Bolton le Sands rally driver Dave Edwards enjoyed a very successful Mull Rally last weekend when he claimed 32nd place overall from a 130 car entry, his best ever result on the island.
With Edwards' regular co-driver acting as team manager this year Brampton's Caroline Lodge was drafted in to navigate his New Breed UK-backed Vauxhall Astra. The event is one of the toughest in the UK with the competition taking place over very tight and twisty tarmac roads, mostly during the night, so it was vital that the new pairing worked well together.
Leg 1 of the rally kicked off on Friday evening with the 14 mile Glen Aros stage. The intention was to start cautiously but as soon as the flag dropped Edwards was pushing hard and within a few miles he had caught the car that started a minute ahead, executing an overtaking manoeuvre in front a large crowd of spectators in Dervaig village. Starting from car 85 Edwards was already up to 61st place. With the second stage cancelled due to an accident Edwards headed to the Loch Scridain test, a short but very demanding stretch of road. Another good performance saw him move up the leaderboard to 52nd.
"My plans to take it easy at first went out of the window and we were pleased with the pace, especially catching the crew in front," said Edwards. "Loch Scridain went well too, the stage had claimed a few victims so we kept it tidy and didn't take any risks."
Three further stages completed Leg 1, Edwards and Lodge had no problems other than a slight moment on the notorious "Steps" section of the Calgary stage. They ended the leg in 47th place.
Leg 2 saw the only stages to be held in daylight and the Astra crew continued their climb up the leaderboard over the 35 competitive miles, gaining a further seven places to move up to 40th.
"The daytime stages were good and I was pleased with our performance. Our main problem was with the tyres, we were using a soft compound and they were getting too hot and losing grip. This cost us a bit of time on the Mishnish Lochs stage."
The third and final leg was the longest and, with it being held entirely in the dark, it would provide a very tough end to the event. Edwards and Lodge again sufferered tyre problems on the opening stage of the leg, a 22 mile run past Loch Tuath and around Calgary. There was drama in the following Mishnish Lochs stage as a washer fluid bottle almost ended their event.
"The washer bottle is inside the car and it came loose part way through the stage, leaking fluid which caused the windows to steam up. I tried using the heated windscreen but this failed and we were left with very poor visability which contributed to us going off the road at a tight bend near the end of the stage."
"Fortunately I kept my foot on the accelerator and we bounced out of the hole we landed in, it would've been very easy to have rolled the car there which may have spelt the end of our rally. We did suffer some damage though, a wheel and stud was broken and we had a flat tyre till the end of the stage. The service crew did a brilliant job in service to get the car fixed ready for the remaining stages."
With his confidence dented slightly with the off Edwards did not push so hard in the following stage but he was back on the pace for the final two stages, especially in the final 14 mile stage where he gained seven places on the leaderboard to finish a brilliant 32nd as the crews crossed the finishing line in Tobermory.
"I'm very happy with the result, my aim was to improve on last year's finishing position and I achieved that. The car performed really well and Caroline did a great job navigating, especially as it was the first time we had competed together. Thanks to everyone who made the event happen and all my team."