Car’s, like people, evolve over time. Build’s grow, modifications become wilder and reputations soar. To many of us, the internet has become the go-to place to get an overload of forum Build Threads, Instagram posts detailing every nut and bolt or even dedicated online video series’ all allowing the masses to watch on as yet another PetrolHead dumps their own money into a labour of love. The likelihood is that we may only physically see the finished product out of the digital world and in the flesh at a large show or event, but on the flip side there are always the select few local car’s who’s evolution can be tracked in frequent passing glances. This Golf is definitely one of these cars.
Growing up in Cork City through the middle of the recession, the car scene was certainly there, but so too was a distinct sense that every conversation was verging on going down the route of “It used to be soo much busier” or “All the best cars are gone now”. That’s natural, that with time people hanker for what isn’t there anymore, but us new breed continued to do our thing. Toyota’s ruled our lives, with the local Topaz liable to see an influx of up to 15 of the brands finest on a Friday night with everything from my Corolla Gti through Glanza’s, Levin’s and all else. Around the City, cheap affordable JDM goodies ruled the streets, but there was always a mysterious Black Golf roaming.
The car, in it’s first guise, was hard to miss. Personally, I’ll always have my head turned by the MK1 shape as I’m an freak for all things old-skool, and so the sight of those distinctive lines was enough to lure me in. To other’s, the bright red BBS mesh wheels were certainly eye catching. Parked around the City and in other locations, I often passed feeling admiration for the mystery man doing things soo differently to the rest of us, keeping things real and doing so with style. Over time, the car changed. These changes wern’t seen on a screen, but with each passing glance subtle differences became obvious. And then I met the man behind the creation, and became aware of just how potent this machine was, and would ultimately become.
It was the Sunday of Dubshed 2016 when I was introduced to Ronan Hickey. Waking up incredibly hungover and having slept on a hotel room floor, I was asked if I had room for a stragler to take to the show. My little 106 was in full anti social form at the time with little in the way of interior, smelled strongly of fuel and was covering as a make shift van carrying all manner of ex-works Peugeot goodies. Effectively a single seater, a bearded man managed to somehow fit in the passenger seat with the flexibility of a Gymnast, head pinned about 6 inches from the windscreen thanks to a pair of bumpers for a car not much longer than it is wide. This was Ronan MK1, the man behind that Golf I’d seen for soo long and now here we were talking pure shite about cars driving around siuth Belfast headed for the show. Plans were forged to get photo’s taken, but thankfully the 14 month wait allowed the car to hit peak evolution.
Now on a set of Ronal Turbo wheels and sporting a seriously aggressive and uber-rare Foha front splitter, the car really felt more shouty then I had remember from years ago. With very little in the way of body modifications, it made it even clearer just how good a job the boys with the pencils did in Wolfsburg when drawing that now iconic shape. Finished in that sumptuous VW Schwartz black paint, the MK1 just seemed to shout ‘look at me’. After the show, I finally got to see the car I suppose ‘in the wild’, to hear the racious exhaust roar, to smell it’s dumps of un-burnt fuel and to experience the immense task of trying to keep up with it along a back road.. It seemed fitting for a guy who always wanted to stand out from the typical JDM crowd, that one of the best reactions to the car I ever saw was when it gatecrashed a local Japanese Car meet!!
Over last winter, I’d heard that the car was undergoing a change of look, but when I saw the first teaser images, my inner motorsport geek was intrigued. Emulating historic race liveries has become a thing of late among the VW show scene, with countless iconic colour schemes seeing modern twists on all manner of German metal. Here though, this is no spin on a household style, but a complete detailed reproduction of the GTI Engineering Group 2 race car campaigned by Peter Lloyd in 1979. Finished to an incredible standard by Seamus Walsh in Moose Design, this truly was the icing on what was in reality an incredibly executed cake.
A quick meet up in a local car park allowed me to see the end product first, but it just wasn’t enough. A few quick pics blew up online, so reality hit that I really needed to pull the finger out and get a proper shoot done on the VW. Initial thoughts were veering towards using a local Kart Track, but things spiraled. Suddenly, the shoot became my very first feature shoot for a massive Car Magazine in Performance VW simply by a few chancing-my-arm email’s, and before I’d fully processed things, two weeks later I stood in the paddock of Mondello Park, deserted bar our little cohort including the E34 BMW already featured here and the Golf. This was dream material, mainly as my utterly dreadful Alfa Romeo actually made it (and yes it was on an AA truck the next morning), to have all this to ourselves to create automotive art.
As I already mentioned, the car’s exterior is totally original bar the wheel’s and splitter, but step inside and it’s a world apart. Ronan was a former Kart racer, and a quick one at that, so a love of motorsport has fed through into the cabin. A pair of beefy Recaro bucket seat’s grab the headlines straight away, the driver’s one in particular being a full wrap-around piece, but are added to by a Weickers half-cage to add to incredibly chassis stiffness. Ably assisted by a complete set of Poly-bushes all round and BC Racing coil-overs, the car sit’s with purpose, and even at speed remains flat with all the required agility to justify the safety additions. Nestled in place, the other main practicalities are special aswell, with the steering controlled by a small Momo steering wheel, yet it’s between the two occupants that a bit of engineering-porn sits.
Milled from Billet Aluminium, CAE have become famous for producing some of the most eye-catching gear shifters around. Looking like a sequential, this ultra close shifting unit not only cost an eye-watering amount, but is simply beautiful to look at. Mated to a standard 5-speed box, the gears click through with immense speed and are often accompanied with loud bangs of fuel out of the hand built stainless steel exhaust. The driving gloves are a gentle reminder that while this car can strut with the best on the show floor, it is was for simple driving pleasure that it came to be.
For how cool the whole things look externally, pop the bonnet and watch jaw’s drop. Where a humble 8v engine once sat, now resides a G60 Supercharged lump. The blower itself is a G-Werks unit, while the engine has been treated to all manner of goodies including a Large Port Head, Schrick Cam’s and Covers and an all-new ECU. Add launch control into the mix and this little car certainly doesn’t hang about, ever further cementing the need for the safety gear loaded inside. Being a welder by trade, much of the piping is both home-made and exquisite, while the lashing’s of gold insulating foil just finish off the bay to a tee.
For a car that took almost 10 year’s of evolution to get to this point, there was a distinctive sense of closure. Although the old saying is that a project car is never done, to Ronan it was. He had brought the MK1 as far as he wanted, and it was time for a change of scenery. About a month after the shoot, as is the way soo often in the car world, the MK1 had been stripped of many parts and was on it’s way to a new owner. And as for the change of scenery, well that changed aswell, and who can go to OZ these days when there’s and uber-rare MK2 Golf after landing in the shed…..and a 3.2 VR6. Ya, you might want to stay tuned for that build thread!!!
Its a Saturday afternoon. Mid August, there is a sense of late summer heat battling through a distinctly gray and ominous sky. Heavy rain was a feature of the 5 hour drive up the country, but in motorway mode it makes little difference. Weary legs bow in delight at the prospect of a sitting height section of ditch. Solid, grassy and ideal height, this feels more like a front-row seat than a means to provide a barrier between road and field. Sitting upright, the first strains of an engine note floats in the breeze. Tension rises, phones are held outstretched and those of us enjoying the temporary relaxation stretch out horizontally. And then it happens. Four Motorbikes come into view, chased by an enthusiastic helicopter, throttles pinned open above and below. The approach speed is frightening, and then your vantage point becomes the apex. A cacophony of colour and noise blast past and my face is filled with grass once part of the very ditch I am extended over. Its exhilarating. This is proper road racing!!
While I had one of the most soul inspiring moments I’ve experienced following motorsport in quite some time, less than a couple of feet away battle raged at a frantic pace. What I was seeing up close was the Superbike race of the Ulster Grand Prix, already being regarded as one of the greatest motorcycle races of all time, happening in real time. Purpose built rockets, these big-bikes are fearsome pieces of kit designed to tackle the quickest and most fearsome circuits in the world. But that doesn’t cut the mustard for a certain cohort, a certain breed that see safety barriers, run-off area’s and compact lap distance and begin to chuckle. Around here, its being able to rule the roads that carries the most kudos.
Speed is something that I have quickly learned goes hand-in-hand with this world of road racing. The Ulster GP, more so than most, uses the experiences of riders on the edge as their main selling point. Everywhere you look, men, women and children sport t-shirts bearing an outline of the Dundrod circuit accompanied with the slogan “The World’s Fastest Road Race”. In a world of cutting political correctness and storms arising from what someone says on Twitter, its refreshing to see an event being so old-fashionedly open about it’s USP.
Where the title comes from is the lap record pace. While fellow events like the Isle of Man or the North West 200 may have longer circuits, its the average speed figures that are of most bragging come the end of race day. The honour and title of being known as the world’s quickest road-racer now lies with Dear Harrisson, the 28 year old rider from England. As a rider, Harrisson is almost from a different era. While the majority of his rivals can be seen competing most weekends on circuits as part of the British Superbike Championships, Harrisson is all about the roads. Short circuits, as regular tracks are known, do nothing for him, and so he and the Silicone Engineering team concentrate their efforts on events like the Ulster, IOM, Scarborough and other road races. Come lap four of the Superbike race, Harrisson crossed the line at an average speed of 134.6 MPH. Let that sink in for a second. As you blast up and down the motorway at 120 KPH, these guys are nearly doubling that on average, over fence lined b-roads. Oh and if you thought that’s unheard of, the ultimate motorbike GP average lap speed was set at the old Spa Francomschomp circuit by Barry Sheene…..in 1976….at 136 MPH!!
What made this particular race so spectacular is that while Harrisson was blitzing lap records, the battle for the lead was a four-way duel. Leading the pack was the hard charging Peter Hickman, fresh from success the previous week in the BSB, on the flying BMW. Add into the mix the ever dangerous and crowd favourite Michael Dunlop then you know its gonna be epic, but come the end of lap seven it was veteran Bruce Anstey riding the Padgetts Honda who took a well received victory. Later in the day, the big bikes were wheeled out again to do battle. Hickman and Anstey’s hopes were dashed with reliability issues, and although fellow Manx-men Connor Cummins (Padgetts Honda) and Dan Kneen (Tyco BMW) pushed each other to the absolute maximum, it would be the impressive Dean Harisson, thanks to a proper rubbing-is-racing overtake at the hairpin, that would claim victory.
How I know the intricate race details here is thanks to the fantastic coverage available on the day, keeping all of us on the ditches right at the thick of the action. I have spent days off at rallies only to come home and not know who has won the event, yet here big screens lined the circuits while commentary was available on loud speakers as well as broadcast live on the radio. Every piece of action was broadcast, and you could get a real sense of the race unfolding in real time.
While the big 1000cc Superbikes are the obvious bill toppers, some of the support racing was ferocious to watch. Something familiar to the more referent road racing fan is the Lightweight/Ultralight race for 2-stroke machinery. Although we saw very little of this race, by god did we smell it and smile. In the SuperTwins, it would come down to the final meters of track to find a winner as Ivan Linton sneaked it by 0.024 from Dan Cooper is a finish that seemed almost too dramatic for the excellent BBC television coverage.
Come the end of race day, it was Peter Hickman who would head off with three victories, twice in the 600’s and in the SuperStock, but with the disappointment of not grabbing a SuperBike victory. Personally speaking, I felt somewhat confused. While the NW200 had been spectacular, the Ulster brought better racing. Obviously the need to pay to watch the action is something Id never experienced at an open road event before, it was a clear indication of how I personally see things like rallying going in the future. On Rallying, I was left speechless the first time I saw a WRC Subaru properly at full chat down a tarmac rally stage. It was mind blowing speed it seemed, but on reflection it likely geared for about 120 MPH. After a few bike events, anything shy of 180 now seems slow!!
Racing is such a wonderfully simplistic endeavor, setting out a pair of designated points and then championing those who handle the task of negotiating the in-between part the quickest. Getting from Point A to Point B is the mentality we live our daily lives by, but to be the quickest can become an obsession. Motorsport is merely a collection of opportunities to get from A to B in a variety of rapid vehicles, all dealing with differing tasks in-between. But to some though, things only get interesting when you throw a sizeable hill in the way.
The sport of Hillclimbing is one I’d personally been aware of for quite some time, but had never really experienced until earlier this year. Similar to a rally stage, competitors take-off up a piece of closed road aiming to set the fastest time to the top. In truth, the cars all around you quickly dispel my naive thought of this being nothing more than a glorified rally sprint, as for every familiar MK2 Escort there are four or five incredibly purposeful looking single seat race cars that would look more at home in Mondello Park than an Irish B-Road.
With most track averaging about 2.5/3km in length, hill climbing is all about short, sharp bursts. The terrain, while naturally hilly as the name suggests, is often good flat tarmac which explains the attraction for the plethora of track machinery lining up for the latest run. Being a normal public road, its natural to expect camber and wear in areas not exactly bang on the racing line, so drivers have to be right on it to challenge the clock. Every rasp of a bike engine screaming through the gears is almost matched by the hard hitting sound of splitters and under-body protection meeting tarmac.
Like any sport that makes use of public environments, dealing with the surroundings adds both to the danger and the thrill. Drivers fire themselves towards stone walls, trees, grass verges and drains, eking every last inch of road possible to nail the perfect run. Generally done and dusted in about 70 seconds, Hillclimbing is certainly one for the braver of racers.
When we mention diversity in sport, we often accompany it with the argument that repetitive and mundane spectacles make things boring to watch. With Hillclimbing, you truly have no idea what to expect emerging from the tree-lined road below or over the blind crest in front of you. Classes are wide and accommodating of almost everything, from the already mentioned single seat weapons, through historic race and rally cars right down to the Fiat Cinq/Seichento challenge, which truly is as exciting and mesmerizing as it sounds on the tin.
If you have ever had the notion of wanting to compete in competitive motorsport but lack either the funds or the space, then the Fiat challenge is exactly for you!! Taking the Italian company’s mid-90’s city car, the challenge allows for very little in the way of expensive modification. The majority of the field are made up of the sporty Seichento Sporting pushing out 54hp, but at full pelt these little cars are rapid! Naturally, roll cages are a necessity, but the rules stipulate that the rear seats remain in place hence why some competition cars still bear road plates. Entry’s for this class are nearly as big as the leading competitive classes, so these little cars are truly pushed to their limits up the hill.
As with all facets of the car world, there’s a strong sense of camaraderie among the competitors, as the nationwide scheduele is nothing more than a list of destinations to meet and compete with old friends and fierce rivals. In times of need, all hands reach for the pump in an effort to see everyone get the maximum enjoyment out of their weekend. While there is a core there, many events continue to rely on a strong local entry to support event running cost. In most cases, it is Rally guys who wheel their machinery out of sheds to pit them into the unknown world without navigators and the like.
While I may be a total noob in this world, the name McKinley was one I was always aware of, generally mentioned following the words Simon or Escort. The late Simon McKinley became a cult hero after a video of his antics in his home built MK2 Escort became a Youtube hit. The clip was spread far and wide, jaws dropped in front of computer screens and I knew then that I had to get out and see this thing for myself. But I never did. In 2015, Simon tragically lost his life competing in the sport that he loved, surrounded by those who loved him. The Escort became a memory, until standing on the side of the road last weekend, a familiar silhouette came sideways through a square junction and slithered up the road past me!
While I’ve mentioned the diversity on display, new regulations have allowed cars of the more sideways orientation to compete on closed public roads. Led by Brendan Stone and the crew in Stone Motorsport, the chance to hear a 600BHP 2JZ Toyota Aristo unleash in an environment so different to a circuit is spellbinding, although the more priceless aspect is seeing the faces of hardened rally folk once the get their first dose of fully blown anti-lag and a face full of tire smoke.
While small, hillclimbing is a sport with a strong future. Based around a strong core of eager followers, the discipline can expand. People like Naylor Engineering are providing the necessary backing to the national championship, but there’s plenty of room for improvement yet. As long as clubs running events continue to be rally-centered, then Hillclimbs will always be a distant after thought. But this will change in time just like anything. People will realize that Hillclimbing is an affordable day out, a chance to push their cars on new roads and a form of motorsport with a bright future.
Pictures from this article are combined from both the Imokilly Hillclimb in Dungarvan and the Limerick Hillclimb in Glenroe. Further information on events and the sport can be found at: www.irishhillclimb.com/