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Bang Goes 2017

Bang Goes 2017

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.

Nissan S14 Kouki JDM

Nissan S14 Kouki JDM

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.

 

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.

Top 5 Cars of 2017 To Look Out For

Top 5 Cars of 2017 To Look Out For

There’s an absolute ton of new cars launching in 2017, the majority aren’t ones we’re even remotely interested in unfortunately but amongst the plethora of boring euroboxes and softroaders there are a handful that we can’t wait to see in the metal – or carbon as the case may be.

So let’s cut right to it – In no particular order:

Ford Focus RS500

If the current Focus RS is anything to go by the RS500 is set to be an absolute cracker. It certainly looks the part anyway. Power should be up from the RS’s 345bhp and weight should be down with a more stripped out interior. Production numbers will be extremely limited if past versions are anything to go onTop 5 Cars of 2017Top 5 Cars of 2017

Alpine

By summer 2017 the Alpine name will be back in Renault showrooms after a 20 year break. The Alpine will apparently feature a mid-mounted 4 pot turbo driving the rear wheels. It will have about 250bhp and weigh in at around 1100kg’s making it extremely light by modern standards. Competitors are likely to be the Porsche Cayman and the Alfa 4c, so it’ll need to be really good if it has any chance of success!

Top 5 Cars of 2017

DMACS1

This is a bit of a curveball as the vast majority won’t have a clue what this car is at all as it’s a one-off drift car being built by local man Darren Mcnamara. From what I can gather it’s kind of an homage to one of my favorite cars ever – the Audi S1 Sport Quattro which dominated rallying in the group B era.

Top 5 Cars of 2017

The Shell is a long wheel base ur Quattro which has been converted to rear wheel drive. It has a 2.7 litre, 5 cylinder turbo motor, 6 speed sequential box and loads of custom fabrication to make the thing work properly as a drift car. So the car should look and sound more or less like the old school rally cars and I for one can’t wait to see it finished!

Top 5 Cars of 2017

Toyota Supra / BMW Z5

Ok so this is possibly going to be the biggest let-down in terms of concept vs reality as the F1 concept Toyota released was simply spectacular. 

Top 5 Cars of 2017

However, the reality will still be a new front engined, rear drive sports car so whatever it ends up looking like we’re going to be pretty happy to be honest. The platform is being shared with BMW and the Z5 will replace the Z4.  The BMW version is rumored to be a drop-top and the Toyota a hard top coupe body style. You’d have to expect a straight 6 to be on the cards as well with the BMW tie up.

F1 2017

Another car you can’t buy but F1 in 2017 has finally taken a step in the right direction, in terms of visual appearance if nothing else. Year after year F1 cars have got uglier and uglier due to regulation changes that only consider function over form. To be honest they still don’t look great but the new fat rear tyres and wide, low rear wings are a huge improvement. Now if they can just make the racing exciting enough so that I can stay awake through a full race we’ll be laughing!

Top 5 Cars of 2017