Holiday, a natural time to relax, unwind and recharge the body. Early June, with two full weeks booked off work, would be absolutely ideal for catching up on sleep, chilling out and enjoying a few cold beverages in the sunshine. It’s natural, but our man Cian doesn’t conform to normality. The following is an excerpt from the EuroTrip travel blog of a an absolute automotive nutter, and that’s in his own words!
Eight letters, six of which are repeated. One word. Thousands of connections. History drips off its syllables, each utterance conjuring up romantic, misty eyed notions of the Good Old Days. The sickly stench of carburetor fed fuel hanging in a mist before being absorbed into woolen fibres and tweed regalia. Moss, Fangio, Clark, McLaren. The gleaming white environs has seen them all. It’s a world of high end living, highbrow spectacles and tangible decadence. Plonked before a menu item or a clothing piece, the premium is noticeable, as people pay to be a part of the emotion of the place, wrapped up in the awareness that every morsel of fried beef passing through their hands has a connection to this most hallowed corner of old-money living lost on a modern world. This is Goodwood!
Goodwood is a truly wonderful place to be, and it truly feels like a remnant of a time long gone only found in Pathe News reels or Downton Abbey. Set in the tranquillity found on the edge of Chichester on England’s South Coast, the area is a transposition it seems. Tree lined avenues, old stone walls and rolling farmland within minutes of Roundabouts, Industrial Estates and Wetherspoons. Gravel lined driveways into the hotel are my first taste of the experience, a car park brimmed with new Jaguar’s, Land Rover’s and Bentley’s being the next. Like a fish out of water, I felt overwhelmed, but then, in the corner, sat a Sierra Cosworth, and a Bagged Polo, and I knew there were a few others of a similar ilk around.
While Goodwood is known worldwide for the rather epic Festival of Speed, which I really really need to get back to again, and the sheer value-crazy affair that is the Revival, the Goodwood Circuit is still an active venue all year round, home to all manner of classic car events. It’s a Nostalgia fest, with the wonderfully preserved paddocks, regal looking phone-booths dotted around and the unmistakable sight of a replica facade of the Earls Court motor show all aiding the theme. Then though, a few years ago, a group of enthusiasts prised open the fabled gates and allowed a totally different crowd to pitch up, and in turn them created possibly the best modified car show anywhere in the world.
Players classic has been on my radar for quite some time, but I’d always been caught with work or some other excuse. When plans were discussed one night in a friends shed about making the trip over, cogs began to turn. Cork to Goodwood is a sizeable trip as is, but I look at things in an odd way. Google maps loaded and Goodwood pinpointed, the realisation dawned that the Channel Tunnel was barely two hours further. Hmmm. And then Ypres is only 70 mins from the other side of the Channel. Hmmm indeed. The dates lined up perfectly, and as seen in Part 2, about a full day of travelling had me sat in a field in Belgium!
Parched, dust covered and destroyed in sunburn, road was hit Saturday night. Making it onto the crossing as the very last vehicle, I rocked into the affluent surroundings of the accommodation to be met by bemused friends seeing my appearance, and the fact my car now resembled a Belgian Beer truck such was my ‘holiday souvenir shopping’. Washed, rested and savouring a rather expensive ‘Goodwood Burger’, talk was of the show. Everyone else at the table were making two days of it, whereas I was cramming it into one, so plenty of discussion about the best cars was deceptively avoided.
As the sun scorched down, armed with a single camera and a crate of Jupiler, it was time. Oh good god! Barely in the door, eyes on stalks and twitching, it was an overload of vehicles and styles. That’s the whole point of a show like Players Classic is that it welcomes everyone. I’ve talked before of how adventurous it was of Dubshed to let in JDM cars last year, but that’s still a hugely German exclusive show. Ford Fair isn’t going to have Porsche’s or Nissan’s, but Players brings them all together. The best of the best, all in one of the most chilled out, relaxed environments ever seen at a show. No loud obnoxious music blasts, instead everyone seems to sit around and enjoy the unseasonable weather.
That’s what I found was the best part was the relaxation of the whole thing. I could have and shot every single car on a spree like Nürburgring or Ypres, but said no. I made a single sweep of the show and had a few beers in the sun with friends. It reminded me why I love cars in the first place, the enjoyment of seeing something cool up close, jesting with others about personal tastes and just having a laugh. Players did all that and more.
Hungover, scorched and tired, it was time to strike for home. The prospect of 6 hours crossing the UK Motorway network in the mid-day heat is rather un-appealing, so it was only right that we’d make a stop half way. Again, cogs had been spinning and come up with a gem. In a quiet industrial estate in the Midlands, down a narrow and non-descript lane not too dissimilar from the road to Stone Motorsport, lay one of the single coolest sheds in the motoring world. Retro Power is an absolute sweet shop of cool cars, mad design, insane fabrication and all manner of one-off jobs. If you have an idea of what you want to do with a classic car, these guys can make it work. We spent an hour drooling over their collection of projects, so much that I just took it all in. The camera in my hand never once clicked. I did have to get one shot of the welcoming party that met us on arrival though!
And that was it. Overnight crossing of the Irish Sea and a final run from Rosslare later, I was in the door of home and reflecting on one of the craziest fortnights ever put down. Months of hard work working to save money, simply to spend for no other reason than to travel to events simply for the enjoyment of it all. That’s what the Euro-Trip was all about, getting away from the everyday to enjoy a passion. I hope you enjoyed the tales from the road.
Holiday, a natural time to relax, unwind and recharge the body. Early June, with two full weeks booked off work, would be absolutely ideal for catching up on sleep, chilling out and enjoying a few cold beverages in the sunshine. It’s natural, but our man Cian doesn’t conform to normality. The following is an excerpt from the EuroTrip travel blog of a an absolute automotive nutter, and that’s in his own words!
This is becoming repetitive, almost to the point of feeling utterly futile. Each 30 second blast feels exactly like the last, only this time there is an angry looking man approaching at a rapid pace and I have little time to compose myself. Everything is flung across the passenger seat in flash, and my now free left hand jabs the gearstick into first while my other pulls the wheel violently right as I make way on this narrow stretch of tarmac. I needn’t have worried though, as if not even spotting my presence, a Clio 197 swings hard left straight into the ditch without a lift of throttle. Surprised, I grab my map and pen once again and scribble ‘Big Cut’, but 4km into the first stage, it dawned that I needn’t have bothered. This is Ypres, and every corner is BIG CUT!
Each and every one of us had a list of dream events, and I’m sure plenty of you, just like myself, have been influenced by tales of adventure and PetrolHead nirvana told through Speedhunters down the years. For years, I spent my time day dreaming in school and college about the places I wanted to travel simply to enjoy looking at other people’s cars. Coming from an Irish rallying background, a lot of my dream list consists of a number of the most spectacular examples of the sport, although I have to admit nearly all are of the sealed-surface, tarmac-based side of the discipline. Rally Ypres has, for quite some time, been pretty near the top of my list.
The fascination with this rather unique gem of Belgian rallying stems from a childhood spent watching as much motoring-based shows on TV as possible. As a rally-mad child growing up in Ireland, it was a real treat to be allowed sit up to watch RPM late on a Thursday evening. Showcasing all manner of events from both Rally and Track, the UTV show was a real gem in its day. Not content with just covering the Irish classic’s like Killarney, Donegal and Cork, RPM made the occasional trip further afield. The sight of a young Kris Meeke throwing a Corolla WRC around Barbados was cool, but it was the yearly duel between some of the UK & Irelands best and the likes of Freddy Loix, Patrick Snijers and Armin Schwarz in the Flanders sunshine that seems to set a seed.
Year after year, mid-June would see my attention turning to going’s on in Ypres. Generally clashing with events at home, I’d come home to a VHS recorded chock full of Eurosport recordings. Year after year, no matter the current leading style of vehicle, from Group A to WRC, S2000 to R5, it seemed nobody could topple ‘Fast Freddy’, as Loix racked up 11 wins. He walked past me in the square in Ypres on Saturday afternoon. I said hello, and he replied. Freddy continued upon his way, while I had an internal fan-boy moment.
Now, while I have been doing well of late to tick a few dream events, there was always a sizeable obstacle in the way of me making it to those flat, flowing fields of West Belgium. You see, while going to watch something at a circuit, like at the Nürburgring the previous week, can realistically be done by flying in and living out of luggage for a few days, rallying takes a lot more logistics to follow, thus driving is the only real option when photographing an event.
Wednesday morning, I closed the boot on my car, going through the mental list in my head that I’ve developed over years traipsing around Ireland. Clothes and camera gear were obvious, but the addition of off-road boots and thick socks is a lesson of many sore feet. Getting to the best spots requires often arriving hours before the action, so a camping chair, stove, pots and cutlery are added to the mix. Being that it’s the height of summer right now, a cooler box found its way in too. Driving on the continent requires a breakdown kit, and the prospect of an occasional nap sees a pillow and blanket tossed in for good luck. Now, how much would that be in Baggage?
Car fuelled, cool box/fridge (plug in job to make you feel exactly like a Rolls Royce owner) stocked up and sat-nav set, it was destination Ypres. When I did say a sizeable obstacle earlier, I may slightly have understated. Door to door was a 15 hour, 1100km one-way journey, done through the longest day of the year. I watched the sun set across the bow of an Irish Sea ferry, yet saw it reappear barely a few hours later somewhere along a UK motorway. In a weird status of high energy drinks being cancelled out by easy-listening to late night music, the miles clicked off with ease. Through the Channel tunnel and remembering to drive on the ‘wrong’ side after being awake for 24 hours, it was hammer down for the Belgian Border!
Arriving in Ypres, the first striking thing is how much this event takes over the whole city, with the large central squares becoming the Service Park for the weekend. Large awnings stretch out in front of historic churches and museums, Waffle-Houses reverberating to the sound of lumpy idols and smelling strongly of Race Fuel. Every turn reveals more teams setting up base for the weekend, with each square becoming less and less distinctive leading to quite a bit of head scratching as to where I’d parked the car. Signed on and stage maps in hand, it was time to take a look at these mythical stages.
For all the advances in modern technology, rallying remains decidedly old-school in how it conducts its business. To find the route, spectators have to purchase a printed Rally Programme. In this, the centre page is generally a tear out map detailing the route, and from there is up to you to plot your route. With a few hours to spare until the opening action, I head out onto the stages to find the best vantage points. A few hundred metres into stage 1 I had stopped twice, and scribbled V.Fast and Big Cut onto the map. By the 2 km mark the maps was a mess of dots and handwritten notes, and by Kilometre marker 5 I had given up, as watching a Recce Renault 197 dive nearly sideways into the scenery was a clear reminder that I need not bother with a Recce. I wanted speed and cuts, and Ypres is just that and more.
Thursday night is practice and qualifying, with the top crews getting a chance to take on a short stretch of stage to sort any last-minute niggles and set a time that would decide road position for the following day. Stood in a dusty field surrounded by waist high crops, the first crackle of an exhaust notes at full chat echo’s in the distance. The sizeable crowd, three and four deep in places, becomes tense. Casual chit-chat stops in anticipation. I’m like a child. A Fiesta R5 roars into sight on my left, the audible scream of a limiter being bashed accompanying it along its path. As it approaches a tight right, it’s an assault on the senses. The car makes a sudden dive for the ditch, inside wheels dipping feet off the tarmac. The scrape of a sump guard against the black-top is audible above the engines roar, as is the visible sparks through the kicked-up dust. In a matter of moments, the car is gone again, leaving only a large plume of dust to waft over the masses. 9.5 seconds the car is in the line of sight, and that’s it. Rallying, speed and excitement all in one. And then the next car follows.
By the end of qualifying, the clock is well beyond 9pm. I’ve been awake for 36 hours at this stage, and am beginning to watch a second straight sunset without sleep. Getting rather delusional, its back to the Air BnB, a real sign that this is a holiday as an Irish event would usually be done by sleeping in the car, yet by the time I get pictures downloaded, edited and sorted, its nearly 12. A thirty-nine-hour day before the event even begins, that’s rallying!
Friday is an odd day in Ypres, as it feels like there is a lot to time to sit and wait around before the action begins. The first stage of the rally doesn’t kick off until 16.30, giving the fans plenty of time to get up close with the stars. One man seems to move amongst a scrum of eager supporters everywhere he moves. They love their rallying in Belgium, and the current superstar is Thierry Neuville. The Hyundai driver currently leads the World Rally Championship, so its understandable that his decision to spend the mid-season break putting on a show for the home droves is a popular decision. Come the evening though, it was go time.
Ypres, as a rally, has always held a unique place in the rally world. Bar a few spells in the European Championship, the event has never been a round of any major championship, thus it has developed organically into the beast that it now is. The prospect of this being a round of the British Rally Championship has enticed a large entry of UK and Irish crews yet again, but the real cutting edge of the entry is loaded with the cream of European talent, be it both the cohort of quick locals used to the challenge or the influx of WRC2 drivers using this as a test for WRC Germany. The R5 class is the pinnacle here, and a mind blowing Thirty-One take to the start.
During the 1980’s and 90’s, Ypres was a 24-Hour rally, and although financial restraints have pretty much ended the endurance rallies of old, the event still manages to cram 23 special stages into 27 hours. Its well into the night when I get off the Saturday stages, nearly 23.30, but its worth it for the sight of rally cars racing through the sunset.
While the R5’s were leading the way, the crowd was divided on what was the real highlight. To many, the battle for RGT glory was an absolute feast for the senses. Developed as a class to encourage the return of sports cars to the stages, RGT has seen everything from Aston’s to Abarth’s, but the Belgian’s are all for Porsche. Full blown, un-silenced, howling, flame spitting GT3 911’s, snaking through the Belgian scenery, the large rear tyres fighting for grip on a constant basis. The spectacle was both incredible and deafening in equal measure. Patrick Snijers, yes THE Patrick Snijers of that infamous Manx rally 1988 video, led the way, but seven other GT3’s followed.
To me though, the additional ‘Historic Rally’ was just a sweet addition. Not did the entry boast all manner of hero cars, the driver entry included names like Latvala and Toivinen. The sight of a sideways MK2 Escort is something that we are spoiled with in Ireland, but to see the admiration held across the continent for what was Ford’s mid-70’s family car is just staggering.
After three long days and absolutely caked in dust, I had become completely drained. In the setting sun over Flanders Fields, it would be that man Neuville who would take the victory, but in as commanding a manner as expected. For me, Ypres was every bit as special as expected, and I may never look at a grass ditch the same again as that’s where the time lies. The long road home passed close to Goodwood and there was some Stance show on, so it would have been rude to not add a few days and call in for a look!
A fresh Sunday morning in late Spring, at a time where the addition of a jumper or coat becomes an optional extra, is an incredible time to escape and unwind. Getting out in the early crispness of a clear day seems to allow the whole body to release tension. The work week just past seems at this point almost forgotten, while the following is still somewhat far enough away to be of no true significance. Stood beside a mountain road, a sense of tranquillity reigns. Thin wisps of morning fog rolls off the lush mountain side all around, while shimmers of yellow and pink punctuate the vast expanses of green wilderness. Everything seems silent, except for the occasional swish of a Wind Turbine grabbing a rare puff of wind. But like everything, it just can’t last. The lucid early serenity must make way for reality, and I’m expecting a guest at any moment. Then, an unholy roar begins to echo through the tree’s below. It’s Here!
There’s something oh-so-mystical about hearing the iconic thumping roar of a Boxer engine punctuating the still and quiet air, forcing every hair on your body to stand up. Looking down the hill, flashes of blue whizz through breaks in the canopy. This is everything I live for all in one. The excitement of a rally derived monster from the pinnacle of the sport, rushing towards me at stunning pace. Images flash through my head of McRae, Liatti, Burns & Kankkunen racing up ribbonous mountains stages, and the buzz of the fans standing road side waiting for the roaring monsters to arrive. I am truly having a moment, and as soon as Piotr comes around the bend before me, I know this is going to be special.
I’ve had it said to me recently that cars, the newest in particular, are getting more and more aggressive looking these days. The beefed up, over the top styling of something like a Focus RS is the current poster child of the rally inspired road cars, but 20 years ago the method was very different. As a pair, Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evo and Subaru’s Impreza defined a section of the market totally at odds with all around them. As if wheeled straight off the World Rally Stages, the pair were landed into the 90’s car scene like a pair of spaceships. They brought useable, reliable face bending power to the masses. While the body lines and lack of arches may seem total opposite to the latest breed of Hyper Hatches, the truest modern continuation of the lineage, it can never be denied that the GC8 Impreza is one of the single most aggressive body shapes that ever made it into production.
Before me sits Piotr’s 1999 Subaru Impreza WRX Type-R, a car that belies its near 20-year age with ease. The clean crisp lines, razor sharp headlights and sweeping bumper vents are truly stunning, but the addition of bonnet vents, the large intake scoop and massive rear spoiler quickly remind anyone within sight that this car means business, real proper full tilt business. Looking around this Ver 5 model, there plenty of little touches that grab your intention, but then haven’t I gone and missed the largest and most obvious touch of all. While many people correctly couple Impreza and the colour Blue together, this particular car does not wear its original hue of World Rally Blue, instead the colour is that found on the 2003 spec WRX.
The model year designation in the paintwork is no fluke nor simple decision of what looked the best, instead it is a celebratory nod to one of the brands finest days, Petter Solberg’s WRC victory. Piotr, like myself, is totally obsessed with rallying. Have stared his motoring life competing in Poland, the aim was always to acquire the dream Impreza. Originally a JDM car, the route to Piotr’s ownership is rather unique. Rather than leaving the Far East destined for Dublin Port, the car was bought by an RAF pilot in Cyprus. Over the course of a few years, the car was transported back to the UK before eventually finding its way across the Irish Sea in 2007. As a high-grade import and having had a number of proper enthusiast owners, it plain to see why the car is immaculate all round. Besides the new paintwork, only a slight arch roll in the rear to accommodate wider tyres and the addition of a Ver 6 front lip, the car sits exactly as it left the STI specialist dealership in 1999, complete with original roof vent!
So far, so….normal. A clean two-door Impreza, while absolutely stunning, isn’t exactly what this car is about. It’s what’s under the surface, hidden from initial sight, that really marks this car out as being something truly special, and worthy of chasing to get this shoot done. The first clue to the purposefulness begins with the bright White 18” Rota GRA Tarmac wheels, an obvious bone of contention who like that distinctive Blue-on-Gold colour scheme. I question the colour choice, and Piotr says its simply about being different without being over the top visually, a theme carried through the build. Being different though means not settling for any old parts. Perfection, to Piotr, can only be achieved through the use of high-end components. It begins with the brakes. While the rear retains a Brembo setup from a ‘03 WRX, up front is a work of art. Sat behind the multi-spoke white faces of the wheels sit a pair of 355mm AP Racing Discs, with nothing less than a pair of Porsche GT3RS 6-pot calipers utilized for some of the sharpest stopping power I’ve ever seen on an Irish road car.
The brakes are only the start of the rare and expensive parts that make up this build, each sweep of the eye grabbing something previously missed. A genuine Prodrive WRC diff Guard shields the rear drivetrain from the harshest of terrain, much of which is dealt with ease through the BC Racing Coilovers at each corner. The Whiteline catalogue has been well and truly raided aswell, with everything from Anti-Lift camber enhancement plates through Bump Steer Correction kits, Adjustable Drop Links, Fully Adjustable Rear arms and a complete Polybush treatment ensure that every ounce of power is transferred onto the tarmac. Oh ya, there’s that word Power. I’d almost forgot about that. It makes a full blown 276 BHP!
Ha, as if.
Power here depends on which fuel map you choose, with the adjustable ECU being the very first addition Piotr made to the car. I feel almost giddy asking the question, waiting for figures that I would expel expletives as a reaction. The man plays ball, I swear and this car instantly gains monster status. On road fuel, power sits at 480 bhp, but add race fuel to the mix and fire up the methanol injection kit, your looking at well over the 520 mark. Under the vented and scooped bonnet lies the true beating heart of this beast.
While I could go into the incredible engine build, I’ll include a truly mega spec sheet at the end. To begin with though, this is certainty no standard Type-R Impreza engine. The build began with an EJ22 block more commonly found in the legendary 22B, in this case stoked out to 2.35 litres. Added to the ultimate Subaru engine is a shopping list of some of the true pinnacles of After Market tuning parts. The majority of the engine internals, including Pistons and Conrods are forged items from Cosworth, with the English tuners also supplying the Kevlar Timing Belt and Baffled Oil Control Panel.
The forced induction side of things are looked after with a MDX321T Hybrid Lateral Performance Ltd turbo, a huge addition designed to provide not only large power figures, but torque right through the rev range. The Alkatec stand alone ECU has been designed to allow for the provision of a ballistic sounding Anti-Lag at the flick of a switch. All the spent gases, and that sweet Boxer note are taken care of by a Kakimoto 3” N1 Racing exhaust system.
All in, this is truly one of Irelands top modified cars, and the culmination of a lifelong dream to create the ultimate incarnation of a dream car, one that evokes memories of a single pivotal point in the history of world Motorsport. Asked about future plans, Piotr wryly smiles. The obvious route is to head along the path to creating a replica of the S5 WRC, but the car is so perfect right now that it might be a while yet. And with that, in a blaze of anti-lag pops and bangs, the Scooby roars off into the distance, and quiet serenity returned atop the mountain once more.
- EJ22 block (2.35 build)
- forged pistons & conrods
- baffled oil control plate
- kevlar timing belt
- MDX321T – Hybrid Lateral Performance Ltd turbo
- 1000cc ID injectors, flow-matched by Lateral Performance Ltd.
- FueLab fuel pressure regulator
- Bosch 044 fuel pump
- Exedy Hyper Twin clutch kit
- Apexi Power Intake filter matched with HKS RS intake pipe and Samco inlet turbo hose.
- HDI GT2 Front Mount Intercooler
- Blow-off valve delete
- Lightened Perrin crank pulley
- Mishimoto uprated radiator
- Alcatek stand alone ECU with custom maps (ALS + Launch control) with 2nd map for 20% meth add in fuel.
- 4bar MAP sensor
- 3 port Prodrive turbo solenoid
- Custom oil catch tank
- Cusco 3” decat downpipe
- Kakimoto Racing 3” Mega N1 exhaust
Chassis & Suspension
- BC ER series coilovers
- Whiteline polybushes all-round
- Whiteline AntiLift-Kit with custom castor enhancement plates.
- Whiteline Front Roll Centre / Bump steer correction kit
- Whiteline 22mm adjustable antiroll-bar
- Whiteline adjustable drop links
- Cusco lower arm brace Version II
- Beatrush front engine pitch stopper fork.
- STi Spec-C quick steering rack 2.25 turn from lock to lock
- Whiteline steering rack bushings
- v6 STI RA 5-speed close ratio DCCD gearbox with front LSD
- R180 rear LSD diff
- Whiteline gearbox solid mount
- AS performance gear link bushes with short shifter.
- Whiteline 24mm adjustable antiroll-bar
- Whiteline rear antiroll-bar mounting kit
- Whiteline solid droplinks
- Whiteline adjustable control arms
- Whiteline rear camber bolts
- HardRace uni-ball based lateral arms.
- Cusco top strut tower bar
- Whiteline rear diff solid mounts.
- Prodrive diff guard
- Rota GRA Tarmac 18” White
- Nankang NS2R 225/40 ZR18 medium compound track tyres
- Porsche GT3 RS – 6 pot calipers
- Powerstation adapter kit
- 355mm AP racing disks
- Brembo Sport brake pads
- 310mm disks with 2 pot Brembo calipers (conversion from 03 STi)
- Brembo Sport brake pads
- Sparco 383 steering wheel
- 5 DEFI Advance BF gauges with control unit (Boost press, Oil temp, Oil press, Water temp, EGT)
- The car was completely re-sprayed 4 years ago with a slightly different shade of WR Blue from 03 WRX STI (colour code 02C)
- Rear arches rolled to fit 225/40 18” wheels
- Ver6 STi front lip is pretty much the only part added to the bodywork as I wanted to keep it standard just as it came out from factory.
Like all things garage related things dont go to plan. In this video the team remove the engine gearbox and diff from the Mazda Rx7.
The engine is going for a rebuild after 3 years of racing.
The gearbox…well stay tuned
The diff is just going back to a standard Mazda diff to suit the ratios of the new gearbox.
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A year is a long time, but in reflection, it is nothing more than a well-orchestrated collection of events, routine and emotion. We spend the clear majority of the year fixating on points in time, forthcoming proceedings and reflection on moments passed and only come the end do we pause and look at what has transpired. I’m exactly like everyone else, in so much as I’m always trying to get to more places, see more things and meet more cool people, all while fitting in a full-time job, a social life and seeing family and friends every so often. In the past 12 months though, I have pushed myself to follow my obsession, and experience more and more of the automotive world I only dreamed of before. Some of these experiences I shared with you on this site, with 27 published articles and countless pictures revolving around my rambles, but only now can I look back and reflect on how mad 2017 actually was, and share an insight into all I did and saw over the past 12 months, and take a chance myself to chronicle what was an action-packed period.
January 2017 was an exciting time in a number of ways. On the 1st day of the new year, FreshFix.ie went live after an absence of nearly four years’. I had grown up addicted to automotive content, and my regular teenage internet surfing was spent hopping from Bebo and MSN to Speedhunters, AutoLifers, PistonHeads and Freshfix. It was on those pages that I learned so much about the crazy depth of the automotive world, and hearing of an imminent relaunch, I chanced my arm at possibly getting an article or two published on the all new FF. On launch day, I got to see photos of mine published for the very first time, that of the Kouki Monster Nissan Silvia S14, shot in Oranmore in Galway.
Over the next few weekends, January was spent close to home, checking out some events that are a great way to ease into a new year. A local vintage run is something that happens in every corner of the country, pretty much all year round. While not everything on display may excite or interest me, it’s a great way to pass time in the company of some older car-nuts, who will happily impart wisdom and stories upon us youngers. January also got me to Watergrasshill for the first time, this time for a New Year’s sprint, bringing together all manner of goodies from race and rally, and I managed to take a look at Eric Calnan’s famous Peugeot 106. Speaking of rally though…..
Late January saw the first ‘big’ outing of the year, and the very first international coverage I brought to FreshFix, an abstract look at following Round 1 of the World Rally Championship, Monte Carlo. The Monte was an event long on my dream list, something I always wanted to experience. I am a gluten for the romance of icy French mountain roads, the Col de Turini and the allure of the fastest rally cars on Tarmac. This year was the one I vowed to take risks and welcome adventure, so with no more than a sleeping bag, a camera bag and a rucksack, I headed off.
Having overcome the trials and tribulations of my jaunt to the continent, next stop for me at least was anther opening round of a Rally series, this time Galway International kick-starting an all new Irish Tarmac season. Galway is pretty much always wet, muddy and cold. Would you believe that in 2017, it was exactly all those things!! The traditional launch pad to a year, Galway will be sadly missed from the 2018 calendar as the event simply didn’t have enough financial backing to run next year. This is a worrying trend in rallying, one not unique to Galway, and a lot of thinking is needed to try and figure out a sustainable future for the sport in Ireland.
Mid-February came with an icy chill in the air, but the second Sunday of the month brought my first visit to Cars & Coffee. The most informal of all car gatherings, C&C is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, a group of cars parked up while their owners drink coffee and talk about cars. Its such a great social side to the car scene, where everyone is there for the love of cars, and a great place to pass a few hours on a Sunday morning. Before the shortest month passed, I also got a chance to shoot one of the most unique cars seen in Ireland this past few years, a full-blown Kanjo EF Civic, fresh at that stage from the Far East.
March arrived in a whirlwind of rain and storms, and what better conditions to take a day out and drive to the top of a mountain. The Vee in Co. Waterford is a jewel of a piece of road, complete with hairpins, flowing bends and undulating straights. Away from civilisation, this ribbon of tarmac is a mecca for drivers, and the prospect of Tea at the Vee was enough to coax a few hardy souls out for an afternoon’s spin. The regular Cars & Coffee meet saw me for a second time as well, which wouldn’t be the case for much of the rest of the year!
Come St. Patricks weekend, the only place I ever intend to be found is in Clonakilty, home at that time to the West Cork Rally. The picturesque stretches of Cork coast surrounding the town come alive for the weekend to the sound and vibrations of the best the ITRC has to offer, as well as remaining the ultimate Clubman rally at the very same time. My West Cork was dominated by Time Keeping Duties, yet I still managed to take in the scenic treat that is the opening Ring stage. This would also sadly be the final time I would see the iconic Yellow Escort of Donal O’Brien flying past me stage side. Donal was known not only for his exploits on the rally stage, but for his involvement in local autocross and grass racing, and it was he who had run the New Years sprint in Watergrasshill. Donal sadly passed away in a traffic accident in May, yet his Ford Escort was there to guide his final journey having been rebuilt after a large off in Clon.
March ended for me with a visit to Ultimate Drift in WGH, seeing the month out with some local grassroots drifting, a part of the sport I have professed my love for on these very pages.
As another month got crossed off my calendar, April brought with it the single busiest period for me. Things kicked off with a few local shows, including Rob O’Riordan’s OldSkool Easter Show. Rob is one of those people that we need more of in the car scene, someone who just enjoys putting on show’s simply to enjoy what will turn up on the day. Originating from a Toyota show which has spiralled to an unprecedented scale, Rob now organises various indoor and outdoor gatherings for retro and JDM machinery, as well as a series of summer evening outings designed to simply bring car people together for the love of cars.
Mid-April saw the trip to Belfast, for what is to me the best Car show we have to offer on this Island, GTINI’s incredibly impressive Dubshed. Held over two days’ in the vast Eikon complex, the show has evolved from being a strictly German Stance show into a much more varied affair encompassing all that is cool in the Irish car scene. I speak of my affinity to event even though I am not a VAG guy, nor have intimate knowledge of the various rare and expensive parts on display, but as someone who enjoys being around well executed and imaginative builds.
On the floor of Dubshed I laid eyes on a car I knew so well, yet in a new guise. Seeing the Akai Livery for the first time on Hickey’s MK1 Golf, who would have known what lay in store for us both. Before April was out, I lay in a deserted paddock of Mondello Park shooting the car for arguably one of the biggest tuning magazines in the world, Performance VW. I suppose the phrase Go Big or Go Home comes to mind when I think that I would do a first print feature for such a title, but it’s made all that easier when it’s a car and owner combo that you know so well.
April ended in a flurry of sunshine and pouring rain, as Killarney’s Rally of The Lakes was ticked off the list for the year. I made a special effort this year to get to try new things, so destination of choice this year to take in the Saturday action was the stunning Healy Pass. A scouting trip a few days before the event in the mighty Puglet opened my eyes to this hidden jewel of a road, and come rally time it certainly did not disappoint. Driving home that evening, after the Killmickalogue stage, I vowed to never go to a rally ever again such was how soaked I had got. That mood lasted all of about 20 minutes!!
May started with another collaboration with a fellow automotive outlet. I met Maurice Malone by chance on a rally stage a few years ago, and copped pretty soon that he eclipsed everything I thought I ever knew about Car-Geekery. An encyclopaedic knowledge of all things rallying and a penchant for fast Renault Clio’s aside, Maurice is an absolutely gifted motoring journalist, one of those rare breeds who can leave you captivated in a moment through the careful use of words and phrasing, adding soo much oomph to a story that you think here’s a fella who must have been a whizz at creative writing in school. In 2016, we started a little project on the CompleteCar.ie site, called Irish Icons. Essentially an ode to some of the best cars ever built, here we were coming face to face with Godzilla in the Dublin mountains. The article is well worth a read here.
As the days grew longer and the sun began to peer into sight, I spent a wonderful afternoon chasing a string of retro cars through the mountains of Kerry as part of the Anne Casey Joy Run. A charity event, this has become a go-to event for me the past few years, not only for the variety of cars on show, but to take in the stunning scenery that seems to adorn that part of the world.
Of all the events I had the pleasure of getting to this year, the North West 200 is still hands down the single most exciting of all. Speed, raw and un-filtered speed, passing inches from your face. To hear a bike at full tilt is an experience, but to fell and witness the sight of a pack of the quickest racing Motorcycles on the roads whizzing by at about 200mph is next level. It’s guttural, as your body takes a pounding from the wave of noise and air rushing past while you’re head seems unable to swivel quick enough to take in the action. Anyone that hasn’t been is missing out!!
June started for me with another first, getting to an Irish Hillclimb event. I had always looked on from a distance at these Men and Women pitting themselves against some of the country’s most technical and steep stretches of road, but to hear and feel the buzz of a single seat race car bumping and scraping along a back road was something else. It felt raw and old-school, a reminder of days when regulations may not have been as lax and race cars on the road would have been less problematic. The Imokilly sprint would not be my only Hillclimb, nor my last encounter for the year with the Stone Motorsport Drift Taxi!!
The third weekend in June is a date so fixed in my calendar at this stage, it’s like my birthday and Christmas wrapped up in one. As the year races towards its mid-point, the rallying world descends upon Letterkenny, in anticipation of the Donegal International Rally. The last remaining 3-day rally in the country, and still boasting the largest entry of all events in the country, Donegal is an assault on the scenes. The whole town comes to life for a weekend, welcoming the influx of car hordes unlike possibly anywhere else in the country. Accommodation is booked out months in advance, petrol stations overflow with cars, clubs boast queues hundreds of metres long, yet in the middle of all that we get the best rally this country has to offer. The stages are legendary, the stories and history equally so. The ultimate weekend??
July came with an all new show on the scene, the much-anticipated debut affair from ILoveBass with Districts. With a glut of shows now emerging, mainly across Northern Ireland, it important to have a unique feature to draw the crowds, and having a collection of stunning shows cars under the roof of a former DIY store was definitely a reasonably strong USP!
As work commitments increased, outing across the rest of July were limited to say the least. I managed to take in yet another Ultimate Drift event in WGH, and come the end of the month I got a WhatsApp to say that a Dubshed 2018 build was about to begin, with Ronan, owner of the Akai Golf, had picked up an extremely rare Fire & Ice MK2 Golf, left in some cattle shed for nearly 10 years.
August began with a trip to Glenroe, not to meet Mily and Biddy, but to take in the Limerick Hillclimb, yet another round of the Irish Hillclimb championship, and my first time coming face to face with the infamous Simon McKinley MK2 Escort, one of the most famous race cars in the country.
The next few weeks were spent close to home, with Rob O’Riordan’s evening spins filling a mid-week gap before a trip to Fermoy for the VAGE annual show, my 5th straight year making this show. The weather chose not to play ball, but that didn’t discourage a large turnout of cars showcasing all the best of the German car scene.
To close off the month of August, I managed to take in opposing spectrums of the Motorbike racing world, the highest echelons of the Ulster GP through to the ultimate grassroots level Roberts Cove Hillclimb. The Ulster was spectacular as expected, but I came away somewhat less excited than I had at the North West. The racing was great, but I didn’t seem to enjoy the day, perhaps due to the unrivalled access available at the ‘200. Roberts Cove on the other hand was a refreshing chance to watch guys, some on road bikes, push themselves in a way many can’t do very often. I had not got to much motorbike racing before this year, but the plan is to correct that even more in 2018 with plenty of dates pencilled in already, and a trip to a small Island off the Irish coast!
September brought with it one of the most unique events I attended all year, the very first Festival of Drift held in the Hub in Kilkenny. Taking all the usual elements of a traditional drift event, throwing them out the window and bringing in Chris Forsberg and Ryan Tureck to play hosts for the weekend was a brave move, but I for one at least found it to be a fantastic concept, and one I sincerely hope returns bigger and better in 2018.
As the month rolled by, very little got done as I was kept busy in the office job that pays for all my travel and adventures, but a sunny Saturday afternoon was spent with some iconic Hot Hatches for another Irish Icons piece, while the final weekend of the month was spent yet again hanging off a ditch, this time for the Cork 20, final round of the Irish Tarmac Championship. It was a season of utter dominance from the Moffett Brothers Josh and Sam, but it is the latter who will back on 2017 as a historic treble winning campaign.
October brought with it plenty of rain and cold, so the natural environment to spend long periods of time in those conditions would be trackside in Mondello right? I was delighted when Rob King from Trackdays.ie offered the use of one of their rental Honda Civic track cars for a first blast around the hallowed International Loop, but it would be just my luck that it would develop into a full-blown monsoon!
On the way home that day, still drenched to the bone and camera gear dripping wet, I took the chance to call into Stone Motorsport for a look, and experience what may just be the most impressive workshop spaces anywhere in the country!
The last weekend in October is always the Cork Jazz festival. The city comes alive, the streets buzz and it’s a great time to go out and enjoy. I had the weekend free of all distractions, ready for some fun, until Thursday night happened. Listening to WRC Radio, a quick browse online and a small bit of coaxing had ferry tickets bought to go to Wales the following day for Rally GB. It was a great call in the end, as to experience a full-blown WRC car tearing through the wooded darkness is a real highlight of 2017!!
November was the year’s quietest, especially when it came to me photographing cars. At the start of the month, I caught up briefly with one of the nicest Subaru’s in Ireland at Cars & Coffee. Plans are most certainly in place for a more in-depth look into this Impreza, as well as a feature look at this incredibly striking AE86 Corolla found lurking in a shed while checking in on the progress of Hickey’s MK2 Golf, which is soon to become a home to a 3.2L V6 Audi powerplant.
The month finished in Watergrasshill for even more grass roots drifting with Ultimate Drift, in what would ultimately be the series’ final event. It was also here that I managed to take a quick look at a pair of impressive Nissan Silvias.
December has been naturally hectic with all that the festive season entails, yet it kicked off in flying form with the Killarney Historic Rally, an event I have professed to be right up there with Donegal in terms of my favourite Irish rallies. Taking all the excitement of old-school rallying, condense and make use of some of the most spectacular rally stages in the country and you have a sure-fire winner. As if that wasn’t enough, Killarney and District Motor Club would also provide my final outing of the year, their yearly Autocross held in Tralee. Autocross is a side of motorsport I have ignored for a long time, but spend a matter of minutes in the company of the mental Semog Buggies, and it’s incredibly addictive!
2017, as you may have copped at this stage, was quite an incredible year for me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts bringing you my rambling thoughts throughout the year. This is a passion project, done not for money or recognition, but just as an expression of my true love of all things automotive. Before the new year rings in, I already have Autosport International, Rally Monte Carlo & Sweden, a number of feature shoots and some behind-the-scenes penciled in, and who knows what else I will manage to fit over the next 12 months. Thanks to each and every one of you for the support all year, and here’s to an even bigger 2018. Cian.
Every person who’s life revolves heavily around a hobby generally has a key date in mind when planning their year. No matter the interest, we all have that single point in time where we know exactly where exactly we wish to be, and I’m no different. For myself, and countless motorsport or simply car enthusiasts, the third weekend in June is special. For me, it’s pretty much my summer holiday, a chance to unwind and enjoy one of the nicest corners of our Island while taking in some stunning action. It can only be Donegal Weekend!!
This year, for the first time in a long time, I have made the trip North on the Thursday. As this remains the countries only 3-day rally, action kicks off on Friday afternoon, yet the necessary side events begin from early in the week. While the crews have done their recce at this stage, today was mainly the formality of getting cars through scrutiny and parked up ahead of a long weekend of challenging stages. Safety items checked and documents cleared, the crews must now sit anxiously waiting for the mornings alarm.
The way that Letterkenny welcomes the rally is like a breath of fresh air, with hundreds of people out watching tech inspections and countless adverts for ‘Rally Weekend’ social activities. Its an attitude like that which keeps people coming back year on year, and over 50,000 people are expected to visit over the weekend.
In terms of the runners and riders, last years winner Manus Kelly leads the pack away in his Subaru Impreza WRC. An oft dwindling sight of late, Donegal and its allure have attracted a plethora of WRC machinery back out, including similar Subaru’s of Gary Jennings & PJ McDermott, while the Ford corner is stacked with Donagh Kelly in the Focus and crowd-favorite Declan Boyle in the Fiesta.
Donegal has the name of the Modified grand Prix, and the line up of top class modified machinery is clear to see, with a venerable who’s who of star drivers. The same can also be said for the R5 category, with all the regular championship protagonists in attendance, ready to go to war over 20 tricky tests.
Donegal is a temptress that attracts some special entries, and I for one cannot wait to hear John Coyne getting to grips with the Tuthill’s built Porsche 911 RGT car down some twisting country lanes.
The action kicks off tomorrow with 3 stages repeated twice west of Letterkenny. The weather today has been showery, but having driven the stages the surfaces seem incredibly prepared and in great shape. Stay tuned all weekend for more updates and pictures. Cian.