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Donegal Diary – Thursday

Donegal Diary – Thursday

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.

Trackdays.ie #TD03 Track Day 20th March @ Mondello Park

Trackdays.ie #TD03 Track Day 20th March @ Mondello Park

What’s the News?

Trackdays.ie are back with another of their extremely popular car track days at Mondello Park on Monday 20th of March.

Following their last two sell-out days, the next track day will run to a similar format on the 2.2-mile full international circuit at Mondello. The event runs an ‘open’ pit lane which means that drivers taking part can come and go on track whenever they like, for as long as they like, which makes for an easy-going atmosphere.

Where Trackdays.ie events differ from other track days is in the details. The company is run by experienced racers, Stephen Kershaw and Rob King who bring a wealth of Motorsport knowledge with them. Their goal is to turn the humble track day into an experience not to be forgotten. With that in mind their track days include all sorts of benefits and add-ons you wouldn’t normally expect find such as free lunch and all day refreshments, free tuition from their team of championship-winning racing drivers-cum-instructors, professional photography by brianwalshphotos.com – seriously, go check out his work, it’s pretty impressive. 

Mondello track dayThey also have partnerships with big brands like Mobil 1 who usually come to the party with really cool merchandise to give away. The icing on the cake though has to be the DIY crisp sambo’s!  On top of all this, the trackdays.ie website is fast becoming the go-to resource for track day related info and well worth a browse around.

Who’s it For?

Anyone with an ounce of petrol running through their veins really. Complete beginners and experienced track day veterans are catered for. A common misconception is that you need a fast or flashy car to take part – not so. Pretty much any car in good roadworthy condition can take part without the need for any modifications.

No car? No worries!

If you don’t have a car but really fancy having a go, you might be interested in their Arrive & Drive Packages. The car you’d be driving is the Trackdays.ie Ek Honda Civic which is a fully prepared, ex-Future Classics race car. It’s fitted with a tuned D15B SOHC VTEC engine producing just over 130bhp. That might not sound a lot, but combined with its light weight stripped out interior, uprated brakes and suspension and sticky track tyres it’s certainly quick! As you’d expect with a race car the Trackdays.ie Civic is fitted with all the necessary safety equipment such as multi-point weld-in roll cage, Bucket seats, 6 point safety harnesses and plumbed-in fire extinguisher.

Mondello track day

For more info visit www.trackdays.ie or contact organisers Rob King 086 6042184 or Stephen Kershaw 086 8170009

How To Get Into Sim Racing & Set Up

How To Get Into Sim Racing & Set Up

For many the thought of owning a fast road car or track car is a distant dream. We simply don’t have the means to spend thousands of euros per year for a few days of track time and don’t have the discipline to spend hour after hour in a cold shed inevitably fixing what we broke at the last trackday. As if that wasn’t a big enough barrier to motorsport, in this country we only have one real race track (Mondello) if you don’t count karting tracks and for the majority of people, it takes hours to get there and back. Yet somehow, we are motorsport obsessed. We have some of the world’s best rally drivers and drifters. We have tonnes of great cars on this little island, and thanks to technology we can now get into motorsport in our own homes which I am going to tell you how to get into sim racing and set it up.

Of course racing games have been around for years and years, but it wasn’t until the release of gran turismo, a game which single handedly ignited the imaginations of the mainstream and exposed us to real driving simulation. Of course gran turismo wasn’t the first, but in ireland we didn’t all have PCs to play formula 1 or indycar games. We were really poor in the 90s. And yes, looking back, the physics in the early gran turismo games were pretty terrible. Right up to the latest gran turismo, the physics still aren’t amazing in my opinion. But once you understood the physics, it was a relatively realistic driving simulator and for many of us, the closest we would ever come to driving a real car on a real track. However, in recent times a new generation of simulation is taking hold. We’re no longer happy with compromise, we want it to be real. And we expect it to be difficult. We want to shave milliseconds off of our friends’ best laps and now more than ever, we are customising and investing in our setups so that we can be better and faster.

We have lots of great options available to us in this world of HD, 4K, next generation consoles and relatively cheap personal computing and many people wonder how they can get on the ladder of real simulation. So let’s dive in. I’m going to assume here that you already have a HD (1080p) or 4K TV or 1080p+ monitor, so that’s excluded from any prices I may mention. I’m also going to concentrate on a handful of games: Assetto Corsa, Dirt and Project Cars. Let me also go on record in saying that there are currently no realistic drifting games for consoles. So if all you want is to pretend to be James Deane or Mad Mike then I would skip straight to the PC section, unless you care more about the screenshots than you do about the driving experience.

The trusty console
“But my friend says you need a PC to play real simulation games”. Your friend is wrong, although consoles do have limitations which i’ll get into later, they have many advantages. Firstly, you’ll pick up a new Xbox One or PS4 for around 300euro. That’s a lot of bang for your buck. The average game will set you back €70 when it’s hot off the press. That’s a basic (by today’s standards) simulation setup for under the €400 mark. Which one is better? that’s entirely up to you and how you want to use it. Xbox will give you access to the Forza series of games which are visually stunning but leave a lot to be desired from a sim racing point of view.

Gaming seats and cockpits
This is where most get creative. If you have the space, finding an old bucket seat and some wood or metal to nail or weld together is all part of the fun. If you don’t have the space, there are still plenty of options. Basic steeringwheel and pedal stands are available from around €100 from Wheelstandpro. Playseat has some great offerings too. For stuff like this i would keep an eye on adverts.ie and donedeal.ie because bargains do pop up on a regular basis. Everyone’s setup tends to be different. Some people have entire dashboards and even passenger seat setups.

VR – Virtual reality is taking over.
You’ve probably heard of the Occulus Rift or the HTC Vive. Virtual reality involves wearing a large set of goggles almost like a sleep mask. The amazing thing is that when you move your head around, your in game head also moves. This allows you to properly focus on that apex or look out your side window as you try to correct or maintain a slide. It is a truly amazing gaming experience available on PS4 (Playstation VR) and PC (Occulus, HTC Vive, etc) but as of yet, Xbox One lacks proper VR support. Albeit amazing, it’s not without its flaws. In my personal opinion, it is like going back to a single screen gaming experience. I find that I lack peripheral vision and can’t spot that car trying to undercut me unless I look both ways before making every single move. But that’s not my biggest reservation, I find it awkward that the hands i see in game aren’t my actual hands and my handbrake and gear shifter are in a different place in real life which leads to occasionally reaching in the wrong place. Not to mention that a gaming session that lasts a few hours is tasking as headsets aren’t light and are strapped pretty tightly onto your head. I’m not convinced about the technology yet, but admittedly haven’t spent enough time with it.

The PC
For years there has been a snobbery from PC gamers towards consoles and most who make the transition to PC gaming don’t tend to go back to consoles in a serious way. This snobbery stems from the amazing community that has surrounded PC gaming for years and years. Without getting into details, on PC you can get drifting mods for Gran Theft Auto and even drift with strangers online who also have the mod. The biggest barrier to getting into PC gaming is the lack of knowledge around configurations and specs. You can buy a console and all games for that console will run on it, but on PC your game will always only look as good as your system allows it to. On PC you can (with the right knowhow) create your own cars or trucks or even busses and import them into pretty much any game. People have even managed to take models from Forza (Xbox exclusive) and port them to Assetto Corsa and rfactor.

There I go mentioning rFactor again. If you’ve looked it up you’ll probably notice that rFactor is a game from 2007 and was never meant to be a drifting game. It’s a competent racing sim, but with unbranded cars and horrible graphics out of the box this somehow became the drifting game of choice for the past 10 years. They even came out with rFactor 2 but if you want to drift, rFactor 1 is the one to go for. It all sounds glorious but there is a downside. rFactor takes quite a bit of tweaking to set up, and even at that, when you go to one of the few online lobbies, odds are that most of the cars wont be visible due to the vast number of mods and adhoc way of simply dragging and dropping files into your cars or tracks folder. You will spend a lot of time simply asking other what cars they have and where they got them, and should never go on the assumption that any cars are widely available. It is slowly becoming a community of elites and being replaced as those modders gravitate towards Assetto Corsa and Project Cars. 

That said, when it comes to drifting there is only one match made in heaven for an entry level sim drifter and that is a heavily modded rFactor on a mid to high end PC. To give an indication of costs, a 500euro second hand PC will most likely run rFactor without issues. That’s a sweeping statement of course and it’s best to consult someone who knows about PC specs before forking out. A good steering wheel as mentioned above would be a Logitech g25 or g27 (around €150 second hand). They are very popular and widely available second hand. Settings are very easy to come by for these wheels too. Then there’s the cost of the game: rFactor will cost you $25 or so and the mods are free if a little hard to find and keep up with. Get yourself involved in some of the facebook groups around sim racing and drifting and you’ll quickly learn the lay of the land. Let’s not beat around the bush though. Although PC gaming is the ultimate in home simulation, it requires effort and dedication and if you’re not paying attention you can completely disable your game by mistake and need to start again from scratch. The end product is worth it though and I would advice simply taking a copy of someone’s setup who has already done all the hard setup work.

There’s a compromise, but it’s gonna cost you. Get yourself a well specced gaming PC. Something that is custom built and around the €1,000 mark. Compared to console gaming, that’s a lot of money but you are buying a PC that’s also capable of lots of other things than just gaming. Then once you have your PC, get a steering wheel. Again, the Logitech models mentioned above are quiet and durable and easy to modify and upgrade. Then finally, buy Assetto Corsa for racing and/or drifting and buy Dirt if you’re into rallying. By all means, experiment with project cars, Automobilista and countless other racing sims out there, but Assetto Corsa gives me those Gran Turismo butterfly feels that i had back in the late 90s when all I thought about was cars and that girl in my class. It has lots of cars out of the box, and lots of downloadable car packs which are simply stunning and extremely realistic. It’s very easy to get access to mods as the community is growing and growing. Not to mention the fact that the game is constantly being updated by the developers and kept up to date using the steam portal. The quality of the user created mods makes them almost indistinguishable from the native cars that come with the game. Assetto corsa is also one of the few games I’ve ever played where you can drive the same car for time attack or drift without changing the game mode or car setup. It’s the best of all worlds and looks fantastic. 

To summarise, this is only a drop in the ocean when it comes to the world of sim racing. There are real online races for tonnes of real life money. And I haven’t even gone near hydraulic setups or the fact that some of the top drivers in f1 and rally and drifting have sim setups similar to what i described above which they really use for training. There are even competitions where they take sim drivers who have never driven real cars in a race and they put them in real cars to duke it out on track. At long last there has been a cultural shift in the gaming community as well as the motorsport community. A breakthrough in a way. I think that Ireland is ready to embrace sim racing at long last.

If you are interested in SIM racing please feel free to join the facebook group dedicated to sim racing in Ireland: Sim Racing/Drifting Ireland where the members will help you get set up on whatever platform you’re interested in.

 

 

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.