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The Monte Carlo Rally 2017

The Monte Carlo Rally 2017

That fist faint whisper of an exhaust note in the air just does it for me. Excitement takes over, as the growl grows louder. You know what’s coming, yet waiting for the first glance of headlights is infectious. Today is different. I’m perched on the wall of a very old looking natural well, right in the heart of a picturesque French alpine village. As the sun has risen over the past hour, the beauty of the surroundings become more apparent. Houses look hundreds of years old, and a winding narrow road looks designed for cars of a bygone age. But that noise in the air is no wheezy 2CV or Renault 4, because in a flash, the ancient stonework is truly reverberating. The Monte Carlo rally is in town, and this is unlike anything I’ve seen before!

To see a world rally car at full chat is something everyone needs to experience at some stage, but to see them on the knife-edge through real world environs like this tiny village is just blowing. As the roar becomes deafening, the DMack liveried Ford Fiesta of Elfyn Evans is flung around the hairpin below with the deftest of flicks and is now heading straight towards me at quite a rapid pace. The wall lined road is barely wider than the car, but with incredible precision, a flick to the left sees the car dart past the gable end of a house and across the town square to the even tighter adjoining road. There is no let-up in speed here, and after all that excitement waiting for the first car, Evans has come and gone from sight in less than 5 seconds. Mind suitably blown, and that’s only 1 car in!!

Every sport has its iconic events, those that have withstood the test of time and have their own distinct history spanning decades. Rugby has the Triple Crown, football has the FA Cup, but to Rally folk, the name Monte Carlo just sends tingles down the spine. The Monte just stirs the emotions unlike any event in World Rallying. Every period of significant change in the sport it seems can be cross-referenced to tales of heroics in the icy hills above the Principality. Rally’s earliest pioneers tackled the treacherous Passes in ordinary road cars in a time where adventure was the ultimate aim. In 1964, Belfast’s Paddy Hopkirk guided his tiny Mini Cooper to victory, and thus cemented the cars legendary status in the motoring public. The Group B era is remembered through tales of Lancia’s mid-stage tire changing decisions, or the utter dominance of the Peugeot 205 on the twisty mountain stages. The Monte is almost dripping in history, and 2017 was aiming to be classed as one of the best.

As I wrote in the preview last week, 2017 had all the hallmarks of being great before the off, and it lived up to that in spades. The all new breed of WRC cars saw stages for the first time and in the flesh, spectacular is what comes to mind. More power, more aero and much more of a sense of occasion. More than just the new cars, the driver line up also gave a glimpse at how open this year should be, with the top talent spread evenly among the various teams, with no single team hogging the best a-la VW the past few years. Everything built to a crescendo Thursday night when the countdown hit zero, yet it was less than 10 minutes before the sobering reality of what this year has in store hit home.

Rallying, as a spectator sport, is about as free-spirited as they come. If you want to watch the stages, then pitch yourself up on the ditch and that’s you sorted. Simple as that. But things are never quite that easy, and unfortunately, we are in the midst of a serious spectator safety issue worldwide at the moment. It is impossible to have every inch of a rally stage manned by marshals or security, so a serious onus is on spectators, and media alike, to know the dangers, and choose their vantage points with that in mind. Unfortunately, on Thursday night a spectator didn’t think safe, and was killed while standing right on the outside of a quick, icy bend. Haydon Paddon could do nothing as his Hyundai ran wide and rolled, but the actions of the fan, and their quest to get GoPro video’s cost a life and put a dark shadow on the start of the event. But alas, the show must go on, and on it went.

If reading any of the coverage online before the event, Dungannon’s Kris Meeke was too many people their favourite to take the rally win. The Citroen had been flying in testing, and the mix of man and machine looked perfectly balanced. Everything looked bright, and after the first few stages on Saturday the C3 WRC was up to second. But fate and sentiment plays no part in motorsport. An innocent looking left kink was attacked just a few miles an hour too quickly, and an impact with the roadside bank sent the car spiralling into another, breaking the suspension and ending Meeke’s hopes in one go.

The Monte was showing it ferocious teeth all around as I sat watching and listening to all manner of live reports in Dublin Airport. Sebastian Ogier, reigning World Champion on his first outing in the M-Sport Fiesta, lost 40 seconds stuck in a ditch. Elfyn Evans done likewise, while all manner of crews were reporting spins and stalls. No other rally see’s crews in full Tarmac-spec cars tackling snow and ice mixed in among the dry winding Tarmac of the south of France. Toyota, back in the WRC for the 1st time since 1999, were watching their epically be-winged Yaris fly in the hands of Juho Hannonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, but Hannonen would also be caught out on the way into a hairpin and planted his Yaris firmly in a tree!!

As I landed in Nice, the crews were tucked up for the night, resting before the 5 stages that Saturday would bring. The stages were at a lower altitude, so there would be no heavy snow like Friday, but plenty of ice remained. That drive on Friday night opened my eyes to what is involved in following a rally of this proportion. Just shy of four hours is what it took to cover 170km to my chosen spot for the night. Corner after corner on twisting roads became mentally draining, and the brakes on the poor rental Clio were rightly squeaking by the time I hit the stages at 2AM. What hits you on approaching is the sheer volume of spectators already bedded down for the night. Lines of Campervans stretch for miles, but ignorantly driving on gets me a spot to park up no more than 10 feet from the stage. Wrecked, the only job was to roll out the sleeping back, drop down the back seats and get the head down for the night.

Three hours sleep was what I got, before the sound of anti-lag and straight through exhausts woke me. This wasn’t a string of Altezzas out messing like at an Irish rally, but here at 5AM the Ice crews were out driving the stages making notes for their respective drivers. When watching any rally on-boards, the thing that jumps out is the Co-Driver delivering a constant stream of notes that describe the road ahead for the driver so they can adjust their speed and line. While it is possible to purchase Pace notes from suppliers here in Ireland, most crews at WRC level create their own, during a period called Recce. This allows the drivers and Co-Drivers to drive the stages in road cars, and make notes. With the changeability of the Monte, Ice crews are a further backup. Sent out to drive the stage before it closes to traffic, Ice crews note any fresh areas of loose stones, slippery conditions or general things to look out for before relaying this back to the crew in service.

As I stood perched on my little wall, it became noticeable very quickly that there are subtle differences that you can pick up between the various cars as they pass. The standout here is the Yaris. Harking back to the heyday of the 90’s, the little Toyota squeals and bangs like a Group A machine, and the distinctive turbo blow off can be heard from miles away. It’s a JDM fan boy overload, and the fact the crew is strapped in with green Takata harnesses is spot on! The Citroen is obviously a product of the companies WTCC success in recent years, as it covers ground exactly like a Touring Car, absolutely pinned to the ground thanks to the array of diffusers and aero package. The Fiesta, with its outlandish frontal plane, seems to need constant steering as if never truly settling in a straight line, but this obviously aids the all-out style of Ott Tanak as seen by some serious sideways driving over the weekend. And then there’s the Hyundai. I noted last week how good the car looked in pics but in reality, it is beautiful. Looking a lot less weighed down in aero add-on’s, the i20 seems to just float as if the upgraded power is in constant battle with the downforce available. The way it moves around on tarmac is a sight to behold.

 

The Hyundai itself really caught a lot of us off guard. Thierry Neuville, the lead driver for the Korean’s, went off at a blistering pace from the off and held a massive lead entering the last stage on Saturday. A man who’s endured a lot of up’s and downs over the last few years, the Belgian looked cool, calm and collected. All was good until the right rear of his i20 Coupe ran wide and slapped a roadside pole. The control arm snapped, and all hopes of a Hyundai win were gone. While that lifted Ogier to an unexpected lead, more impressively it lifted Craig Breen to 4th overall. Anyone that watched TV coverage over the weekend may have been mistaken for thinking the Waterford ace was sitting at home, but he was truly flying.

 

As Citroen rush to get more C3 WRC’s built for the season ahead, Breen was sent out in last year’s DS3 in an effort to get stage mileage under the belt and to allow Craig experience the Monte in a world car. With the buzz around the new cars, Craig went under the radar, but holy god was he plugging in the times. Each stage saw more scalps taken as he crept up the leader board, added to that an ice cool head left Craig sniffing a podium place on Saturday evening. I got a lift from Craig’s parents back to the car after stage 13, after walking 5KM up a mountain to stage end, and they were rightly buzzing from his performance. Alas, the weather went against Craig on Sunday, but finishing 5th overall is a massive achievement for the young driver, so now eyes are on Sweden when Craig gets a run in a ‘big’ car.

Elsewhere, looking down the field brought a number of battles just as exciting as that at the head of the pack. A trio of Skoda Fabia R5’s, decked out in a very cool livery harking back to a Skoda entry in 1977, were regulars in the top 10, and the standout cars in WRC 2. Andreas Mikkelson was a class above and easily took the R5 bragging rights. Irelands Eamonn Boland had a solid drive all weekend, hampered by a few punctures but bought his Fiesta R5 home in 28th place. Elsewhere, all manner of R3 and R2 Clio’s, 208’s, Fiesta’s, C2’s and Twingo’s made up the rest of the field, with plenty of personal battles going on right down to the last car. Just getting to the end line is an achievement, no matter how long it takes to do it.

One of the more interesting categories within the rally is R-GT. Developed by the FIA over the past few years, the whole idea never fully took off as much as hoped, unfortunately. The class came about as an opportunity to get sports and GT cars back into rallying, and since its inception  we’ve seen Nissan and Toyota dabble with their 350Z and GT86, but it’s been privately built 911’s that have been the mainstay of the class. This year, two French legends would do battle for RGT honours, with Romain Dumas in a 911 and Francois Delecour taking the wheel of the brand new Fiat 124 Abarth.  Dumas took the glory, and although the class only attracted 4 entries, the sound and visual appeal of a 4 Litre Porsche scrabbling for grip on an Icy rally stage is worth all the effort!

A service park is always a busy place, but in the WRC it is a battle of the various teams to have the swankiest workshop spaces. Hyundai is the obvious kings around here, as their 3 story premises would be impressive as a building, but the fact it’s totally mobile is astounding. Here is the chance for fans to get as close as possible to the machinery, and as such the crowds are massive. Come Saturday night, once service was completed, it was southbound for both spectators and crews. 4 hours lay ahead, and the satnav read Col De Turini!

Certain stage names just have that ring about them. Iconic, legendary, epic. Think Molls Gap, Knockalla, Sweet Lamb or Ouninpohja and the Col sits right up there in the pantheon of dream stages. As you stand on this 200m stretch of road, your mind wanders to thoughts of McRae fully sideways in the Focus, Miki Biasion snaking the Lancia 037 through the snow or Tommi Mac roaring through in all manner of Evo’s. History here lies in the ground, and the buzz is in the air when I arrive at 11.30 the night before. Hundreds of campers line the approach roads, the smell of campfires fill the air and there is a constant rattle of fireworks. This is a special place and a true bucket list location. Standing stage side at 1700m up is so calm and quiet, but as soon as the cars start to blast over the top and fire off down the far side, flares and air horns take over. A French leader is the cause of much of the frenzy, but the influx of plenty of crazy Italians certainly helps.

As the last few stragglers pass on their first run, a light shower of snow falls. By the time the leaders come back a second time, it has turned to a blizzard. The perfectly dry road was now a white and slippery lottery for the crews. Flat out driving was replaced with distinct caution as the end lay in sight. Ott Tanak thought his dream podium finish was gone as he ran on 2 cylinders for Sunday, but he went balls out on the 6KM descent to the finish in the snow and took over 30 seconds and finished 3rd as a result.

All in all, Monte Carlo is an experience, unlike anything I’ve experienced. Everything seems ramped on anything we have in Ireland, from the massive distances to travel between stages, to the number of spectators out in the ditches. Witnessing the new breed of 2017 WRC cars was something I couldn’t pass up, and even the thought traveling alone didn’t stop me. Granted I truly roughed it for a few days and nights sleeping in the Clio, but that was an experience in itself and good god it got you the best access come the stage going live. What was a booking on a whim to see at least the start of the season, is now a serious bug to get to more Finland? Germany? Spain? Nothing booked……yet.

Meeke & The Monte

Meeke & The Monte

Ahh January. A time to clear the mind and body, look forward to the year ahead, plan summer holidays and survive on pennies after blowing all the wages at Christmas. A tranquil time with not much going on. But then there’s the Monte!! The traditional curtain raiser for the World Rally Championship, Rallye Monte Carlo is a legendary prospect. All the off season talk and gossip is done with, anti-lag is primed and tonight the 2017 season roars into life.

This particular off season has been unlike any other in recent times. The main point early on was the new technical regulations designed to make rally even more appealing. Last year, Dungannon’s Kris Meeke, with Killarney Co-Driver Paul Nagle, set the record fastest average speed when winning in Finland, eclipsing the much loved Group B monsters.

For 2017, Meeke will have an extra 25% more power at his disposal with the all new Citroen C3, as well as a raft of aerodynamic add-on’s and a return of electronic differentials. The opposition have upped their game as well, with Hyundai debuting the gorgeous I20 Coupe, Ford (M-Sport) have brought along a wild looking Fiesta, and for the first time since ’99 Toyota are back with the Yaris WRC. Thought your track Honda had a big wing??

While car development dominated the early part of the off-season, the shock departure of VW really blew everything out of the water. Here you had the most dominant team of the past 3 years, racking up consecutive Driver and Manufacture titles, with an all-new 2017-spec Polo ready to go, simply pulling the plug. Brand image was at the heart of the decision, thanks to Dieselgate. Suddenly, what was an already crowded driver market had 3 of the best drivers dropped into the mix including current champion Sebastian Ogier. All previous thoughts of deals across the board were off. M-Sport got Ogier, so the new Fiesta carries both Number 1 (1st time a Ford has done so since 1998) and a vibrant Red Bull Livery. Jari-Matti Latvala takes the reigns of the Yaris in what is a very Finnish dominated squad, while last year’s WRC runner up Andreas Mikkelson lost out, and so he takes on the Monte in a WRC2 Skoda Fabia.

Irish fans should be taking a massive interest in how 2017 develops, as not only have we Kris and Paul as current favourites, Waterford’s Craig Breen is a teammate at Citroen. Breen will drive a 2016-spec DS3 in Monte Carlo, as the team rush to get further cars built, but expect a full assault once that comes online in a few months. Breen showed serious pace last year in his debut WRC works drive, so big things are expected for him and co-driver Scott Martin. There’s other Irish interest as well among the 116 car field, with former Irish Tarmac champion Eamonn Boland taking on the Monte yet again in his Ford Fiesta R5, with MJ Morrissey alongside him.

As the rally fires into life Thursday evening, I’ll be glued to live timing and rally radio. I’m flying out Friday afternoon, so the sat-nav is primed, I have the sleeping bag packed and raring for road. The plan, hopefully not ambitious but rubbish, is to camp out on the stages Friday and Saturday nights. The Saturday is handy as the locations I’ve picked out aren’t far from the service area in Gap, but Sunday is the exciting one where the plan is to get to the world famous Col De Turini. Now, all I have to worry about is getting the camera bag through as hand luggage, and dealing with the small matter of driving on the wrong side. So January eh. Oh for the quiet life!

Top 5 Youtube Car Channels To Subscribe To

Top 5 Youtube Car Channels To Subscribe To

If you are in anyway a car nut you’ll probably already know about Mighty Car Mods, RoadKill and the likes of Car Throttle etc. But if you keeping digging through Youtube you can find plenty of hidden gems. Here are our top 5 car channels to subscribe to on Youtube,

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXDMpuwHmS0[/embedyt]

DannyDC2

I came across his channel after he made a video of his crash at the Nurburgring when the fuel tank fell out of his Dc2 at high speed! If you are a track day nut who enjoys double clutching and some heel toe action then you will enjoy his videos. He cuts out all the rubbish you get in other car channel videos. He’s pretty good at explaining what he’s doing in his videos and can sometimes give you that kick up the arse to go work on your own car. He owns a k20 DC2 along with his 328 BMW that he uses to learn how to drift. You can find his car channel here

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W03O4vv0ZFA[/embedyt]

noriyaro

Ever fancied living in Japan? Well, you must follow this guy if you want to see what really goes on. He really shows off the culture in Japan and makes you extremely jealous of what goes on in his videos. He is consistently at the Ebisu circuit in his missile R32 skyline and Ae86. I’ve personally never been to Japan but he really gives you a taste of the culture. You can find his car channel here.

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS5TNgeYTuA[/embedyt]

MONKY LONDON
This is a weird one because I came across Monky London when googling Ek3 race cars at the time I was building my own EK3 race car. He had just bought one which he plans on putting a b18 engine into it. It turns out he’s a proper Hoonigan and is not afraid to let rip on the roads, he also does fantastic drift diaries in his “trusty soarer”. Along with his own cars, he does some car reviews. Just expect lots NOM NOMS and Duggits.
You can find his car channel here

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbwgiNhqUAQ[/embedyt]

Doug DeMuro

Ever wanted to know what it’s really like to own a Supercar? Well, he shows you all the in’s and out’s of doing so. The first ever video I saw of him is when he owned a Skyline R32 GTR and showed the reactions of the Americans asking what it was because it was RHD. He also went to the main Nissan Dealer to get a service and well eh, I will let you watch it above. You can find his car channel here

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNRtfMw6rAQ[/embedyt]

Yep, you might be looking at the URL wondering what website you’re actually on. The page is still young in terms of fresh content but you can find plenty of my on boards from racing in the fiesta series to some car builds and motorsport diaries. So don’t miss out and subscribe to our youtube car channel here.

This Is Irish Rallying 2016

This Is Irish Rallying 2016


Things happen in Ireland happen every day of the week that we never hear of. Events slip by without a single sliver of coverage, yet enjoyed immensely by those involved. It’s an Irish thing, and any bit of driving around the country you’ll find plenty of signs and posters for a plethora of oddball gatherings. But how is it that there are events going on nearly every weekend, all over the Island, attracting thousands of enthusiastic followers and competitors willing to rack up huge costs in expensive cars solely in search of excitement, yet most have never heard of it?? Welcome to Irish Rallying!

The year, for me at least, kicked off in Galway in mid-February. The traditional season opener for the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship (ITRC), the country’s premier series, Galway is renowned for being the first sighting moment for all manner of new cars and crews. This year was different!! Not only did we see the start of a new season, but also the start of a new Era in Irish Rallying. Over the winter, Motorsport Ireland had decreed that 2016 would see the rise of the R5, the chosen top line category for the championship moving forward.

 

Until now, WRC’s had ruled the roost in Irish rallying for the past 15 years. Looking back over previous title winners, the roll call of Subaru Impreza’s and Ford Focus WRC’s victories was stunning, but it was becoming too much. Expensive to run, both the older 2L cars and more modern 1.6L equivalents, and scarcer at big events, the powers that be decreed that the latest R5 spec cars were to become the shining beacons.

 

An R5 car is, in all regards, a very serious piece of kit. Based on road cars, rules stipulate a 1.6 Turbo Charged engine pushing upwards of 280BHP, Four Wheel Drive, massively uprated suspension and much more. The difference, when parked next to a WRC car, is not inherently noticeable, but it’s the part sourcing, and cost saving where the true difference lies. Rather than having a car packed full of very expensive, very bespoke parts, R5’s use a lot more off the shelf components and as such running costs are lowered. But would the gamble work?? Absolutely. For the first time in years, we saw a true battle for the title across nearly a dozen top drivers, which ultimately went down to the final round. Added to that, it was brand new cars out there pushing hard on the stages such as Ford Fiesta’s, Citroen DS3’s and a few Skoda Fabia R5’s.

 

But back to Galway. I still feel wet thinking back to that weekend. Saturday was like a battle scene. Car after car wheeled off on the back of trailers each in a worse state of destruction. We had leaders in ditches, hard chargers ending up on their roof and all manner of slipping and sliding in between.

And then Sunday brought the deluge. I don’t remember ever being out in such conditions. Access roads began to flood, yet the rally went on regardless. And who better to send out in such awful conditions then the Juniors. A separate section on nearly every rally, and something I’ll be looking into more deeply soon, the Juniors is a shortened rally designed to get younger competitors involved in the sport. Cars are capped at 1.6L, driver’s age at 26, and basically, everything else goes. It has slowly become a parade of fast charging Honda Civics of late, although we’ve seen some noticeable exceptions.

Next up was the traditional Paddy’s Weekend trip to Clonakilty for the West Cork Rally. Ever a crowd favorite, and a recent addition to the Tarmac championship, the West Cork is just a string of some of the most iconic stages and locations in Irish rallying. Ring Village, Ballinglanna, Ardfield etc. While the World Cars may have been excluded from scoring points in the championship, it didn’t stop their owners from competing. For a record breaking third time in-a-row, it would be Donagh Kelly tasting champagne aboard the Double Decker bus in Clonakilty come Sunday evening.

Over in the National Championship, though, the WRC car still reigned supreme. A series of one day, smaller events, the National championship has blossomed of late with massive entry lists and fantastic stages. One of those mounting a serious early charge on the National was the ever flamboyant Gary Jennings in his distinctive Subaru Impreza S12 WRC.

By the time May came about, Killarney was awash with the sunshine, and my clothes and camera were peppered with dust and stones. Rally of The Lakes is a name that resonates across car scenes, and although perhaps we don’t all trudge South solely for the rally, it’s hard to match the buzz around the town for the weekend.

For those standing out though, there’s always a certain vehicle that both creates smiles and scratches heads almost everywhere you go. The Ford Escort MK2. Once a venerable grocery getter designed by Ford as an everyday car in the 1970’s, the Escort has become a staple of the rally scene, none more so than here in Ireland. One of more extravagant exponents of the sideways style adored by fans is Liam Howlett. You don’t get a Hitler Subtitle video or a song dedicated to you by being quiet behind the wheel. This year would see Liam never mind finish the Lakes (there were commemorative t-shirts to mark this fact) but steer Big Red to third overall in the Modified section. He promptly returned to form and crashed soon after, and again, and again!!

But Killarney had been a lot damper only a few weeks previously when we old school rally geeks got an Easter treat. I’ve grown up fascinated by tales of the Circuit of Ireland. A distantly related event bearing the same name ran as part of the ’16 ITRC, but it was the true ‘Circuit’ from the 70’s and 80’s that has me up at all hours watching grainy videos on YouTube. Back then, the circuit was not merely a title but a description. The event ran for 5 days, often with little rest, and saw crews tackle stages right around the country. And it was massive!! International superstars became legends as they tackled Irish lanes. As a chance to look back at the glory days, Circuit déjà vu brought together a plethora of rallying’s legendary names and cars for one hell of a special day.

It’s not every day you stroll into a coffee shop in rural Kerry with a priceless Porsche Carrera sitting at the door. As you make your way in, you have to excuse yourself as you brush past Paul Nagle, Citroen Works Co-Driver for Kris Meeke, discussing the Monte Carlo Rally with none other than 1964 winner Paddy Hopkirk.

As you queue for a coffee, it’s becoming almost surreal as standing right in front is none other than 5-times British Rally champion, and father of the late Colin, Jimmy McRae.

And then to cap it off the only spare seat in the house is at a table with Billy Coleman who’s just given a display in sideways driving in his ’74 British Championship winning Escort up Molls Gap less than an hour beforehand. A man that could have taken on the world yet chose to farm instead.

Returning from Dreamland, and the events continued to roll by thick and fast. As the ITRC completed its northern loop of events, Donegal, The Circuit of Ireland & The Ulster, I was out closer to home. The Imokilly club in East Cork has grown enormously over the last while. Evolving from hosting a RallySprint in the Cork Mart a few years ago, they now play host to one of the more competitive Mini-Stages events in the country. A non-championship event, these rallies are a chance for the clubmen to really go out and enjoy their local stages without the pressure of the big guns at the head of the field. Its club man level events like this that provide the lifeblood to Irish rallying, and are a real proving ground for anyone with aspirations of moving up the ranks.

An added bonus for this event was their ability to attract two of possibly the country’s crowd favorites, Frank Kelly & Declan Gallagher, to give their co-driver seats up for charity to raise funds for a very worthy local charity. This certainly wasn’t just a fun run though as the Milkman (Gallagher) came home 2nd overall with rookie co-driver Shane O’Mahony.

The main championship came down to a final battle royal around the stages of Cork as 4 drivers came to the ’20 with hopes of walking away with the Tarmac crown. First to wilt was Alistair Fisher. Coming in as point’s leader, Fisher lost control on the last loop on Saturday seeing both his Fiesta and title ambitions turned upside down.

Another pair of contenders would be the Moffett brothers Sam & Josh. Each pushed right to the very last, aided by both sibling rivalry and determination to grab the title. Josh ended up taking the rally victory, but results elsewhere just didn’t fall right for his title charge. As a reward for his hard charging all year, Josh Moffett took home the Billy Coleman award for Young Rally Driver of the year.

But alas, it was the quiet man from Ballylickey that ended the year as Irish Tarmac Champion. Keith Cronin had a mixed year with some stunning championship victories peppered with crushing lows as the title lay in the balance. Seeing his main rival Fisher drop out on Saturday, the 3-Times BRC champion had the required cool head to get his DS3 R5 home safely and secure the tarmac crown.

With the two main titles secured, Roy White taking the National crown in his Fiesta WRC, the Donegal Harvest rally was a chance for the local RWD crews to have some fun. Although every rally sees its fair share of spectacular Modified action, its seems to be Monaghan and Donegal that really ramp this up to the last. The Modified’s are home to the wild side of Irish Rallying. Race engines push once humble every day cars to unbelievable speeds. Engine sizes are capped at a maximum of 25% larger than original, so the 2.5L Class 14 is the zenith. Builds regularly top €80,000, while every last inch of performance is squeezed out with all manner of upgrades allowed.

Twin Cam Corolla’s, normally associated with marking cross roads at events like Killarney or Donegal International, really have a warm place in Northern Rallying. I’m sure I lost count at about 9 or 10 of the Toyota coupe’s out talking the Harvest Stages, although it was the McGettigan brothers who were really on a charge all day, both on road and occasionally when taking flight.

The Harvest also gave me, in particular, the first glimpse of John Mullholland’s incredible 1.3L BDA engine Escort. When people call things a screamer, it can generally be debated. But an Escort coming down a country lane at nearly 10,000 rpm is something that still gives me a fizz.

The last event for me anyway in 2016 was actually the first event of 2017’s championship bizarrely. Aimed solely as Ireland’s only Historic rally, Killarney plays host in early December to a dazzling array of older rally cars. Split into two distinct parts, the first cars you get to enjoy are the true Historic spec cars, built to the same spec as in their heydays of the late 70’s, complete with screaming BDA’s.

The other side of the event is a chance for some of the country’s fastest Modified rally cars to really come out and play. The Modifieds is where you’ll find Escorts that in the right conditions could outrun World cars, Millington engines, cutting-edge technology all wrapped up in 30-year-old bodies. It’s truly glorious.

Add in the beauty of having Irelands only night stage and Killarney Historic is a special way to end the year. It’s an absolute nightmare to photograph, but by god its one hell of a cool sight to witness.

So that’s my little look back at the 2016 rallying year. The next 12 months has plenty instore and I’m looking forward to another year hanging off ditches and hopefully, I’ll give ye an insight into the mad world of Irish Rallying.

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Eric Calnan And The Giant Killing Peugeot 106

Eric Calnan And The Giant Killing Peugeot 106

Us Irish love a good underdog story. It’s in our nature that we just adore the thought of David sticking it to Goliath. Tales of heroics live long in the memory and are often recounted with a wistful smile and a stirring pump of a fist. A call of ‘Go on ya Boyo’ is never far away in these instances. Irish motorsport is a venerable treasure chest of people sticking it to the man. For years, Eddie Jordan took on the might of F1 paddock, and occasionally won. In 1974, a Cork farmer by the name of Billy Coleman beat the might of the works teams to become British Champion, in a car run from a rented terrace house and a band of friends as crew. Frank Meagher became a household name in the 80’s and 90’s as he topped lead boards in his ratty old MK2 Escort. Those were the glory days, but the have-a-go heroes are still out there,Eric Calnan is one of them heroes.

 

Eric Calnan & The Giant Killing 106Junior rallying, as the title suggests, is an avenue designed to attract younger drivers into the sport. Conceived in the early 00’s, the idea was to limit the cars to 1.6L, driver age to 26 and provide a shorter route to keep costs down. And it has been a success. Countless drivers have come through the ranks and gone onto bigger things in the sport, while the competitive nature of the championship has seen some incredibly close battles down the years. But competitiveness comes at a cost. It’s a natural thing, winning becomes everything!

Eric Calnan & The Giant Killing 106

The loose nature of regulations left the door open for things to spiral. To remain competitive, builds and components became more expensive. The humble Honda Civic is the de-facto Junior Rally weapon of choice. We all see decent Civic track and road builds on a daily basis, but the rally boys are on another level. Trusty B16 engines are hitting dizzying VTEC assisted levels of 200+ BHP. Sequential gearboxes have become normal, as have fully adjustable suspension and all manner of trick bits. Builds topping €40000 are not uncommon. But surely nobody can compete with that??

Eric Calnan & The Giant Killing 106

The rise of Eric Calnan in 2016 was like a breath of fresh air in Junior rallying. Here was a tatty looking 106, built in a shed at home, with an outlandish spoiler coming to upset the status quo. Built for about a quarter of the price of some of its competitors, the 106 and Calnan really began to rattle some feathers. Fastest through Ballaghbeama at the Lakes was a warning shot, but things were only starting. Victory at Imokilly Mini Stages was backed up weeks later with a stunning last grasp snatch and grab at the Cork20 Junior Rally. 12 seconds down sitting on the start line of the final stage, the diminutive Peugeot scorched to a 1.6 sec victory. Internet flame wars erupted as people scratched their head at just how Eric pulled the time out that day. It was these sort of heroics that began grabbing attention. A dominating display on the Fastnet rally really cemented a fantastic season, taking a massive 26 second lead on the 1st stage and controlling the rally to chalk up yet another victory . A Billy Coleman Award nomination followed, while Motorsport.ie’s recently published list ranking 2016’s top Irish rally drivers ranked Calnan at No.6 among some very illustrious company.

Eric Calnan & The Giant Killing 106

But what is it about this car and driver pair that make them so quick? Calnan naturally lays all the success on co-driver Aileen Kelly. Cousins, the pair only began sitting together his year and things have really paid off. Watching any on-board’s, Eric’s mad man nature is balanced by Aileen’s calm and steady delivery of the notes at all manner of kamikaze speeds. Rallying is very much a team sport, with the driver leaning massively on the Navi to describe the road ahead and keep on top of necessary paperwork and time cards, but having an all-out, maximum attack driving style and distinct lack of fear certainly is an added bonus. But every hero spec warrior needs a chariot.

Eric Calnan & The Giant Killing 106

Approaching the silver 106 GTI up close, the battered exterior is a sign of a car that’s had a tough campaign. It’s not a neglected car, but it just goes against the shiny, polished nature of those around it. Straight panels, or even wing mirrors in this case, make no difference when it comes to launching yourself down a rally stage. It almost seems like a ruse to put people off, perhaps guide them away from the potency that lies beneath. It’s perhaps a reflection of the man himself, that the desire to find that extra tenth is far greater than looking good on the start line. Small marks here and there act almost as war paint, carried as a warning to others. A scrape from a chicane here, and dent from a tire wall there, it’s all part of the appeal.

Eric Calnan & The Giant Killing 106

Under the bonnet is where things really get interesting. A Citroen JP4 engine sits proudly in the middle of the bay. Hand built by Calnan over the winter, his engineers touches are seen all over. Clever little tips and trick are seen in the desire to wring as much power from the 16 valve lump, from a redesigned head to a custom manifold. Anything non-essential has been removed in the quest to save weight, but it is the set of GSXR throttle bodies sitting nearly flush with the firewall that certainly grab attention. In typical Calnan fashion, checking even basic things like having room for a wiper motor were secondary to performance, but thankfully finding a LHD unit sorted that issue. Pumping out slightly more than 160 BHP, this is a very quick 106, yet it still gives roughly 40/50 BHP of an advantage to the opposition.

Eric Calnan & The Giant Killing 106

Power is delivered to the front wheels through a 5 speed box and limited slip differential, again built by Calnan in his shed. Bilstein suspension helps to deal with the rough and tumble of a bumpy rally stage, while the solid Torsion Bar rear end is helped greatly with Team Dynamic shock absorbers. Braking, if ever relied upon, is taken care of with Carbone Lorraine pads and Brembo disks front and rear. For true maximum attack, a Hydraulic handbrake is on hand and is clearly not there for show as becomes obvious watching Calnan flying around the Watergrasshill track.

Eric Calnan & The Giant Killing 106

Plastered both front and back is the battling cry #anythingbutacivic. An obvious tongue in cheek gesture towards the opposition, it’s a message that’s resonated around Irish rallying, and one spotted on a growing number of other cars. As with any sort of race car though, having other names plastered on the side of the car helps massively in getting a budget together to go out and compete. Colin Byrne (CB Tool Hire) and Donal O’Brien (Donalobriencars.ie) have backed Eric from the start, along with a number of other local business, and without support like that many would get nowhere in motorsport.  

Eric Calnan & The Giant Killing 106

Inside is typical rally car, where function takes priority over form. A pair of beefy OMP seats keep the crew held in place snugly, while a custom weld in roll cage keeps safety in check. Everything here is dictated by FIA regulations to help protect the crew if anything was to ever go wrong.

Eric Calnan & The Giant Killing 106

Plans for 2017 are still undecided for Calnan and the 106. A crack at the Tarmac Junior Championship is a very real option, although it includes a couple of long treks up the country to Donegal and the Ulster rallies. The ’17 season see’s M-Sport launching its own entry level championship in Ireland, the R2 National, which is aimed as a first dip into the world of factory built International level machinery for those with aspirations of going down that avenue. A promising development for younger drivers, it unfortunately remains out of reach financially for a large number of drivers, Calnan included. Money and rallying will always go hand in hand, and to get anywhere you need a lot of it. But Eric Calnan is a reminder that the underdog is still alive, sticking two fingers up to the big boys and having a damn good time and enjoying rallying!

Full Spec List:

Engine:

Citroen TU5 JP4

1600cc 16v

P&P Head (Homemade)

K1 GSXR1000 Throttle Bodies

Custom inlet manifold ported to match head (Homemade)

Hayabusa/GSXR Injectors

RamAir air filter

106 Cup Car Cams

Custom Stainless Exhaust manifold (Homemade)

Pugsport 2” stainless exhaust

 

Gearbox:

Standard Peugeot MA Gearbox with uprated bearings.

Gripper LSD

S1 Rallye Final Drive

Custom Gearkit

Paddle Clutch

 

Suspension:

Front:

Bilstein B8 Shocks

AST Adjustable camber top mounts

Interchangeable spring rates/lengths

Rear:

Team Dynamic 2-way adjustable shocks

 

Brakes:

Front:

CL RC6+ pads and brembo discs

Rear:

CL RC5 pads and brembo max grooved discs

Hydraulic handbrake & Bias Valve

 

Chassis:

Full weld in cage with extra bars

Strut top strengthener plates & Strut brace

LHD Wiper conversion

Lightweight shell (prepped by Eric)

Walbro Intank High Pressure Fuel Pump

6mm aluminium sump guard (Homemade)

Seats/Harnesses/Extinguishers to comply with FIA international regs.

 

With Thanks to:

Jonathon Trill (TM Valeting),

Shane Fitzgerald (EVOSigns),

Denis O Connell (extremely patient man that helps Eric make good looking stuff).

Welcome Cian Donnellan To FreshFix

Welcome Cian Donnellan To FreshFix

My name is Cian Donnellan…………and I’m addicted to cars!! God that was a relief to get out there, but then again making that admission on a site like this is like saying there’s sand in the Sahara. I suffer from the most extreme of afflictions, namely petrol in the blood. Diagnosed since birth, the parents recall times when I was 2 or 3 years of age happily sitting on their laps during journeys (remember when that was safe and socially accepted!!) naming every car as they whizzed past. Right through primary school, ask me what I wanted to become and the answer was always to be Colin McRae.

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Having a parent from Donegal, rallying was always going to have a massive role in shaping my automotive passion. Growing up, every Christmas would see the WRC review annual land onto the kitchen table, while being allowed up late once a week for RPM on UTV was a rare treat. But it took ages for me to experience rallying in real life. In Cork City, the closest we got to the action was the Cork 20 Finish Ramp each year. My parents were busy at weekends, and besides they had better things to do than stand in a ditch.

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Once I got my license, there was no stopping me. I’d wreck manager’s heads by constantly wheeling and dealing hours here and there to get Sunday free to drive the country to take in some action. For those that have never been out on the stages, it’s an experience unlike anything else imaginable. It’s a proper rural day out, chasing around backroads trying to decipher maps before the usual rigmarole of hopping fences and gates, but once you experience the buzz of a car at full chat barely meters from your face then you can only be convinced!!

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As a natural progression from the stages, drifting emerged onto my radar in the mid-00’s, but then again it was people like Declan Munnelly in the green MK2 Escort that got me hooked. Here was the sideways action of the stages, nicely packaged into a compact format. Suddenly places like Rosegreen, Ennis and Mondello were added to the list of ‘Where’s Cian off to This Week’. Having been at Prodrift Europe in ’08 and been in amazement at the first ever 500+ BHP car on the island (Bon Bon’s Chaser), I’ve become less enthused about competitive drifting in recent years. The thought of a screaming 16v Corolla appeals more, but that’s just me being old skool. Perhaps 2017 is the year or me to fall back in love with pro drifting?

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As you may have copped, motorsport in general just does it for me. No matter what the level or the discipline, from bikes to trucks (go and watch them boys race in the flesh. Holy Moly!!) I’ll be interested. I’m also an absolute nerd for racing history, so may YouTube history at times is like a VHS collection of 90’s Touring Car Racing or 80’s Rallying. When I went to Goodwood Festival of Speed a few years back, at one point I stood with a Tyrrell F1 car on overrun in one ear and a BDA Escort in the other. I may have wept!

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The modified car scene that I’ve always been aware of from growing up in Cork. The roads were, at times during the good years, a venerable car spotters dream. As a Gran Turismo Era child, all manner of JDM monsters became visible, and among my group of friends we began messing about here and there working on our own cars. Although the show scene died out massively during the recession, events like VAGE become an annual staple of my calendar. Although I’d happily admit that I’m not the biggest fan, the build levels and details really sucked me into that world. Although I still doubt I’d ever have the patience to build a nice VAG car, I began to notice more and more each year. How do you cure this growing interest, era a year out of Ireland should do the trick? Where to go I asked? Ah Klagenfurt in Austria should do. Quiet, sleepy, picturesque, no discernible car scene……..bar for one month of the year, when it’s at the heart of Worthersee Treffen, the world’s biggest VAG show. I swore to the parents it was a coincidence, although study was abandoned for 3 weeks to go and sit in a petrol station. I’ll put together a lookback in a few weeks!!

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Going from being into cars to actually photographing cars was a complete fluke. I’d carried a small pocket camera to events the odd time for a few years, but had no real mass on the pics taken. Then in 2011, I went off one day with a month’s pay in my pocket to buy a gaming racing wheel. The shop was sold out, so I bought a Nikon DSLR instead, as you do. What an expensive mistake that was!! Since then, I took more and more interest in photographing cars, studying techniques, trying out things. I’d never even shot a car alone until last year my friend Maurice Malone from CompleteCar roped me into his new feature series.

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So being into cars has to mean being into driving cars right?? I was 19 when I Ianded home with my own wheels for the first time. 2 lessons completed, full license in hand and a few bob saved, I went all out. Siting outside the house was a bit of a dream car of mine, an AE92 Toyota Corolla Gti. A fantastic car, but of course I’d never even once thought of insurance or that lark. Turns out, having something that includes the words Twincam, 16 Valve and GTi in the title isn’t the most insurance friendly when your 19!! After 4 months sitting in the shed, the time was night for my 4AGE dreams to begin, but I treated the car like a baby. I think I brought it to 4000 RPM once, I spent silly amounts of money on it over my 2 years ( Looking back, a €345 bill from Toyota just to replace Bolts, Washers, Clips and Hoses was a bit extreme) and ultimately ended up upside down in a ditch.

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Between going abroad for a year and everything that entails, it was nearly 14 months before the next proper car arrived. The Puglet was found feeling sorry for itself down the very back of a dealer’s yard, covered in dirt and its paint flat as a pancake. Over the past 15 months it evolved bit by bit, pats coming from all manner of second hand sources. Bumpers from crashed rally cars, interior from crashed road cars. At the height of things, I was driving just shy of 450 miles a week in a 21 year old city car, with a straight through exhaust, hardened race suspension and sitting about 3 inches off the ground. I was almost thankful to be at work some days, but give it a back road and my face would light up. I grew bored (read: weary, dishevelled or defeated) of the daily grind in the Pug, so I’ve gone against my hard-core, old skool mentality and now waft around in the luxury of an E46 318CI. It’s just so nice, I don’t even want to do silly stuff to it.

I look forward to the new era of FreshFix and I hope you enjoy what I’ll be sharing on the site. Look forward to plenty of Rally action from around Ireland, grassroots drifting, various shows and the best of Munster’s modified cars. I have a few large events abroad that I’m planning to get to this year as well, so make sure to stay tuned for that. Here to 2017 and a new era of FreshFix. I