Anyone at all that has an interest in performance orientated, driver centred vehicles must surely look back at Japan in the 1990’s and smile. As greatest hit’s catalogues go, the sheer variety of automotive content created, most almost exclusively for, such a small island nation is just mind-blowing. I come from a generation that idolises these exotic beasts from the east thanks to Gran Turismo bringing never-before-seen knowledge straight to our living rooms, but now that I have matured, it’s almost crazier than I had ever thought. Manufactures were unleashing into the world everything from Turbocharged micro-Kei cars, through to V12 Executive Saloons. Car classes that would never have seemed even remotely cool or sporty were graced with behemoth’s like the 2JZ fed JZX’s in the large saloon class. We had Ford Scorpio’s in comparison, although there was a 24V Cosworth option, which highlights how performance mad Japan went in the 90’s. The world looked on as they offered domestic Supercar’s like the GT-R and the NSX, but one class in particular became a defining trademark.
If you were in a position to buy a reasonably priced, fun and reliable 2-Door Coupe in the 90’s, your choice was pretty varied. Ford would sell you a Cougar, Fiat it’s rather originally named Coupe, VW had the Corrado and Porsche had the ever present 911. There were plenty more aswell, but then you had an onslaught of Japanese competition for the European regulars. Taking a 10 year window, we saw an influx of MR2’s, Celica’s, Supra’s, Levin’s, Prelude’s, Integra’s, Starion’s, Colt’s, RX-7’s, Cosmo’s, Supra’s, Skyline’s and even Subaru got in on the act with the 2-Door Impreza. These were all great cars, some utterly brilliant, yet one particular coupe range was to unwittingly become the poster child of a whole new wave of interest in JDM metal. Its easy to argue, at least in the early days, that Drifting was the Nissan Silvia!
Across four generations, S12-S15, Nissan’s affordable sportscar platform became a global success. Originally designed as a JDM only goodie, much of the early cars gained a cult following having filtered down into the hands of young drivers, shaking off perhaps the air of a GT car that Nissan intended in the design stage. Soon, S13’s in particular became the weapon of choice alongside the AE86 Corolla for drivers exploring the limits of grip on mountain roads. When this thing became a sport, naturally the people there kept using their Silvia’s as normal, and thus Drifting and the Silvia became a match.
Later, Nissan began to feed cars out into the rest of the world, with us in Ireland getting the later S14 in the shape of the 200SX, but the link between sport and car grew. It seems rather fitting then, that the two Silvia’s here are soo intrinsically linked to drifting, and it was a drift event that I shot both rather quickly. The first of the pair, in complete Darth Vader-esq style, is a car built as a reflection of a man. Peden Nielsen is one of Irelands most prominent drift personalities, a pioneer of the sport and the absolute King of Branding. Having come to drifting late in the 00’s with his Nissan Skyline, competing in things like the Prodrift Super Series, I became more aware of Peden through his Evicted Clothing brand. After taking to the judging tower for a number of years though, it was through an iPhone and a selfie stick that Peden Nielsen became a star.
Keep Drifting Serious became pretty much the first behind-the-scenes look ever done in 10-odd years of Irish Pro Drifting. Naturally, these are a lot more entertaining in the delivery than a regular ‘this is what you’ve not seen before’ style of video, and this sense of wacky out there style and flair had to be translated into a car somehow. That’s where the KDS15 was born. Straight away, the most obvious additions are both the matt-black exterior, and the aggressive Rocket Bunny body kit giving this Silvia an incredible amount of presence. Up close though, the wrap work is at a level almost un-imaginable from a distance, with sponsor logo’s embedded and visible up-close. This is a testament to Moose Design, the same company behind the Akai Livery on Ronan’s MK1 Golf.
Under those massive arch extensions, a matching set of black XXR alloy’s in 18-Inch size resides, wrapped in Westlake RS tyres. Added to this is a combo of Mintex brakes and HKS coilover’s, making this surely a handling dream should the daily commute develop into a backroad blast, although the height the car is sitting at and the large swathes of lower aero and diffusers may encourage against that type of carry on.
While Peden has aimed to create the ultimate Street Silvia, another of the breed present may rightly claim to actually be the Ultimate Track Silvia, and it’s a car that need very little introduction. The man behind the wheel is a certain James Deane. You might have heard of him. He drifts cars, and is rather good at it. He wins quite often, and must surely have a room of his house rammed at this stage with trophies and memento’s. I could list off the achievements, but that deserves a proper article soon enough! Sat here in the gravel of Watergrasshill, this Silvia has defeated all comers both here in Ireland and across Europe, but today is here to put on a show and have a good time.
Seeing a drift car from a distance, it’s easy to spot the modifications that have been done to what was once a rather clean S14A. The iconic Falken teal & green livery covers the bolt-on overfenders, each housing a Japan Racing wheel within it’s arch. The suspension is Wisefab, evident by the obscene angles being thrown on track, while inside is pure race-car. Under the bonnet, a 2JZ engine does the necessary mechanical grunting, while an Owen Developments turbo adds the necessary boost. It’s in the flesh that you notice the differences.
The rear arches, in particular, fascinate me. In action, the design seems to sit flush with the car’s flanks, but up close you see a variety of different length screw providing a handy gap to allow the plumes of tyre smoke to be ejected. Battle scars pepper the surfaces, each a reminder of a battle or a run where limits were pushed to the maximum. It was interesting, when talking to another driver, to think just how much driving and competing this car has done. Each event entered, the expectation and often the reality is that it will see the podium or finals, and over time this accumulates to the point that James and the S14 may easily have twice or three times the driving done of a competitor in a year.
So that is a quick feature on two incredibly built examples of Nissan’s Silvia, a success story not even those in Japanese boardrooms may ever have imagined. These are very quick features, so apologies if we don’t have all the details or spec lists. We’ll leave that for when we eventually track more car’s down for in depth features in 2018!
My outlook, in an automotive sense, was to always push the envelope in terms of the events I get to, the experiences I encounter, the people I meet, the craftsmanship I witness and the enjoyment I get at the end. My calendar is like a military operation at times, planned to the nth degree so I can get the most out of whatever event I have pencilled in. Wherever I end up, I know it is by choice that Ive made the sometimes long or expensive journey to get there. Over the past year, thanks to this site, I’ve been able to chronicle my adventures, often accompanied by a rambling, deluded opinion piece, and bring to life the variety of events I get to. I always want to see more, have new experiences and gain more knowledge, but then some events, I just enjoy for just being themselves and not being unfamiliar to me. Ultimate Drift was definitely one of those!
I’ve talked at length before about my history with drifting, with my opinions gaining a rather split reception. Looking back, I saw drifting evolve from a grass roots sport to a global cultural icon, yet I couldn’t let go of the small-time nature that got me hooked. Over time, I fell out of love with the sport on a number of levels. I still maintained interest in the competition side of things, but I stopped attending events in the flesh.
That being said, we never had a steady stream of events to attend anyway. In the early days, D-Rift and Prodrift held proper competitive events in Watergrasshill and later in Fermoy, but then word spread that the noisy, sliding cars were no longer welcome in WGH. This wasn’t long after the closure of Rosegreen, so us down South were really left abandoned. Mondello naturally filled the void, and still does to a large extent, but it is still the bones of a three hour journey each way for me at least, meaning there wasn’t the same buzz to get to events.
Over the years, many attempts were made to get regular drifting back to Cork. Superdrift and Driftfest both tried, but in the midst of the Recession, the appetite and desire to make a success of either format just wasn’t there really, and so they slid into the history books in time. This was where Ultimate Drift fits into the picture, as finally we got a proper push to bring regular Drifting back down South.
Spearheaded by Darren Hickey, the series had a smart, passionate and determined person there to properly steer the ship forward. Co-Owner of the very successful D&D Detailing, Darren brought professional idea’s which have become a hallmark of modern drifting, and perhaps explain the shortcomings of so many other Drift ventures before. Suddenly, what was an open track day had sponsorship, branded vehicles, professional signage, a large online presence, live music and a big-event atmosphere. People turned up to enjoy themselves watching as much as drivers enjoyed testing themselves around what I still believe to be Irelands best Drift venue.
Darren will happily telly you that it was a team effort, and it most definitely was, but everyone involved was there for the love of the sport, not to win FB likes or make a fortune. The events were fun, small games were added long before anyone had heard of Drift Games and drivers continued to rather visibly improve, with definitely a few I can think of who started as UD Novices that now hold IADC or IDC competition licenses. Competition elements were tried, with a mini-series taking place last year, as well as novel approaches to drift events sampled with the floodlit Drift Nights becoming a regular fixture.
On a personal level, Ultimate Drift helped me fall back in love with Drifting. Grass roots, beat up cars is what got me into the sport, and in the world of sideways Drag-Cars, this felt old-school. The visuals may not be appealing to everyone, but each ripple and dent was a sign of someone pushing limits, learning the skills and trying out things in an environment that encouraged those very things. I was still very new to taking photos of cars when I took a mad notion to apply for media access to an event, but getting up close and personal was on a level I had never imagined all those years standing on the bank. I was able to try out techniques that I couldn’t possibly practice elsewhere and learn new skills. I met soo many people, enjoyed great laughs and had some heart in the mouth moments on track yet was able to witness so many personal high’s, from the wry smile of nailing a corner, through to some finally hitting the track in their dream build. I had the honour of providing the poster imagery to a number of events and this was something I never thought possible.
After 3 years of not only running but driving in Ultimate Drift, last weekends event is to be the last. A rumour had been in the air that the news was imminent, and a post on Darren’s Facebook spelled the end. Of all the ways to go, having a full entry of car’s, a beautiful Winter’s day and the surprise appearance of none other than James Deane is not too shabby at all, and entirely fitting of a series that was so well run from the start. A void has now emerged in Irish drifting again, that leaves many question of what happens now. Grass roots drifting will continue at tracks like Tynagh, but down South we are left with nothing. A new track is in development in Cobh that has the potential to be a strong asset to the area, but it’s going to need strong support to get off the ground. From a driver stand point, the demise of Ultimate Drift also spells the end of potential entry-level competitive drifting, with the only series now offering this are IADC and IDC, which many may believe is too high of a step up to be of interest. Whatever comes along in 2018 though, we have to be thankful for what we had and the memories made. From ourselves here in Freshfix, and I’m sure countless others, we’d like to say a massive thanks to the whole Ultimate Drift crew for the work done over the last few years. Thank you for the wonderful events, the wonderful atmosphere and the craic. Thank You.
Darren Hickey’s post on the end of Ultimate Drift:
“If you’re going to finish something, finish it on a high” And what a high Drift Nights was. Going in to this event, I knew it was going to be the last event I would be being running this year. We gave it our all (even managed to get the two S14’s ready) and the results were unreal. A full grid of drivers all looking to enjoy an evening season in the dark, highlighted by the man himself James Deane putting on a master class and smoking the place out. Everyone had the same goal, finish off the year in style and have fun with our friends. After three years of running the Ultimate Drift Series, Drift Nights was the last event as we know it. Due to other business and family commitments I have made the decision to step back from running drift event’s full time. Next year my aim is to enjoy the sport for what it is from the driver’s seat. I ran the Ultimate Drift Series as a driver and always kept that in mind when making decisions on how we ran each event, always keeping in mind would I enjoy driving that track, is it a new challenge.
From my past experience of running drift events I know that what can go wrong, will go wrong. All you can do is make sure you have the equipment to sort any issues that might arise. True luck comes in to place with the one variable that every event organizer has no control over, the WEATHER. Out of 30 events we only had one washout, seems the weather man was looking out for us.
To the UD Team: The Ultimate Drift Series was never a one man show, it was a team of great people, and for that I count myself lucky enough to have been able to call on my friends & family to make sure each event was the best it could be. I would like to give the biggest thanks to the whole UD team both past and present and to all those that helped UD grow over the years.
Signing off Darren H (see ye in the pit lane next year lads)
Darkness and noise! Utter, total, smothering darkness. Pure blackness the like of which I’d never imagined before. Torch light barely pierced its gloom, hiding everything around. A glimmer of misty rain ran against my face, but without being able to see it before my eyes, I couldn’t tell if it was real. A dense forest atop a steep valley, daylight had been beaten into submission. And there was noise. Not natural woodland sounds like the creak of branches underfoot or moving wildlife, but a demonic roar that echoed through the tree’s. Minutes passed at will as the cacophony of pure mechanical aggression grew louder. Turbo charged chirps and flutters briefly interjected, but this was flat out, continuous movement, approaching at what seemed like an un-natural rate. Then we entered ‘the light’.
To experience a full-blown World Rally Car has, since their inception in the late 90’s, always been a special occasion. The ultimate machine designed to take on a truly staggering variety of terrains as quickly as possible, WRC cars are the pinnacle of production based motor-racing. In Ireland, we embraced the breed, and soon became home to a plethora of these rallying monsters, and many events boasted WRC entries numbering almost 20 at the pinnacle of the Celtic Tigre. While we have fallen from those heady heights, many still remain on Irish soil and often compete with notable success. For all my years growing up watching Donnelly, Nesbitt, Boyle et al wrestle these machines around narrow lanes, I’d never experienced the full-blown experience of a works car driven by the best in the business. 2017 has been the catalyst I needed though.
In January this year, I bit the bullet and headed for the snowy mountains of southern France for Rallye Monte Carlo. I gushed at the time of the spectacle, I made mental plans to get to place like Poland or Finland and I came away spell bound. As the season passed, I fell into a malaise. I was more comfortable watching the action on TV, or dates simply clashed, and thus I was pretty resigned to my sole WRC adventure for the year. Wales, the traditional curtain call to the season, had often flirted with my attention, but so did its many downsides. Watching footage year after year, all that came off the screen was cold, rain and a lot of mud. This year though, a calendar change had brought the rally earlier, the weather prospects were better and it fell on a long weekend. No brainer, right? Well work got in the way….or so it seemed!
About a week before the rally was to kick off, changes in work lifted a holiday ban in place for that time of year. Rally GB entered my head, but I dismissed it. The comfort argument reared its head, as did a number of local events on the same weekend, and so I cooled my jets and buckled up for the weekend. But I made a vital mistake. Thursday evening, just as the crews were heading off for Stage 1 of the event, I had a sneaky look at ferry prices. Like an addict on the scrounge, I said I’d let the expensive price warn me off…..but it didn’t. At about a days’ notice, I was heading for the forests for another date with the World Rally Championship.
The following day(s) was one of the oddest/draining/exciting days of my life. 44 hours of no sleep, 600 miles driving, a red-eye ferry, 6 cans of Red Bull, a stale Croissant, 7 miles of walking, 3 changes of socks and a huge, un-nerving smile. That’s what it takes to be a rally freak!!
Back tracking slightly though, Friday was a blur. The working day became an empty nothingness, all productivity side-lined with excitement for the weekend. The two-hour drive home was pretty much the same, although the thought process was slightly interjected with rational thoughts of what all to take. Car thoroughly packed, a short hop to Dublin Port and across the Irish sea saw me landed in Wales at 5.30am. I should have slept, taken rest or the like, but there was a forest to get to, and barely 2 hours later, the faithful daily driver touched gravel for the first time. Rain gear engaged, cameras locked and loaded and a high energy liquid-breakfast, the madness began.
Before the start of this season, much had been made of the new direction taken by the championship organisers with regards vehicle regulations. The fan’s wanted more aero, more noise and more speed. What the FIA did though, rather oddly, was grant all those wishes. The new cars are truly mental, have more wings than a Boeing and go like stink. It’s been a spectacular year with 7 different drivers taking wins, and every manufacturing tasting victory champagne. The fans have backed the new breed as well, and the queues to get to the stages is testament to the success that 2017 has been. Arriving 3 hours before a rally stage in Ireland, the course would still be open public road for at least 90 more minutes, yet here I was parking up 3 miles away on an approach road littered with cars and vehicles of all shapes and sizes.
I have mentioned it several times throughout the year of the variety of cool road-going metal you find following rallying. People that spend their weekends off standing in grass ditches are of course exactly the type of people who would see no issue driving their often-pristine vehicles into some pretty rough terrain. As the early morning fog lifts, both from my head and the surrounding mountains, I pass a pair using a hefty Group A lamp pod affixed to a Lancia Delta Intagrale as a tea tray, while others emerge from the rather opulent, and uber-low accommodation afforded in the back of a Volvo 850R. The pair of Daihatsu 4-Trac’s look at home here, more so than poor Peugeot 306 Rallye, named more in recognition of flowing French tarmac than rutted Welsh tracks. Then though, there are car owning hero’s that take cool to new levels. The retro car bubble has seen the price of Mitsubishi Lancer Tommi Mac’s absolutely skyrocket, yet here in the midst of a muddy forest I found one of the possibly cleanest I’ve ever witnessed. For all you true JDM nerds, the car arrived in the UK in recent years…….as a Grade 4.5!!
The organisation side of an event as large as Rally GB is one I’ve never experienced before in the rallying world. An excellently detailed rally guide provided stage maps, locations and viewing point information making the route planning incredibly easy. Arriving to the stage, large areas were designed to cater for the influx of spectators that descended over the weekend. Perched in place on Gartheineog, I had actually thought I was on a totally different stage but there’s the tiredness, it was time to wait. Bang on 9.40am though, the first shots of anti-lag rung out, and a sideways Citroen came into view, emerging sideways from around a stack of logs. A chase helicopter hovered overhead, adding to the atmosphere. Disappearing up a long fast right up a hill, this was it!
As the order is run in reverse on days 2 and 3 of a WRC event, the speed is always gradually building. While Khalid al-Quasimi may have looked quick, more and more passing cars allayed that thought. Bunches of fans awaited their respective hero’s, with a plethora of international flags being waved with vigour as they blasted past. The Tanak fan-club, decked in Estonian garb, made their presence felt, as did the many Belgian and French followers of Neuville and Ogier. A small smattering of Irish fans made sure their support for Kris Meeke and Craig Breen was acknowledged, but the home fans were out in force for one man in particular.
North Wales is a traditional hot-bed of rallying talent, with the famous sons of the region having names that read off with distinction. Dai Llewellyn, Phil Collins, Phil Mills and Gwyndaf Evans have enough titles and tall tales to fill a decent sized book, but the latest hero in the making is Gwyndaf’s son Elfyn. Hailing from Dolgellau, surrounded by rallying mecca’s like Sweet Lamb and Myherin, it wasn’t much of a leap to see him get behind the wheel of a rally car. A quick rise through the ranks had the young Welsh man becoming a full-blown WRC driver with M-Sport in 2015, perhaps too soon in most regards. Struggling to find his feet, a step back to WRC2 and the British Championship in 2016 was a re-invigoration, and this year he partnered with tyre brand DMack to drive the 3rd M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC. A string of good results had the public interest peaked, but the Friday of Rally GB had seen utter domination. 6 fastest stage times saw the Welshman at the top of the leader board, and the fans came out in droves. In one of the most dominant drives I can remember, Elfyn Evans led from Stage 2 right through to the finish, cheered on by nearly 100,000 home fans relishing in seeing not only Elfyn’s first win, but to witness he and Dan Barritt becoming the first ever Welsh crew to win their home World Championship event. It was a special weekend all round for M-Sport, with them winning the Constructor championship, and Ogier becoming the 1st Ford driving Champion since 1981.
As the car’s continued to pass, I began to move around in search of angles. It’s something I do so instinctively, and I’m sure I’ve annoyed plenty of marshals and officials in the process, but I can’t live with the thought of having albums chock of the same picture repeated ad-nauseum. Rallying, as a motorsport, is one of the most difficult to photograph I believe, as it’s a case of having one-shot to get the picture. The car is often in sight for only a handful of seconds, and the threat of that car going off the road and not being seen again for the day is a very real prospect. The room to try anything other than straight up shooting is often very small, but the freedom of not being under commercial pressure to get shots allows the chance to try things out. In a single spectator viewing pen, I was able to make at least 9 different photo views, but maybe that’s just my lack of fear for the welfare of my budget gear that I place it in plenty of mad places.
After the main body of WRC cars had passed, the next cohort was that of the WRC2 runners. Made up exclusively of R5 cars, this is a championship and level utterly dominated by the Skoda Fabia R5, although the Ford Fiesta R5 is not soft competition. Designed as a hot bed for developing talent, the GB entry was very much a who’s-who of future rallying stars that perhaps may only be known to the truly hardcore as of yet. The likes of Teemu Sunninen, Eric Camili, Ola-Christian Veiby and Tom Cave have future’s ahead of them if opportunity allows, yet this year has been a case of trying to catch Pontus Tidemand. The Swede, and his Skoda, have been the class of the WRC2 season and have proved almost untouchable across the year. An interesting entry though in Wales was a young man by the name of Kalle Rovanpera. Barely 17 years of age, this fella is special. He emerged onto the radars about 9 years ago with a clip of him sliding a Toyota Starlet around a finish lake. Those counting on your fingers, this guy was in Rally cars since the age of 8, and has been on a meteoric rise this past number of years. When you father is a WRC event winner and all-round cult hero Harri Rovanpera, I guess it’s a case like the Evans of talent running in the genes.
Behind those again was the battle for R2 victory, the first major stepping stone into World Rallying. Yet again, it’s the venerable M-Sport and Ford Fiesta package that is a true benchmark, although in Wales the only sole Works car ran wild. Chris Ingram and the Opel Adam R2 have been a formidable pair in 2017, pretty much sweeping the boards in the European Rally Championship. In Wales, the diminutive Adam romped home with over 12 minutes to spare over the opposition. From an Irish viewpoint, both Will Creighton and Marty Gallagher put in some great times all weekend, but a succession of issues hindered both their runs. With the limited opportunities to experience Gravel in Ireland, it’s a huge confidence to both to see the signs to be able to push on loose surface.
As the final few cars passed through the second running of the stage, it was time to make shapes for the famed Welsh night stages. An hour of walking, a swift removal of mud soaked clothing and a 40-minute blast later, I had a chance to relax. Sleep? Nah, I had the initial batch of photos to sort through, phone to charge and a head torch to check for signs of life. Meeting a few friends from home, as dusk descended we strolled into the woods. What happened next was, to me at least, one of the single greatest car related things I’ve ever experienced.
As I said at the top, when the dark came in, it took hold. Being from a City, I have a rather sheltered understanding of the true darkness of night, but armed with head torches, reflective coats and lamps, navigation was hard. A blisteringly fast section at the bottom of a valley was picked from the last ebbs of daylight, and the territory was marked with a succession of Irish flags planted in the ground. Listening attentively, the first whispers of a 1.6L WRC engine note rung out through the trees. I had grown up watch countless videos of rally days of yore, encapsulated by the timeless mystique of engine notes roaring through the trees of a Welsh forest at night. All those cliché’ d tales of hoards of bobble hatted nutters standing in the rain to see Roger Clark in a sideways Escort or Walter Rohrl in a snarling Audi raced through my head as I finally felt a part of the mystiques. I may have also been wearing a bobble hat!
The nature of the stage meant that that the cars were audible on full chat for about 90 seconds before coming into sight, although saying into sight is being rather kind. A flash of white light would emerge to our left around a rising right hander, broadside in the road owing to the slippy condition. Gear’s number three, four and five would be dispatched with before reaching us, each accompanied with a distinctive bang. Without the faintest dab of brakes, guided by a blinding array of lights, the cars tore past at almost maximum velocity, sparks and exhaust flames as well as rocks fired in the direction of our vantage point. This was as raw a sensation of speed as I have ever experienced, a true case of maximum attack. Picking out the identity of the crews, never mind the car, was almost impossible in the darkness, with only driving style and car characteristics often being the only telling differences. Passing us, we had opportunity to stop, let out a number of expletives, and watch the show go on. The beaming lights snaked up the trail to our right before hitting the packed upper hairpin as the tree line became like a strobe light as countless camera flashes went off. Flares and fireworks filled the sky, and I felt ecstatic. It may have been the lack of sleep!
By 1am, I had set up camp for the night. Parked on the side of another forest track, bed for the night was a sleeping bag in the back of a Peugeot 207 as per my WRC norm. Any prospect of an early night was dashed by the arrival of more friends from Cork, and the prospect of a few beers pushed me through hours 43 and 44 of waking. The next morning, after all 4 hours of cold, cramped sleep, the stages were beckoning again. By that evening, I was no more than a shell. Although the stages and action were spectacular, I had enough. Plenty of pictures and lifelong memories in the bag, it was time to finally pull on the last change of clean clothes, pack up the car and make shapes for the boat home. Someday I might take a notion to go and follow the WRC in comfort, or even god forbid I might actually fully plan out attending an event, but for now I still adore the sense of adventure that comes with these types of escapades. As a final treat to myself, the route from Brenig to Holyhead encompasses much of the vaulted Evo Triangle, a mecca for proper petrolhead geeks like myself reared on the excellent publication. Mile after mile of flowing driving nirvana, snaking ribbons of tarmac that proved the final reason to grin after a rather epic weekend. So, Monte next year eh…….
Mondello Park will always maintain an incredibly special place in the car scene on the Island of Ireland. Being our sole dedicated racing circuit capable of holding international level events, it truly is a mecca for all manner of truly exciting and different motorsports pursuits. To each of us that have either entered through the gates or wanted to at some point, the legend of Mondello holds various states. Some reminisce of the day a young Ayrton Senna battled for Leinster Trophy victory, others remember the iconic roar of the Jordan F1 car as it wowed the crowds in the 90’s. The sideways escapades of James Deane have left visual clues on the tarmac, while the grass and ditches are littered with remnants of long forgotten duels and close battles. I’ve stood on the grassy bank around Turn One before taking in the action, and had my first major Photoshoot, that of Ronan’s MK1 Golf, in the pitlane, yet in all that time, I’d never got around to getting on track myself.
We’ve covered virtual reality Sim racing here on the site before, and we concluded that as a platform, the advances in technology allow us to experience driving circuits all over the world at a degree of realism never before imaginable. During the year I spent living in Austria, while not at Worthersee car show or studying, I passed hours dialling in lap after lap of Mondello on RFactor, picking up the racing line, braking points and road camber as much as possible in a virtual way. When Rob King at Trackdays.ie got in contact and offered the opportunity to experience it for real though, it definitely didn’t take long for me to send back an enthusiastic YES!
Launched at the start of this year, Trackdays.ie is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, in so much as it allows anyone at all the opportunity to come out and have a blast on the only International Circuit that we have. It truly is a case of ‘Run what ya brung’, but the emphasis is placed firmly on enjoyment rather than allowing competitiveness to take hold. I’ve long thought about doing a Track Day, but I just never felt comfortable in the idea of spending a day pounding around a track, while always thinking about the prospect of having a 3 hour drive home afterwards.
It’s an obvious issue, as not all of us have either the facilities or the resources to own a dedicated track car, nor transport it long distances to Mondello. However, Trackdays have this box ticked off in the shape of their fleet of EK Honda Civics’ and the well thought out Arrive and Drive package’s available. These track prepped cars are built for this environment, come kitted out with all manner of safety equipment and the packages can be tailored to include everything from Helmet hire through to professional driver tuition. If you have ever wanted to test the water when it comes to circuit driving, I’d struggle to think of a better way to do it. Before I was to take to the track though, I thought it wise to check out those that I’d be sharing the circuit with (or those that I was about to hold up!!)
Variety plays a massive role here, with people coming to Mondello with different purposes for their day. To some, the day allowed the opportunity to try out new components or setup’s, such as the wild 400BHP Turbo’d Honda Integra using the time to try out a new sequential gearbox, whereas some like like Paddy was simply out getting to grips with his newly purchased Beams-engined AE86 Corolla which is an RYO demo car from Japan.
As the rain begin to drizzle, still grand weather for a track debut, I took refuge in another pit garage, this housing Ken’s rather mental MK race car. Built originally to compete in the Irish Hillclimb championship, every inch of the vehicle screamed cool! Under the Lotus 7-esque bonnet lay the roaring heart from a Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle, sending power through a sequential box to the rear wheels. What little bodywork on show was mainly carbon fibre, while an adornment of wings front and back were surely there to stop it taking flight once on full throttle.
A few of my Rally brethren came out to play, but it soon became apparent that a single hot-hatch is the current budget King of the track scene. The RenaultSport Clio, in either 172 or later 182 form, is a formidable package, considering it rev happy engine up-front mated to one of the best handling chassis of all time. It was an enthusiasts dream, but surprisingly the values have dwindled. A decent example is now in the €2-3k range, meaning that these cars are incredibly attainable and as such they are a perfect affordable track toy. I am incredibly fond of these little cars, and I would very happily provide a home to a French Racing Blue 182 should I get the chance, as I still believe it to be one of the greatest OEM colours of all time. (Alongside Polestar Blue and VW’s Cornflour Blue, I may have a certain love for one particular vehicle colour!)
After a detailed briefing though, things got real. And I mean very real, and very very wet. As the track details were read out, that light drizzle had turned into a monsoon. The power flickered on and off, track hoardings creaked, and my stomach grew un-easy. Un-perturbed, I put on my helmet and strapped in alongside Rob for my first spin around Mondello. It only struck me once seated that I had never sat in a Civic before, but that thought quickly vanished as we left pit lane and opened the throttle for the first time. I couldn’t see the apex of Turn One, nor Two, Three or Four. Listening to Rob’s detailed instruction over the roar of a screaming Honda, I had to visualise the corner’s that definitely didn’t all look like pools of water on RFactor.
After a few sighting laps, I finally got behind the wheel. To say I was excited would be putting things mildly, but the apprehension of the lack of visibility and my knowledge of how valuable some other car’s on track were definitely reared its head. The wipers flapped around at full whack, the heater howled as it fought to keep the screen clear and a mist whistled in through a gap in the window, but I didn’t give a damn. Strapped into that little Honda, I felt like Tom Chilton wheeling his own BTCC Civic down the same pitlane with eyes fixed firmly on the run down to Mobil 1.
The following 15 minutes felt like a blur, and had I taken any onboard footage it too possibly would have simply been a blur, as the rain fell at a rate I had never experienced. Visibility, especially in traffic, was almost null, with braking points now being remembered by visual clues off track that were slightly easier to spot. Set the world alight I most certainly did not, constantly shifting down to early while sparing the car of its high red-line abuse when on power. Coming out of the slow bends, the front wheels squabbled for grip that often wasn’t there leaving to plenty of throttle coaxing to maintain the desired line. All around, others slid in all manner of directions as they battled the conditions, and then my wiper fell off. With visibility now truly gone, it was a slow limp back to the pits. A sorry end, yet I felt elated. I had a blast, no matter the time scale, and certainly felt an urge to get out again in a car of my own at some stage!
With that high came the crushing realisation that I had to get out and shoot in that monsoon that I’d just battled through. Wet Gear on, I took to the various expanses of the Mondello complex to take in the sights and sounds of a track day, yet sensibly enough I took shelter in the grandstand to begin with, even if it evidently has a roof like a sieve! From here, you got a sense of speed and commitment on track as well as the variety. Where else would you find a 1.25 MK4 Fiesta going door to door with a purpose built Ginetta race car?
Heading back in the downpour, the slow Turn Four, at the back of the paddock, was a magnet for opportunities to see those coping best with the conditions. I had seen another Civic almost fire off backwards while I was on track, so I understood just how treacherous the conditions were, as the BMW driver soon found out.
Heading back down towards the pitlane, it was eye-opening just how and open and approachable everyone you met was. Each person had a passion for their car, and would happily stand around and talk shite about all manner of car-related things. In an age when online hatred is rampant in the car scene, this was refreshing. Talking about doing a Diesel swap into an RX-7 while an R33 Skyline pop’s and bangs past the damp wall your leaning against is a strange and surreal experience, and one that I utterly adore.
As the poor camera began to take a beating from the weather, I sneaked into a garage to do a dry lens swap. Alas, I hadn’t even that done when Darren O’Hara had me coaxed into the passenger seat of his Toyota MR-2. Cue 10 minutes of utter hooliganism as the somewhat under-powered sportscar danced around Mondello, perfectly controlled on the edge of grip and wanting to kill us all.
Thoroughly soaked through, and with the morning session done, I packed up and headed home, although I did manage to stop at Stone Motorsport on the way home. Trackdays.ie offer, I believe, some of the best value fun you can have in a car on this Island, where you can truly push the limits without fear of ending up in a cell. At €100 for a half day or €165 for a full day, it’s value that few if any can match. So, if you’re at nothing on November 17th, take the plunge and sign up now. I guarantee you’ll come away with a huge grin on your face. Massive thanks again to Rob and all the crew at Trackdays.ie, a sister site of us here on Freshfix. The run several track day events throughout the year, and all info can be found on their site www.trackdays.ie.
We, as people, naturally ponder the notion of ‘What If?’ on a daily basis. Its a natural instinct to imagine the endless possibilities available to us through means or good fortune. How many time today alone have you thought what you would splurge significant financial winnings on should you ever strike lucky?? Car forums and online chats are littered with discussion on what car would you put in the garage first should a lottery windfall come your way, and I’m just the same as everyone else in that regard. But for more hardened car geeks, the what if fantasies grow larger. What would the dream car look like, what colour would you go for and where would you keep it?? See, that’s real addiction territory when you have notions of a dream garage to keep your dream car, but some people have already ticked off the ultimate garage section. Welcome to Stone Motorsport!
In keeping with all good Irish motoring stories, to find the rewards you first have to battle against your natural instincts in the search. I’d seen plenty of photo’s online of this legendary facility, yet here I was less than a few hundred yards from our country’s busiest Motorway and Google Maps was guiding me down a dark, tight tree-lined lane with cul-de-sac warnings. I had expected Stone Motorsport to exist in a modern Industrial Park on the outskirts of a growing slice of modern suburbia, but here all that lay between me and a slice of motoring heaven was about a mile of distinctly Irish back road.
To understand the drive to become the best, its worth remembering the history behind the crew in Stone’s. The brother’s rose to predominance in the Irish track scene in the mid-00’s when they began to dominate the time-attack and racing landscape in their EP-3 Honda Civic. Brendan Stone then turned his hand to drifting, and in the process became an Irish Champion in the MG-Crash Repair Nissan S15, all the while honing the skills needed to develop a home-grown motorsport preparation company.
The first thing that hit’s you on arrival is the sheer scale of the premises. The imposing grey exterior grows in all directions, housing all manner of necessary area’s to provide true one-stop-shop status for all your wildest car build idea’s. Walking through the main door though, it’s to the showroom to the right that your eye is immediately drawn.
Emulating those of the finest classic car dealers in the world, the showroom is a triumph of style and lighting, serving as the perfect compliment to the metal inside. I count nine cars, some in bare metal, some mid-build and some finished perfectly. Up close, the attention to detail and craftsmanship is stunning. I could spend hours soaking in the details on the Mini Cooper, early Beetle or pair of 911’s on their own, but in close vicinity the scene is almost overwhelming.
In the corner, a hulking 1960’s Ford Mustang sits in primer, a bare shell destined for a full scale restoration to leave it on a par with it’s shinier room mates.
From here though, my rally geek instincts kick in. I have a huge affinity for vehicles carrying the Ford Escort moniker, and this green car was utterly stunning. Even in a partially built state, it’s muscular stance commanded utmost attention. A beefy set of 15 inch Superlites hid a frighteningly aggressive brake setup, while the gusseted roll cage was just another example of the fabrication skills available in house. What will reside under the bonnet is a mystery, but with the history Stone’s have for experimentation, your guess is as good as mine!
And then there was the ‘other’ Escort. In a very bare state here lies a true piece of motorsport history, and a very unknown one at that. When Ford developed the MK3 Escort in the early 1980’s, they moved with the times and converted their platform to Front-Wheel-Drive. While this makes sense in the real world of sensibility and economy, it doesn’t have much mass in the world of Rallying. At the same time that the Ford works team in Boreham worked on tweaking the MK3 into a RWD Group B monster with the RS1700T project, their fabrication partner Gartrac produced a small number of RWD converted MK3’s for rallying, and the Escort G3 was born. As an interesting side, the earliest cars were run by Sydney Meeke Preperation, with Sydney’s son Kris being the current WRC superstar! While many Escorts were later converted, seeing an original Gartrac car is a rare treat.
While one race car can peak the interest of a certain crew, the other, more complete, race car in the room is known to a lot more people. When you have your dream garage built and all the skills to build the best possible vehicles, it’s only fitting to have a shop Demo-Car, and they don’t come more extreme than the Drift Taxi! Built from a Lexus GS300, the car makes do with a 2JZ engine making close to 600BHP while turbo’s pop and bang on full chat. A unique vehicle with bucket seats and harnesses for four, the car has also this year crossed the divide and not only competed in the IDC, but now also competes in the Irish Hillclimb championship, which we mentioned earlier this year.
The reason I called into Stone’s was due to the open house they had put on for the AutoStadt.ie Rolling Road event. Having an on-site four wheel dyno is a huge weapon in the arsenal, and the perfect setting to allow the masses to come and not only fettle highly strung race cars but to prove the worth of their road cars on days like this. AutoStadt is Irelands leading German car forum, which explained the high proliferation of Volkswagen and Audi fare on display, both on the rollers and outside. Results varied, people bragged and everyone seemed in good spirits, while masking the now in-built desire to get their cars even quicker and more powerful!
Around the workshop area, 3 full size booths were occupied by even more race cars. The Toyota Soarer ran a similar engine set-up to the Taxi and looked set-up for sideways action, while the E30 next to it, belonging to a well known member of the Hillclimb family, housed the beating heart of an M5 under the hood.
In the distance, it felt like the craziest goodies were out of reach our eyes. A beautifully restored RS500 Ford Sierra lay as the bouncer, the single most fitting car to exude aggression and control stopping any wandering minds from seeing what lay beyond. So, if ever you feel like having that what if moment of contemplation, always remember that there are possibilities out there. The Stone Motorsport crew have taken the idea of creating the perfect garage, and through sheer determination they now call home one of the countries finest automotive facilities.