What do you do when you turn 40-years-old? Take up golf, buy a holiday home, or join a gym.. Well, Jason Mitchell decided to do things a bit differently when he hit the landmark number.
It is just over a year since Mitchell bit the bullet and started his first-ever rally. After putting it off for 20 years, the County Tyrone man has now ticked off nine events in his Ford Fiesta R5. Last weekend’s Terras d’Abodoreira Rally was his third European rally in a row.
Such quick progression has been fuelled by Mitchell’s desire to be one of the quick guys when rallying returns in Ireland. Impressive early results, like his Cam Trophy Time Trial win last summer, prove that he has the natural talent to back up his healthy ambitions.
Having to travel overseas to build his rally driving experience, it hasn’t taken Mitchell long to realise the unseen work that goes into setting fast stage times.
“For me, the driving has been the easiest part of rallying,” explained Mitchell. “It is everything else that goes around it that makes it difficult.
“If I can get the notes right and I can get a wee bit more experience without doing anything stupid I think I can get up there.
“Last weekend was a big confidence boost for me because I could see the notes were starting to work and I could see where I was losing time.”
Mitchell finished 16th overall on the competitive Terras d’Abodoreira Rally with several R5 drivers using it as a warm-up for Rally Portugal which takes place in the same region later in May.
“Portugal went fine, from my own point of view it is just about trying to get more experience to understand what I need from my pacenotes and be able to translate that into my driving.
“That’s the biggest reason why I went to Portugal because I struggled with my notes in the Canaries.
“I had to write my own pacenotes without really understanding them because I didn’t really have much of a chance to do that before.
“I put a right bit of work into that and that was the biggest success for me in Portugal: my notes were starting to work.”
Pacenotes, tyre choice, car set-up; all things we can take for granted but for Mitchell he really is starting from scratch. Partnered by seasoned co-drivers Kenny Bustard and Peter Ward, the 42-year-old is still very much taking it all in.
However, the commitment required for his continental exploits will stand him in good stead when he can rally at home again.
“It’s funny now looking at the kilometres I am doing at these rallies.
“With shakedown and testing you’re looking at 250 kilometres for a rally like the Canaries and the gravel championship at home could be 350 km for the whole year.
“I don’t realise how short rallies are at home to a certain extent because everything has been big kilometres so far.
“Both Callum [Devine] and Cathan [McCourt] have said to me that I am being forced to do things that other beginners won’t have experience in. Like they say that writing your own notes is something that you should be able to do.
“I’ve went with a clean sheet, I don’t even know what a three, four, or five is meant to be. I don’t know what speed I am meant to be carrying.
“I’ve had to really focus on those things and they go that fast out there so you don’t want to look like a complete eejit.”
Mitchell’s rally development is in good hands with NPL preparing and running his Ford Fiesta R5. His team-mates, Callum Devine and Cathan McCourt, along with Ryan Loughran and Niall McGonigle have all been at hand to chip in with valuable advice.
It has been a rapid learning curve and Mitchell cannot get enough of it – he is raring to get to the next rally. Like Devine and McCourt, he had been hoping to start a European Rally Championship campaign on the Azores Rally this weekend.
Covid forced the event’s cancellation which means June’s Rally Poland is now ERC’s opening round. Mitchell is unsure whether the event will go ahead but one thing is for sure – if the rally is on, Mitchell will be there!
Photos by M-Sport and Andre Ferreira