Bury) / Robert Fagg (Kirkmichael) Subaru Impreza;5. James Macgillivray (Salen) / Ian Fraser (Salen) Ford Escort MkII;6. Daniel Harper (Barley) / Chris Campbell (Barrowford) BMW Mini Cooper S;7. Eddie O'Donnell jnr (Salen) / Matt Ratcliffe (Tobermory) Ford Escort RS;8. Tristan Pye (Bishop Auckland) / Andrew Falconer (Inverness) Subaru Impreza;9. Jonathan Mounsey (Settle) / Richard Wardle (Pickering) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI;10 John Cressey (Long Preston) / Martin Cressey (Long Preston) BMW Mini Cooper S