If lateness was a virtue, then Eddie O’Donnell would be a Saint by this time. In years gone by the ‘rally garage’ lights often burned brightly on rally eve as three generations of the O’Donnell clan finally re-assembled the thousands of bits that comprise a rally car built for Mull.
All too often the preparations have been rather more last minute with Scrutineers tapping their fingers and whistling waiting for the last man through the Distillery arch with his MkII Escort!
This year will be different, so we are told: “The car is ready. It’s so ready in fact that I’m playing at a wedding dance in the Western Isles Hotel tonight,” said Eddie, “I’m doing a bit of dee-jaying to help out a friend.”
Earlier this year he had a problem with the car though: “It was rebuilt after last Mull and we put the new engine in just before the Border Counties,” said Eddie, “so we thought we’d give it a run out on our way back from the engine builder. We finished 30th overall and 3rd in class and we were quite pleased with that. The idea then was to do the Jim Clark as a shakedown on tar ahead of this year’s Mull. On the run out to the first stage, the engine failed!”
“A piston broke,” explained Eddie, “a lump broke off the side of it and that was that. The engine has been rebuilt and has been run on the test bench, but since we got it back home, I’ve done about 10 miles just giving it a run up and down the road.”
“We were fifth overall last year but my stage times would have been good enough for second but for a couple of problems. We spun off on Fountainhead and then spun and stalled again in Loch Scridain. Without that a second place might have been possible.”
Talking about this year’s Tunnock’s Mull Rally, he added: “My favourite stage is Mishnish but I think the Hill Road is the most technical, especially when the mist rolls down over the hills. It can get quite foggy at times in there, and newcomers would be well advised to bear that in mind.”
“The long stage is always my favourite. My wife Sheena comes from Torloisk, so I’ve got to know that road over the years, although I used to drive it very slowly!”
As for the competition this year: “Calum has to be the main man, so I’ll be having a look at James (MacGillivray) and Alan’s (Gardiner) times after the first couple of stages to see where we are, but everybody is a challenge on this event. Daniel Harper will be worth watching. He has a house here, so he’s up pretty often during the year and young Peter Taylor went well last year in the Clio. He’s a good lad. He had a problem last year and pulled over to let us past when he saw us catching him, and then the Clio got stuck off the road. But he’s back with the Focus and he’s done a lot of miles over the past few months.”
Eddie also had a word of advice for newcomer co-drivers: “The mood of the co-driver and the delivery of the Notes can affect a driver. If there is a bit of excitement in the voice it can push you on, and you can hear if he is comfortable with your driving, so how a co-driver talks can inspire confidence - or not!”
Eddie also had a bit of news on the three bridges that were damaged during last month’s storms: “One is finished, the other is getting tarred tomorrow and the third will have a ‘chicane’ round it, so the route is safe!”