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Happy 50th Mondello!

Happy 50th Mondello!

Mondello Park is, to anyone involved with cars or motorsport, a cherished addition to this country. Our sole proper Race Track, Mondello has evolved to always remain relevant, no matter the ever changing environment that is track-based racing. From humble beginnings to hosting large scale International events, the Kildare venue has delivered time and time again, yet still remained as open as possible to all strains of the motoring world. Manufactures use the venue to entertain guests or launch new vehicles, Drift schools use the large paddock spaces to train the next generation of driving talent while events like TrackDays.ie allow joe soaps like me to be pretend race drivers for a day. With Mondello Park celebrating its 50th Birthday this week, it was only fitting that a celebration was in order.

 

It has been no secret that the cost of all motorsport activity is growing with every year that passes, almost heading unthinkably towards a point of extinction, and as such a large push has been made from within to help protect the sports that we cherish. In the face of higher insurance levies, entry fees and other costs, the Irish Motorsport Support Fund came to be. Steered by a core of enthusiasts with experience of all manner of Motorsport activities, the aim is to provide financial relief to ultimately reduce costs falling on the competitor, as such a case of Motorsport giving back and supporting its own future.

The IMSF knew that to do things correctly, it was going to take a sizeable event to boost their profile and raise money for the fund. With the coincidental anniversary of Mondello Park’s opening, it made sense to create the Mondello50, a true celebration of all things motorsport related in this country. Bringing together strands of the sporting world that are likely to never meet was a novel touch, and a huge boost to the events appeal.

While many of the Motorsports present may seem diverse and at times un-connected, the common bond that tied many together was Mondello itself. Thinking through the disciplines on display, it made sense to celebrate the track through displays of all facets of the Irish car-based sporting world. The Hillclimb guys may seem at home racing up and down steep stretches of tarmac, but multiple rounds of the Naylor Engineering Irish Hillclimb & Sprint Championship take place on the hallowed Mondello track. The Navigation and Endurance Trial cars may seem at home on filthy lanes in the middle of the night, but countless events utilise the sprawling grounds of the Caragh venue for tests. The same for Autotesting, with rounds often happening in the large paddock even while other series use the circuit around them. Rallying has a storied history with Mondello, with it often hosting a spectator stage as part of the marathon Circuit of Ireland as well as countless modern Sprint events, while its wilder Rallycross offspring has made Mondello is home. Then there are the Drifters.

When Drifting landed into Ireland in the early 00’s, it found a home in Rosegreen. The Tipperary Stockcar oval was special, but ultimately through a combination of ownership changes and the boom in the sport had to move beyond its roots. Mondello welcomed drifting in with scepticism, yet all these years later the pair are almost inseparable. The Irish Drift Championship now have their offices based on site, while their events draw crowds reminiscent of the popularity of the Circuit of Ireland in the 80’s. As a celebration of Mondello, it was natural that Drifting would be represented, but what I had completely lost sight of was the fact that although the sport has flourished here for 15+ years, many of those in attendance with be witnessing the spectacle live for the very first time.

What caught my eye almost immediately in the paddock was the awning of Stone Motorsport, and the pair of vehicles sitting underneath. I’d seen the ‘Drift Taxi’ before, both at Drift, Hillclimb and on a visit to the incredible Stone facility last year, but it still commands so much attention. The three passenger bucket seats were certainly getting plenty of use over the weekend. What I really wanted to see though was the prosperously low Nissan Silvia S15 sat next to it. A newly completed build for the 2018 season, Stones have thrown every ounce of knowledge and skills into creating what they believe to be the ultimate chassis for both Drifting & Hillclimbing. With the front clip removed, the Honda K24 sits proudly as an act of defiance to the conventional wisdom of RB’s and 2J’s ruling the world. The chassis work, which I find incredibly reminiscent of a Pro Mod drag car, is absolutely impeccable as you would expect from a vehicle designed as the company’s essential demo-car. While the Aristo was getting plenty of regular runs, the Silvia only appeared in fleeting bursts.

As the drifting guys put on a show in front of a new audience, the main track section or Live Arena was split equally time wise between those and the Rally Cars. The nature of the event leant itself to having Rally as the largest spectacle in the eyes of many present, and a constant succession of differing cars and styles of driving rally helped to give a flavour of the world we spend weekends trudging through fields and ditches to watch. Long queues formed all day to take advantage of passenger spins available. There was representation of all facets of style and era on show, from early-60’s BMC Mini Cooper S’s through to often sideways MK2 Escorts and modern Group N machinery.

Sprinkled among the cars present were a number of very rare and valuable machines. The legendary Group B era is often considered as the pinnacle of Rallying due to speed, danger & drama that period evoked in the eyes of the public, and those days was relived with none other than a Lancia 037, an Audi Quattro and a Rover Metro 6R4 screaming around the confines of Mondello’s opening corners, each passing in wails of utterly magnificent and distinctive exhaust notes.

Amongst the machinery being thrown about, I naturally had personal favourites, which is blatantly obvious from the sheer number of photo’s I have of two particular cars. Both are a reflection of the owner’s connection with rallying, owned and built in homage to a certain period that provided the inspiration. Both are also the complete anthesis of each other!! On one side of the preverbal fence, Donagh Kelly (recent winner of the West Cork Rally for a 5th time) was really out to play. He owns the Metro 6R4, which was being driven by somebody else that we’ll get to in a bit, but it was his other ‘toy that just does it for me. An Opel Ascona Coupe is a special car right from the off, and in rallying 400 form, utterly beautiful. In a sea of Escort domination in the early-80’s, the Ascona was a proper fighter.

At the hands of Walter Rohrl is became a World Champion, but in Ireland it gained admiration at the hands of Jimmy Mcrae, Bertie Fisher, Austin McHale and even Henri Toivinen. This particular car has a more local connection for Donagh though, for this is the very car that Donegal hero James Cullen wrestled around some of the country’s most famous stages. The livery is a tribute to Cullen’s 1988 attempt on the Donegal International, an event the car would finish runner up on. Thirty years later though, it felt like a grainy RPM video playing out in front of my eyes. As was plain to see, this car may look like a museum piece, but it sure ain’t treated like one.

While all out, sideways everywhere machinery dominated the domestic scene in the 1980’s, the following decade saw all this change. As technology moved on and cars became more expensive, it was becoming harder for young drivers to make a name in the sport. The days of buying an affordable Ascona or Escort and hoping to win an event were ended by the new breed of Group A cars. These monsters were incredible to watch and spawned countless Homologation special road cars, but they were beyond the reaches of most. There was a need to develop a support category to get youngsters onto a path towards success, and a boom in small front-wheel-drive hot hatches seemed the natural place to begin. Super 1600 was born.

An S1600 car is one serious piece of kit, have no doubt about that. High power, high revving screamers were the default order of business, all designed to be surrounded by all the best of technology available at the time. An arms race soon kicked off with countless manufactures getting involved, but it was the French who were the class leaders. While the Clio was impressive, it was the Citroen Saxo S1600 which proved its dominance from the start. This particular Saxo had a hard life, going from a works car campaigned in 2001/2 to being found badly damaged in a Northern Irish barn, until it fell into the hands of David Hunt. Anyone that has followed the build online over the last 2 years will attest to the sheer level of detail afforded in its restoration. To hear the little Citroen absolutely howling at berserk revs is a wonderful experience, although trackside I probably could have done with ear protection.

All around, various disciplines put on a show. Out on the international loop, a pack of Rallycross cars scrabbled for grip thanks to their rather compromised set up on Tarmac, while Auto Cross Semog buggies chased each other around while sounding like a pack of 90’s Formula 1 cars.

In the in-field sections between the National and International loop’s, Off Road Trial were taking place. An obvious stepdown in pace from all the frantic action happening all around, the skill required to get these rather specialised vehicles into some of the spot I saw to some incredible control.

Alas though, all good party’s need a star performer to really put on a show, and the IMSF had a treat lined up for good old Mondello. Craig Breen is at the absolute pinnacle of World Rallying right now, competing in the WRC with the factory Citroen team. The Waterford man has had an incredibly difficult path to the top, but it seems that his pure passion for rallying was the driving force at times. Craig’s enthusiasm for the sport is infectious, and he is never afraid to profess his Irish motorsports roots. Pushed recently during a WRC interview on a favourite Car and Rally pairing, the answer was pure Craig. “A Metro 6R4, every day of the week. No Question. Where would I bring it? To the Hills. Donegal International Rally”. Well, the weather did feel like mid-June, and there was a Metro sitting in the Mondello paddock……

After soo casually mingling around the paddock all morning, and yes there are photos of him checking out the Saxo, it was time for a warm up for Craig. Strapped into the Ford Escort he went viral with last year (2nd overall on the Ravens Rock Rally with friend Patrick Croke ‘co-driving’ without notes), Craig went out and put some of the drift cars to shames, sliding the Ford around with consummate ease, both back wheels billowing smoke in a fashion definitely not seen on a timed rally stage.

Few runs done, it was time to strap into the fearsome Rover. I stood at the start line less than a few feet from the stack of 6 vertical trumpets atop the engine block. The launch was gingerly made, and I felt somewhat disappointed, but the next sight I had was a 30-year-old monster sliding under braking, right on the limit. Many of the relics of that glorious period are now cherished and very valuable collector vehicles, so to see a Group B monster being driven by the scruff of the neck by one of the Worlds best drivers is a real privilege.

Mondello Park, as well as the motorsports that use the venue, have changed massively over the past 50 years. It’s important to step back at times and celebrate what we have available on our shores, and the IMSF are determined to do their best to ensure we can have plenty more celebrations in the future!

Race Car Nirvana at ASI

Race Car Nirvana at ASI

Do you ever get a sense of being overwhelmed? Everywhere you turn, more and more clambers for your attention. Its an assault on your senses, an invitation to run around wildly and ultimately leave a tinge of reflection and regret seeing all that was missed. I’d felt that way before, namely at Worthersee, but to have all this confined into a roofed space was a step up on the exciting factor. As many may know, I am a racing car geek, almost obsessive, and as such, any event that brands itself as THE racing car show, it was about time I ticked it off the list. Autosport International, it seems, is something I really wonder how it hasn’t been on my calendar before, as it is truly mega!

Starting long before dawn and ending close to the early hours, it was vital to give a day trip to Birmingham the maximum amount of time. To have done things any other way would have been criminal, as ASI is soo packed full of visual goodies and opportunities to get up close and personal with cars and motorsport technology that even spending over 9 hours on site I was left with thoughts of cars that went unseen, and in one case a car I caught a glimpse of in passing but couldn’t find again!

The largest draw personally this year was the opportunity to cover the official 2018 Launch of the World Rally Championship. With the action kicking off in the snowy mountains surrounding Monte Carlo in late January, the NEC brought the vast WRC community together to kickstart proceedings. All the Drivers, Teams and more importantly Cars were presented to the masses, every move surrounded by a media scrum from every corner of the globe.

Once the covers had been pulled off the four be-winged stage rally rockets, the drivers became the attraction, with a litany of cameras and microphones following their every move around the show floor. I have idolised the WRC and its stars my entire life, so to be in the presence of some of history’s greatest drivers was an incredible opportunity, even more so when a chance stroll into the media centre to grab some refreshment coincided with the arrival of the various teams into the most informal setting imaginable. Chats and tea atop a selection of sofa’s, this was the human side that is often un-seen once the helmet goes on at stage start.

While the WRC was the largest draw, elsewhere the success of rallying was to be seen elsewhere dotted around the various halls. Now numbering over 250, it was no surprise to see quite a few M-Sport built Ford Fiesta R5’s in attendance, promoting everything from WRC2 campaigns for the factory built car, through to British Championship backing. Other R5 machines decorated the Rally GB stand, but it was the first public sighting of the VW Polo R5 that certainly drew the most admiration.

No mention of rallying at Autosport International could be made without mentioning the surprise none of us had an idea of expecting. To a certain generation of Irish Rallying fans, Eugene Donnelly is a name synonymous with success. A five-time Tarmac Champion, The Genie was our hero wrestling the glorious Toyota Corolla and later the Skoda Fabia WRC cars around the lanes in a way nobody else seemed able to match. Over the past 10 years, Donnelly has left the sport bar the odd run in a McGeehan MINI, but here, 20 feet from the new 2018 WRC cars, a beaming Eugene stood next to a white Hyundai i20 R5, and proclaimed his return. Nobody, save a very small handful, knew of the plan, but The Genie is on for a return, aiming to contest the ITRC over the next 3 years. Start dusting off the Jackets!!

While the Rally world was represented well from a cutting edge and modern standpoint, the crew from Den Motorsport made sure to remind us all that there is truly no more special a car to attack the stages then a properly built MK2 Ford Escort. The Northern Ireland based preparation company has become a go-to spot for anyone serious about building the Ultimate Escort, and the pair on display offered two differing ideas of Ultimate. Both red, making it harder to distinguish, the first car is the epitome of a Class 14 car that is the highest level available in Irish Rallying. Powered by a 2.5L Millington Engine, pushing out roughly about 350 BHP, these cars are built solely to deal with the unique demands of bumpy Irish Tar. The be-winged Escort is on another plain though. Designed to be used for Hillclimbing where the rules are a little more relaxed, the powerplant pumps 650 BHP to the rear wheels, while an abundance of aero add-ons aim to keep the car as planted as a wild beast may be!

Moving from my little rally world, the BTCC stand celebrated 60 years of men in Touring Cars crashing into each other at a variety of British Circuits. In terms of Circuit Racing, it is nigh-on impossible to beat decent Tin-Top racing thanks to the close action and sheer variety of cars involved in the action. To celebrate the anniversary, Touring Cars of yesteryear such as the Rover SD1 and Alfa Romeo 155 sat side-by-side with the 2018 crop such as Rob Austin Racing’s all new Alfa Romeo Mito.

As if having an official stand wasn’t enough for Touring Car junkies, dotted around the show were some other notable vehicles. Many may have missed it, but down in a rather cold corner, pretty much as far away from the main action and amongst an owner’s club gathering sat a proper legend, a BMW E36 SuperTourer. Complete in a beautiful Bastos livery from its attack on the 1995 Spa 24 Hours, this car is from an era of Touring Car racing unlike any we may ever see again. Production looking vehicles were turned into track weapons, costs were extortionate (think about £1m per car per year) and the action was incredible. The modern-day equivalent of this philosophy of Extreme Touring Cars is the DTM series in Germany. Rather typically for a show like ASI, a brace of cars sat in the middle of the floor, as if just left for us to stare at. No stand, no advertising and no ropes, just 2 stunning race cars sitting for us to come and look in awe at.

Drifting is the largest growing Motorsport in the last 10 years, and its only natural that the sport would find a home at a show like ASI. What may seem surprising to those looking in from the outside, is that much of Europe’s drift scene is spearheaded by a crew of Irish, led by Dave Egan. Starting with the IDC, and following on with the BDC and Drift Masters, the Zeigen crew have brought drifting to a level of professionalism it always strived for, and the plans in place for 2018 are testament to the bravery of Egan and others to push the envelope continually. We’ll discuss the 2018 season at another time, but if you want to draw attention to your stand, few cars sucked in the masses like Aidan Walsh’s V8 AE86 Corolla. This thing is barbaric on full throttle aimed at concrete walls, so to see it gleaming under show lighting is a testament to the build. Next to it, Baggsy’s air-ride S14 was there to represent the BDC, although it was Baggsy’s other toy than was catching more eyes. Built by Abbey Motorsport for a Monster Energy video, the Skyline GTR has a presence already, but the addition of large fenders, a V8 and a turbo the size of a small child is sure to draw attention.

In the live action arena, it fell on local drifting talent to truly put on a show for the masses. Coming off without the year of his life, James Deane was using ASI to debut the latest incarnation of his Falken Nissan Silvia S14, and he had company from one of his many Protégé’s, 14-year-old IDC Semi-Pro champion Conor Shanahan, debuting his all new Link Energy livery for 2018. Rubbing walls, spitting flames and hitting limiters, this was a chance for many new faces to experience exactly what many of us know is the spectacle of drifting!

To go into detail of everything on display at ASI would take too long, so I’ll leave with a collection of images. Anyone with even the slightest interest in race cars seriously needs to make the trip at least once, and with the NEC within a 5-minute walk from the Arrivals area at Birmingham airport, there’s no excuse not to make the hop across in 2019! There was another side to the show though, and don’t worry, I’ll be looking at the Performance Car Show in time. Expect wild paint, over fenders for days and strong opinion in that post!

A Pair of Silvia’s

A Pair of Silvia’s

Anyone at all that has an interest in performance orientated, driver centred vehicles must surely look back at Japan in the 1990’s and smile. As greatest hit’s catalogues go, the sheer variety of automotive content created, most almost exclusively for, such a small island nation is just mind-blowing. I come from a generation that idolises these exotic beasts from the east thanks to Gran Turismo bringing never-before-seen knowledge straight to our living rooms, but now that I have matured, it’s almost crazier than I had ever thought. Manufactures were unleashing into the world everything from Turbocharged micro-Kei cars, through to V12 Executive Saloons. Car classes that would never have seemed even remotely cool or sporty were graced with behemoth’s like the 2JZ fed JZX’s in the large saloon class. We had Ford Scorpio’s in comparison, although there was a 24V Cosworth option, which highlights how performance mad Japan went in the 90’s. The world looked on as they offered domestic Supercar’s like the GT-R and the NSX, but one class in particular became a defining trademark.

If you were in a position to buy a reasonably priced, fun and reliable 2-Door Coupe in the 90’s, your choice was pretty varied. Ford would sell you a Cougar, Fiat it’s rather originally named Coupe, VW had the Corrado and Porsche had the ever present 911. There were plenty more aswell, but then you had an onslaught of Japanese competition for the European regulars. Taking a 10 year window, we saw an influx of MR2’s, Celica’s, Supra’s, Levin’s, Prelude’s, Integra’s, Starion’s, Colt’s, RX-7’s, Cosmo’s, Supra’s, Skyline’s and even Subaru got in on the act with the 2-Door Impreza. These were all great cars, some utterly brilliant, yet one particular coupe range was to unwittingly become the poster child of a whole new wave of interest in JDM metal. Its easy to argue, at least in the early days, that Drifting was the Nissan Silvia!

Across four generations, S12-S15, Nissan’s affordable sportscar platform became a global success. Originally designed as a JDM only goodie, much of the early cars gained a cult following having filtered down into the hands of young drivers, shaking off perhaps the air of a GT car that Nissan intended in the design stage. Soon, S13’s in particular became the weapon of choice alongside the AE86 Corolla for drivers exploring the limits of grip on mountain roads. When this thing became a sport, naturally the people there kept using their Silvia’s as normal, and thus Drifting and the Silvia became a match.

Later, Nissan began to feed cars out into the rest of the world, with us in Ireland getting the later S14 in the shape of the 200SX, but the link between sport and car grew. It seems rather fitting then, that the two Silvia’s here are soo intrinsically linked to drifting, and it was a drift event that I shot both rather quickly. The first of the pair, in complete Darth Vader-esq style, is a car built as a reflection of a man. Peden Nielsen is one of Irelands most prominent drift personalities, a pioneer of the sport and the absolute King of Branding. Having come to drifting late in the 00’s with his Nissan Skyline, competing in things like the Prodrift Super Series, I became more aware of Peden through his Evicted Clothing brand. After taking to the judging tower for a number of years though, it was through an iPhone and a selfie stick that Peden Nielsen became a star.

Keep Drifting Serious became pretty much the first behind-the-scenes look ever done in 10-odd years of Irish Pro Drifting. Naturally, these are a lot more entertaining in the delivery than a regular ‘this is what you’ve not seen before’ style of video, and this sense of wacky out there style and flair had to be translated into a car somehow. That’s where the KDS15 was born. Straight away, the most obvious additions are both the matt-black exterior, and the aggressive Rocket Bunny body kit giving this Silvia an incredible amount of presence. Up close though, the wrap work is at a level almost un-imaginable from a distance, with sponsor logo’s embedded and visible up-close. This is a testament to Moose Design, the same company behind the Akai Livery on Ronan’s MK1 Golf.

Under those massive arch extensions, a matching set of black XXR alloy’s in 18-Inch size resides, wrapped in Westlake RS tyres. Added to this is a combo of Mintex brakes and HKS coilover’s, making this surely a handling dream should the daily commute develop into a backroad blast, although the height the car is sitting at and the large swathes of lower aero and diffusers may encourage against that type of carry on.

While Peden has aimed to create the ultimate Street Silvia, another of the breed present may rightly claim to actually be the Ultimate Track Silvia, and it’s a car that need very little introduction. The man behind the wheel is a certain James Deane. You might have heard of him. He drifts cars, and is rather good at it. He wins quite often, and must surely have a room of his house rammed at this stage with trophies and memento’s. I could list off the achievements, but that deserves a proper article soon enough! Sat here in the gravel of Watergrasshill, this Silvia has defeated all comers both here in Ireland and across Europe, but today is here to put on a show and have a good time.

Seeing a drift car from a distance, it’s easy to spot the modifications that have been done to what was once a rather clean S14A. The iconic Falken teal & green livery covers the bolt-on overfenders, each housing a Japan Racing wheel within it’s arch. The suspension is Wisefab, evident by the obscene angles being thrown on track, while inside is pure race-car. Under the bonnet, a 2JZ engine does the necessary mechanical grunting, while an Owen Developments turbo adds the necessary boost. It’s in the flesh that you notice the differences.

The rear arches, in particular, fascinate me. In action, the design seems to sit flush with the car’s flanks, but up close you see a variety of different length screw providing a handy gap to allow the plumes of tyre smoke to be ejected. Battle scars pepper the surfaces, each a reminder of a battle or a run where limits were pushed to the maximum. It was interesting, when talking to another driver, to think just how much driving and competing this car has done. Each event entered, the expectation and often the reality is that it will see the podium or finals, and over time this accumulates to the point that James and the S14 may easily have twice or three times the driving done of a competitor in a year.

So that is a quick feature on two incredibly built examples of Nissan’s Silvia, a success story not even those in Japanese boardrooms may ever have imagined. These are very quick features, so apologies if we don’t have all the details or spec lists. We’ll leave that for when we eventually track more car’s down for in depth features in 2018!

Eat, Drift, Dance, Repeat

Eat, Drift, Dance, Repeat

So, last weekend, you likely heard that there was a festival going on. Everyone there was having a ball and filling social media, while all those not there had a serious dose of FOMO, although at times there would would have been a willing trade off when the rain hit on Saturday. All around, people were having a ball, music rained in from all directions, artistic decorations and niche stalls lined the periphery while much dancing and plenty of drinking added to the whole vibe. Heck, I even saw a guy with an actual Picnic basket…….next to his Drift car. You see, last weekend, while there was a singsong in a field happening in Laois, down the road in Kilkenny, Ireland was treated to it’s most unique motorsport event, The Festival of Drift!!

Car life, in general, is a very social identity. People build cars, or race them, and then stand around talking to the like minded about exactly what they’ve created or done. Most events, people come, magic happens, discussion is had and everyone goes home. Come 6pm, most of the action is confined to video clips and online chat. But why not try something different, have a party, crash for a few hours in a tent and keep the good times rolling straight away the next morning. That’s what the FOD was about, having a good time off the back of two days of interesting track time and all manner of fun and frolics.

A weekend of drifting is not a new concept, as people might know from events like the Matsuri’s or AwosomeFest, but here in Ireland this was a first. Promising something never before seen, a quirky competitive element, big-name stars and large prizes ensured that the driver entry quickly filled up, but what struck me from the moment I arrived was the stunning mix of true grass-roots guys right through to cutting edge Pro drivers, all going to do battle on an even keel competing for the same goal. I’ve talked here previously about my love for the have-a-go hero’s, and the chance to see them against the best was really exciting

While the cars themselves could probably differ by up to 600BHP in some cases, the venue itself was a proper leveller. Based alongside the Cattle Mart on the edge of Kilkenny, The Hub is an vibrant space, and on Saturday is was very much an interesting sight. Inside, one of the biggest Car-Boot sales I’ve ever seen was in full swing selling everything from ornate China to power tools, while outside Drift cars were running clipping points and sitting loudly idling meters away from casual afternoon shoppers. The track, while initially seeming small and confined, worked a treat in bringing the best out of the drivers. Lined with solid hay-bales, wall running was encouraged, and the occasional oopsie generally resulted in just a dusting off and no elongated track closures while concrete was repaired!

In a bit of a master-stroke from the organizers, the initial event hosted two truly global stars of the Drifting world in Chris Forsberg and Ryan Tureck. These are people that I’ve watched online for years not only pretty much forming the US drift scene in the Drift Alliance days, but right through to being multiple Formula Drift champions, event winners and YouTube stars. Who thought you’d ever see Ryan Tureck running an FC RX7 against a hay bale out the side of a cattle mart in Kilkenny, but life’s all about surprises. For the two guests to really put on a show though, they needed wheels, and by god did they get treated. As I mentioned, Tureck was thrown the keys to Alan O’Neill’s turbo’d Rotary RX7, while Forsberg stepped in Neil Dunne’s pretty epic S13. As for driving in unfamiliar chassis on the wrong side of the car?? Id say they were on the clipping points after 20 seconds!!

While traditional drifting is obsessed with two cars twin battling through a bracket to find a winner, its a format that just wouldn’t have felt right at a unique event like this. Instead, competition was divided into a number of disciplines designed to showcase driver skill rather than all out power. Ranging from drift parking to barrel sprints, with some wall runs and clipping points thrown in, it was really open for anyone to do well, no matter what they brought to the line. On top of 2 days and nearly 15 hours of track time, the venue transformed into a full blown festival once the lights went down, with a sound and visual stage set-up you’d struggle to find in most permanent music venues.

Names that may seem familiar to some, and yet unknown to others, came out all guns blazing. First man into competition was Craig MacLeod from Scotland. A guy that I truly had only heard about in passing, he went out onto a cold track and ran within 2 foot of a perfect run. Mind suitably blown, driver after driver came and made some incredible impressions. King of the BMW fan-boy’s Mark Tynan, a regular around the track-days of Ireland, showed serious skills in his M-Powered E36 and carried all the battle scars to prove how hard he was pushing, while a fellow BMW man pushed just that small bit too hard and gave me a particular scare. Note to self, don’t leave expensive camera gear lying in direct line of fine on top of a hay bale. Quick reflexes from driver and photographer saved everyone from serious damage though, and the taxi lived to fight another day!!

Now, as I’ve said a few times now, this venue played so fantastically well to level the field in a way never before seen. Come the end of the 2 days, the final four drivers was made up of all small-budget, home built amateur chargers, and Chris Forsberg!! With large cash prizes on the line, some guys likely winning more than the value of their car, it was obvious to see the desire these fellas had to win and perhaps bringing their drifting to the next level. Coming home in Fourth was the screaming little E36 Compact of Jack Shiel. I’ve seen Jack evolve from practice day hero to a serious competitive threat over the past 12 months, and what the little BMW lacks in power, the driving style, precision and aggression more than make up. Built in that very cool of late Waterford Domestic Market style, this cars just screams cool and has a massive presence.

Pipping Jack to third place was another young star, and this was definitely a re-occurring theme here, in Declan Byrne. About 2 years ago, Deco burst onto the scene with a number of giant killing performances in the IDC behind the wheel of his mean looking and very low Nissan S14. Aggression is taken for granted every time Byrne hits the track, and the poor Nissan spent nearly 2 days scraping bales for fun. Come Sunday, the SR20 had done a good job of melting the gearbox, and then in true rock-star fashion Declan managed to break not one but both of the Volvo’s laid on for the final, but jumping into Neil Dunne’s S13 done the trick. A large cheque in the back pocket, is it now we’ll see the return of Black S14 to top-level competition??

Leading the Irish charge, and taking 2nd, was Alan Hynes. Come from great drifting stock with his father being drift-judge extraordinaire Kieren, and a long time member of the IDC backroom team, Alan has truly launched himself in 2017. On the verge of winning the Pro-Am title and getting a license for the big show next year, stunning levels of car control saw the moderately powered Silvia making clipping points for fun. One of a new breed who had years of Virtual drifting done before ever stepping behind the wheel for real, think of all those IDC track preview video’s on Rfactor and remember that’s Alan, these guys are quickly making the rise through the ranks, focusing on learning driver skills rather than gunning for big power, and I guarantee you each of these three guys will be challenging for Championships in the next few years!!

But, like every event, you can have all the great drives you want, but we need a winner. It’s a long running joke online that ‘Forsberg Takes The Win’ is a default scenario in Formula Drift, but seeing the man doing his thing in the flesh re-evaluated everything I may have ever felt before. Borrowed car, strange land, wrong side?? Not a bother. Neil may have felt un-easy handing over the reigns of his pride and joy, but he had no fear as Forsbeg is a really a driving god. It almost seemed effortless as the perfect line was replicated time and time again. To make the man even better, come the presentation of the trophy’s and D1 style oversized cheque’s, Chris announced that his €5000 prize was to be split between the three other finalists. This was a seismic gesture to these guys, and a huge pat on the back to Chris Forsberg for such a decision!!

And so, come Monday and we’re all back to reality. Perhaps I am still slightly deaf still from Adrian Walsh’s V8 Corolla, but that’s part of the fun of it. Others will have sore heads from the shenanigans and celebrations, but the event itself was a celebration in itself. It brought the best skills that drifting has to offer and showcased them in a way that everyone had a chance to compete. Watching the likes of Emma Healy outscoring a former ProDrift champion in Brendan Stone reinforced how bright the future is for the sport here in Ireland.  It was a start, and a good one at that, but certainly it has the makings of an event we need to get behind and see blossom into the huge beast that it could become. Drinking, Drifting and Dancing, sher what more would ya want!!

Keep Drifting Grass Roots!

Keep Drifting Grass Roots!

Drifting. A conundrum. An enigma. Somehow anti-establishment yet mainstream in equal measure. Its difficult do decipher, and a source of a lot of personal thought of late. There was a time, not that overly long ago, when I would have considered myself perhaps even a fanboy. I wore my Prodrift jacket to school every day, spent all night watching any obscure Japanese drifting DVD content available to find among the countless virus’s on Limewire and routinely went on long arduous public transport journeys to catch an event. I was in deep, but then I just sorta fell out of love with it all!!

Now, when I look back its clear of how my obvious attachment to the Rally world sucked me into Drifting. The ultimate car back when I attended my first event in 2006 was Declan Munnelly in the wonderfully bright shade of Green MK2 Escort, front end constantly looking to defy gravity and take off as the rear sat squatted to the ground under power. It was infectious. Growing up on a ditch watching tail happy Ford’s blasting by in 10 second bursts, the repetitive nature of drifting’s spectacle seemed like a constant highlights package. Looking back, I had never heard the name Silvia or Chaser yet it didn’t matter as AE86’s missing bumpers chasing KP Starlets and E30 BMW’s just did it for me.

Its a traditional Irish car scene idea, but back then the UK look was still the pinnacle. Superlites, Alpina’s, CB aerials were prominent, but so to were a growing sea of S-Body Nissans. I still maintain that the best event I ever witnessed in the flesh was the European Championship in Mondello around 2008. We were still at a point in the Irish drifting landscape where it would not be until some time in the following weeks when Paddy McGrath’s piece landed on Speedhunters that we would hear who had won an event, but the sea was turning. Darren McNamara was starting his Stateside adventure in the Corolla, Eric O’Sullivan was unbeatable in his AE86 and veterans like Mike Deane and Damien Mulvey were fending young guns like Martin French, Dean Kearney and a certain James Deane in a white S14!

What stands out from that event, more so than the fact that there were about 15 guys who could easily win as the power bracket was so even, was the sight of Bon Bon and the iconic Driftworks Chaser. There wan an audible grasp when talk around it’s crazy 550 BHP power output. Yes kids, it was shocking at the time. That was Ferrari power in a Japanese Taxi, and at the time it was mind blowing. Unheard of somewhat.

While its great to look back and reminisces of great times in wonderful sepia hues, fast forward to today and I doubt I could ever feel such excitement towards a car showing up to an event as I did then. As the sport has evolved, the competitive side of things seems to do less and less for me as the years have passed. Things have got to a level now that just doesn’t excite me anymore, with just a string of one-upmanship builds each looking to make a statement. When Christy Carpenter debuted the S15 in Ennis in 2011, it was a game changer. Until then, the drift landscape was littered with home brew shoestring builds, but this car was the catalyst for change and the birth of top level cars as we know them today. I consider it the first proper Pro Level build in Ireland, yet put it up against the current string of monster machinery and it’s obvious how quickly time has moved on as it would be left floundering today.

Now before this comes across as a bashing of top level drifting, it isn’t. The organizational side of the sport in Ireland is at the cutting edge of Motorsport worldwide, the talent we have is exceptional and the constant envelope pushing in events is so refreshing, as we hit a real plateau around 5 years ago. What the IDC crew are doing is creating special events with fantastic narratives, but I just can’t get excited for it in the same way I did before. From a time when I would have got to nearly every Prodrift event in a season, I gradually started going only to the Saturday Semi-Pro events right through to now when its easily 3 years since I last attended an event.

While the competitive side of things has slipped out my radar, what has filled the void in a big way is the constant growth we are experiencing in Grass Roots Drifting. There’s no big flashy branding or sponsors, well prepped tracks or polished 1000 break super cars, but a real sense of enjoyment. The pressure is non-existent, replaced with self achievement and people just out having the craic in cars. It’s a throwback to the early days that drew me into the sport, where a whole days hacking is affordable and accessible. With the strong reliance on Mondello Park as a pro venue over and over again, regional tracks have filled the void for those who can’t continuously spend hours trekking up and down the country. Tynagh in the West, Nutts Corner up North and Goldstone out East have become willing venues for those looking to shred rubber and bang limiters, and after a long absence us down South have the use of the wonderful Watergrasshill track.

While a number of crowds tried to keep grass roots drifting alive through the dark days of the early 2010’s, it’s only under the stewardship of Ultimate Drift that regular track days have began to boom again. Running under the simple moniker of ‘Have Fun, Go Drifting’, its reawakened not only my own passion for drifting, but opened up a cheap welcome environment for those looking to push their cars, learn the sport or test new builds.

With constantly rotating groups, its possible to feel a sense of reward watching someone progress over a few hours, trying new things and getting comfortable exploring their sideways limits. Each event is a lucky dip of cars on track, from top level competition cars through to battered Volvo’s and E36 BMW’s. Some of the fare may look decidedly un-kept, and this can draw derision in some quarters, but when a car is flying past at full lock with smoke pouring then I know full well that the person behind the wheel couldn’t care less how it looks as they’re having a ball regardless. At its core, grass roots drifting is free of hate and the sense of begrudgery of what someone else has, and its more about making the most of the freedom and getting to the core of what made drifting into the release mechanism that it was originally designed to be.

I know that many will say that getting to a pro event may re-light the spark within me for the competitive side of Drifting, but I always have and always will have a deep love for bumper-less Corolla’s, tatty BMW’s and screaming Charmants, and you don’t get that in competition any more. There is room I feel though for a series championing the proper style side of Drifting, definitely something left behind in the current era of Function over Form, and it’s something that is growing in the US and UK, but it feels a way off yet here in Ireland. For now though, get out to your local track, inhale some tyre smoke, support grass roots events, and who knows you might witness a future champion in the making.