There’s a distinct beauty to the first real blast of sunshine for the year, the initial feeling that perhaps we may actually get a Summer in Ireland for a change. As the evening drags on basked in glorious shades, people seem happy. Strangers make conversation about the weather, not remarking as normal on a bleak dreary Irish day but rather commenting ‘God its fierce nice isn’t it’. Natural pessimism remained with the typical retort often being ‘I hope it lasts for the weekend’, but you could twig you were in the right company when another would chip in with ‘It’ll be fierce hard on Tyres”. See, as the glorious sunshine beams down, I find myself of a Friday evening stood in the stable yard of Killarney Racecourse. All around, the stunning natural vistas of mountain peaks stand draped in a yellow glow, but it’s horsepower of an altogether more exciting kind that has drawn me here, and the ever-wonderful Rally of The Lakes.
I’ve gushed before about the beauty of Killarney, and truth be told it feels as if the town was hand built to cater for all manner of guests. Being the May Bank Holiday Weekend, throngs of large busses ferry the masses of Tourists around the sights. Everything seems to be within reach for guests, such is the amount of spots you encounter coaches frantically looking for parking to offload their party of overseas visitors. The sunshine naturally helps, as the town radiates in the fine weather. Ice-cream shops become licenses to print money, while the doors of Pubs are thrown open and customers spill out into outdoor seating. Added to this is the influx of the rally brigade, making a 25th pilgrimage to Kerry for the May weekend. While the wonderful Historic Rally in December may be an incredibly popular event, it is dwarfed significantly by the size and scale of the crowds drawn to the Lakes each year.
A rally weekend generally begins for me on the day of the event, although more and more so I’m finding time to get down the day before to take in the build-up and excitement before the crew’s head for Stage 1. For Killarney though, preparation started much earlier. Like last year, I became quite aware of how little knowledge I had of the stages that are staples of the Lakes experience. While 2017 saw me make a first visit to the Tim Healy Pass, I’d heard soo much gushing that I knew it was finally time to check out the true Beara stages, Cod’s Head and Ardgroom. A fortnight before the event I went for a spin and fell in love with a part of Ireland I had never been before. I’ll come back to it in a while, but my god Beara is incredible.
Scrutiny before an event is a great way to get both up close and truly under the skin of a lot of the rally machinery. In a change from previous year, this took place in Killarney Racecourse which was ideal. Not only for the amount of space available for crews to unload cars, but the sheer beauty of the backdrop that adorns the Racecourse. The peaks of the National Park stretch as far as the horizon, and with a genuine warmth in the air its magical. It was sunny here as well for the Historic scrutiny but being early December, it was decidedly colder!!
The cars filter through somewhat at random, home built challengers side-by-side with the latest and greatest Factory built machines. The Eves brothers Kevin and Corey had their pair of AE86 Corollas in line together. Corey’s car, with the rather appropriate 86 door number, is typical of a competitive level car within a class, with the main aim for the weekend being to beat similarly powered machinery. Under the bonnet lay a surprise, as the silver rocker cover deceptively hid the fact that a Honda B16 engine powers this Corolla, with the Vtec lump reverse engineered to cater for the RWD setup. In front though, Kevin’s car is on a completely different level to his brothers. Powered by a 2.5L Millington Diamond engine, this machine is built to win! Kevin is the reigning Irish Modified Champion, a series designed for rally cars that perhaps fall out of the original Manufacture homologation specs, so the home for all the wild side of Irish Rallying. It wouldn’t be a great weekend for the Eves’ though, as both would retire on the first day.
Once through scrutiny, the next big task for many of the crews was to put on a show for the masses in Killarney Town Centre. While you may see elsewhere in the world that events put on vastly expensive Super Special Stages that draw the crowds, in Ireland we simply appreciate the opportunity to get up close to the drivers and cars. Scrutiny and the subsequent Pairc Ferme are generally off-limits to the Public, so a Ceremonial Launch is of the best way to make a rally feel a part of the community. No matter which event you go to though, you would struggle to find a bigger crowd at any start ramp than in the Kingdom. The locals flood out onto the narrow streets to welcome their hero’s, with plenty of local crews taking the chance to cross the ramp in front of family and friends. It’s not every day that a bunch of rally cars are able to take over a busy shopping street on a Friday evening, and it was clear to see how well the invasion was received.
As the crowds soaked up the sight of the cars ticking over in the sunshine, a rather noisy burble grew from the back of the pack. Casting my eye down, it was pretty obvious that this was no Honda Civic or Ford Escort, but something a lot more special. The closer I got, the more potent the noise. Peeking through the crowds, a familiar blue quarter panel appeared into view. Amongst the buildings, an echo grew as Kevin O’Donoghue’s BMW E30 snaked through the bemused onlookers. It’s truly incredible to experience the noise this car makes, thank in the most part to the engine that lies under the bonnet. Developed from a Saab unit, Motor Design Sweden have pieced together one of the wildest sounding N/A Four Cylinder I’ve come across, with three litres of capacity designed to tackle rally stages. Kevin continued through the line until he reached the Escort of son Colin, who would be taking on the Junior rally the following day. It’s one thing seeing a Father and Son crew compete alongside one-another, but more impressive as they both crossed the line to start the rally in special machinery.
Before any car was to cross the ramp though, a poignant gesture was made to remember the late Dougie Hughes. For over 40 years, Dougie would have been the voice of many start and finish ramp ceremonies, an MC who lived and breathed Rallying in Ireland. When news broke of Dougies passing, he was remembered fondly by the rally family all over the world, and his friends in Killarney & District Motor Club honoured the man with the release of doves into the night sky.
As the evening began to fade, I left the ramp and parked up for a look at the various cars cruising around the town for the weekend. We don’t have large fluid motoring lifestyle events like Worthersee or large cruises in this country, so a Rally Weekend in Killarney or Letterkenny is as close as we get. People make a point of heading down south not only to show off their own car, but to meet others doing the exact same thing and to take in the atmosphere. While the argument will be raised about how few of these people travel with even the slightest interest in the Rally or simply to cause trouble, the vast majority I talked to, many faces you seem to only meet at the Lakes, seemed to have made the spin to enjoy a weekend with other petrol heads. Although the town did at times feel littered with scrappy Lexus IS200’s, many with a straight pipe exhaust that would pierce solid rock and a CB aerial large enough to contact NASA, there were plenty of gems amongst them.
Of all the car’s around town though, I still think I caught the absolute pinnacle on Friday evening. Sat on a garage forecourt watching the sun set, an unfamiliar shape drove past. My eyes felt deceived, but when the car pulled in past me a minute later, I knew I had to take a closer look. Shimmering in its silver glory, this 1975 Toyota Celica TA22 is a rare machine anywhere in the world, but to find one in Ireland is exceptionally rare. A new arrival to these shores, imported less than 2 months ago, this car hasn’t arrived like soo many others from Japan but rather the sunnier climes of Australia. The car had been bought and restored by the owner in Oz, and when the time came to arrive home, it was natural he says that the Celica would be put into a shipping crate destined for the other side of the world. Opening the sweeping bonnet revealed a Carb’d 1.6L 2T engine, finished to an incredible standard that matched the level of the car. Inside, it truly is exactly like stepping back into 1975 with brown vinyl covering every surface, bar the addition of a newer steering wheel and radio, as although it didn’t look like it, this Toyota was doubling as the family car for the night. As the sun set, I grabbed a few pictures pretty much right where I met the car, in the back of a petrol station. Into darkness I had to go, and the sat-nav was set for that magical Beara peninsula.
Lying what feels like about one million miles from anywhere, Beara juts out into the Atlantic while straddling the Cork/Kerry border. Stunningly beautiful, it’s a place that remains unspoiled from how nature intended. Nearly two hours from Killarney, the road to Allihies is long and twisty, the majority of the mileage clocked up in complete darkness devoid of anyone else on the roads. I’d said to a friend that I’d found a great Air BnB right on the stages, but little did they know that my thought of luxury accommodation would be a duvet in my spacious Peugeot 207. Travelling this way guarantees the best spots on some the most in-accessible locations that stages pass through and has the added benefit of tuning out of my usually hectic world for a few nights, coupled with some stunning vistas to wake up to. On a cold Saturday morning on Irelands southern-most tip, fog rolled in off the sea, rain covered the now-slick tarmac, but excitement built in the air.
By 11am we were go, the first crackle of a Ford Fiesta R5 bouncing off the sea cliffs and drowning out the crashing waves. First on the road would be Sam Moffett, last year’s winner, who was aiming to guide his Combilift liveried Fiesta to even more success in 2018. After claiming a clean sweep of Championship wins last year, his fiercest competition this year has appeared in the form of brother Josh in an identical Ford. The surprise by the time the cars reached Cods Head, having completed the iconic duo of Molls Gap and Healy Pass, was that both Moffetts appeared to be off the pace, which was being utterly dominated by Robert Barrable in yet another M-Sport R5 challenger. Fighting for tenths was par for the course for the brothers Moffett, but Barrable has started at a pace that saw him lead by nearly 25 seconds at the end of Day 1.
The other big story that grew as times appeared online was the speed of Rob Duggan in the MK2 Escort. A former British Junior Champion and Billy Coleman Award winner, Duggan is an incredible driving talent. While his JWRC dreams may have faded for now, Rob has made a huge push to get back enjoying the sport. He reminded us all of his talent with a dominant win at the Killarney Historic Rally, but starting in the rain surrounded by cutting edge 4wd cars would surely show up the Killarney man? Hah! Third fastest OVERALL up Molls Gap was a sure signal of intent, and it was clear by the pace the red Escort skirted along the Beara coastline that we had a man on a charge before our eyes.
Rob wasn’t gonna have it all his way though, as a strong field of quick Escorts lined up for a crack off the local ace. Kiernan, Brogan and Collins and showed pace, but ultimately couldn’t live with the speed of Duggans rental car, although there were some hairy moments along the way. That was except for Barry Meade though. After an absence of a few years, Meade has made a welcome return to the stages as of late. As Duggan hit trouble with the Ford’s Gearbox, Meade pushed to grab any advantage available. Come the end of Day 1, a tenth of a second would separate the pair. You couldn’t even get an expletive out in that time!
While the trip south is a staple of the Lakes route, it was a real treat for the crews in the Junior Rally who got a rare opportunity to tackle the Saturday stages. While the main field entry may have appeared somewhat slack, the Juniors really done their part in adding to the event. Twenty-Four cars took the start, and the pace amongst the leading crews was truly electric. Visibly quicker than large swathes of the main field competitors who had passed through before, the sight of a Honda Civic being fearlessly ragged along a bumpy stretch of coastal tarmac is incredible to experience. Setting the pace from start was Jason Black in the Toyota Starlet, although Colin O’Donoghue was keeping the Starlet honest in his Ford Escort. Heading towards the last loop, Black flew past me at a serious pace, but unfortunately less than 400m down the road his event would end with a meeting with a wall caused by a snapped steering arm. After pushing hard all day, Colin O’Donoghue romped home to a popular local victory.
With the early morning gloom now most certainly replaced with afternoon sunshine and warmth, it was back into Killarney. While the town can be swarmed by a less than desirable crowd at times during the weekend, and soooo many Lexus IS200’s, its always nice to know where the better cars are hanging out. One of those spots is the AE86IRL meet that happens every year. It’s a chance to catch up with friendly faces, talk shite and look at some sweet Corolla’s. While numbers are slowly falling each passing year, the level that these little cars are kept in is always mind-blowing. For many, myself included, a Corolla GT Coupe is as much a part of the rally weekend scenery as anything else, and I still feel excited watching a clean ‘Cam pass by.
While the traditional ‘UK Spec’ style is still popular, we’re definitely seeing a growing presence of JDM style cars built to emulate the timeless early-00’s JDM look. A few other cars joined this rather select and quiet meet, including this incredibly sweet Nissan Silvia S14A, sitting perfectly on a set of Enkei wheels. Unlike most, this S-Body is not built to go sideways, instead it’s intended track purpose is to take on the Nürburgring, which it has on a few occasions. Sun setting, it was time to make shapes once again.
I’ve talked at length before about Ballaghbeama Gap, and how magical a stretch of tarmac it is. To watch a rally car almost slalom down the descent as the exhaust note reverberates off the valley walls is truly special. Ballaghbeama is also truly one of the most remote stages in Ireland, with access limited to a handful of small tight lay-by’s. One such gap between a waterfall and the road would provide accommodation for the night. Bunked down for the evening, with the panoramic sun-roof opened looking into a sky full of stars, this felt like the purest way of all to follow such an exciting event. Come morning, it was go time, and a 00-car pairing of an RS Porsche and a screaming F2 Almeira kit car was perfect recipe to shake off the cobwebs.
One of the quickest cars to pass, it seemed, was the oh so delightful Talbot Sunbeam of Owen Murphy. The multiple Forestry champion has a well-known history of some giant killing results on Tarmac in Evo’s and Skoda’s, but he has now built what he believes to be the ultimate Historic car to stick it to the Ford Escort dominance. Stick it to them he did, as after the end of two days Murphy would take victory by over seven minutes from his nearest rival.
The National battle that promised soo much on Saturday night just never really ignited on Sunday. Meade ran into problems early on, while many others decided to simply get to the finish. Gary Kiernan made a push over the closing stages, but the gap would prove just too much for the West Cork national winner, seeing Duggan cruise home with 45 seconds to spare. With victory’s for Colin O’Donoghue and Rob Duggan, Killarney had plenty of local success to celebrate in the May sunshine.
Alas though, there must be a man to take home the trophy at the end of the day. Robert Barrable gave his Fiesta R5 an almighty push, and took maximum ITRC points, but simply ran out of legs on the Sunday stages. Starting the day with a 25 second deficit, it was Manus Kelly who truly had the bit between his teeth. The Donegal man has made a habit of winning in the S12 Impreza WRC of late, and he had every intention of making the most of a rare trip South. Manus said on Friday that the weather ‘Felt like June’, a nod to his ultimate goal, and come Sunday evening the champagne must too have tasted like June, when Kelly aims for a third straight Donegal win.
As the Lakes came to an exciting close on Sunday afternoon, I was nearly already home. Three long days of traipsing through rivers and down banks, over ditches and past sheep is hard going, never mind the added hardship of living out of a French hatchback. But for the sheer excitement of the event, getting right into the action and living the buzz, there truly is no better way to follow a rally!!
Mondello Park will always maintain an incredibly special place in the car scene on the Island of Ireland. Being our sole dedicated racing circuit capable of holding international level events, it truly is a mecca for all manner of truly exciting and different motorsports pursuits. To each of us that have either entered through the gates or wanted to at some point, the legend of Mondello holds various states. Some reminisce of the day a young Ayrton Senna battled for Leinster Trophy victory, others remember the iconic roar of the Jordan F1 car as it wowed the crowds in the 90’s. The sideways escapades of James Deane have left visual clues on the tarmac, while the grass and ditches are littered with remnants of long forgotten duels and close battles. I’ve stood on the grassy bank around Turn One before taking in the action, and had my first major Photoshoot, that of Ronan’s MK1 Golf, in the pitlane, yet in all that time, I’d never got around to getting on track myself.
We’ve covered virtual reality Sim racing here on the site before, and we concluded that as a platform, the advances in technology allow us to experience driving circuits all over the world at a degree of realism never before imaginable. During the year I spent living in Austria, while not at Worthersee car show or studying, I passed hours dialling in lap after lap of Mondello on RFactor, picking up the racing line, braking points and road camber as much as possible in a virtual way. When Rob King at Trackdays.ie got in contact and offered the opportunity to experience it for real though, it definitely didn’t take long for me to send back an enthusiastic YES!
Launched at the start of this year, Trackdays.ie is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, in so much as it allows anyone at all the opportunity to come out and have a blast on the only International Circuit that we have. It truly is a case of ‘Run what ya brung’, but the emphasis is placed firmly on enjoyment rather than allowing competitiveness to take hold. I’ve long thought about doing a Track Day, but I just never felt comfortable in the idea of spending a day pounding around a track, while always thinking about the prospect of having a 3 hour drive home afterwards.
It’s an obvious issue, as not all of us have either the facilities or the resources to own a dedicated track car, nor transport it long distances to Mondello. However, Trackdays have this box ticked off in the shape of their fleet of EK Honda Civics’ and the well thought out Arrive and Drive package’s available. These track prepped cars are built for this environment, come kitted out with all manner of safety equipment and the packages can be tailored to include everything from Helmet hire through to professional driver tuition. If you have ever wanted to test the water when it comes to circuit driving, I’d struggle to think of a better way to do it. Before I was to take to the track though, I thought it wise to check out those that I’d be sharing the circuit with (or those that I was about to hold up!!)
Variety plays a massive role here, with people coming to Mondello with different purposes for their day. To some, the day allowed the opportunity to try out new components or setup’s, such as the wild 400BHP Turbo’d Honda Integra using the time to try out a new sequential gearbox, whereas some like like Paddy was simply out getting to grips with his newly purchased Beams-engined AE86 Corolla which is an RYO demo car from Japan.
As the rain begin to drizzle, still grand weather for a track debut, I took refuge in another pit garage, this housing Ken’s rather mental MK race car. Built originally to compete in the Irish Hillclimb championship, every inch of the vehicle screamed cool! Under the Lotus 7-esque bonnet lay the roaring heart from a Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle, sending power through a sequential box to the rear wheels. What little bodywork on show was mainly carbon fibre, while an adornment of wings front and back were surely there to stop it taking flight once on full throttle.
A few of my Rally brethren came out to play, but it soon became apparent that a single hot-hatch is the current budget King of the track scene. The RenaultSport Clio, in either 172 or later 182 form, is a formidable package, considering it rev happy engine up-front mated to one of the best handling chassis of all time. It was an enthusiasts dream, but surprisingly the values have dwindled. A decent example is now in the €2-3k range, meaning that these cars are incredibly attainable and as such they are a perfect affordable track toy. I am incredibly fond of these little cars, and I would very happily provide a home to a French Racing Blue 182 should I get the chance, as I still believe it to be one of the greatest OEM colours of all time. (Alongside Polestar Blue and VW’s Cornflour Blue, I may have a certain love for one particular vehicle colour!)
After a detailed briefing though, things got real. And I mean very real, and very very wet. As the track details were read out, that light drizzle had turned into a monsoon. The power flickered on and off, track hoardings creaked, and my stomach grew un-easy. Un-perturbed, I put on my helmet and strapped in alongside Rob for my first spin around Mondello. It only struck me once seated that I had never sat in a Civic before, but that thought quickly vanished as we left pit lane and opened the throttle for the first time. I couldn’t see the apex of Turn One, nor Two, Three or Four. Listening to Rob’s detailed instruction over the roar of a screaming Honda, I had to visualise the corner’s that definitely didn’t all look like pools of water on RFactor.
After a few sighting laps, I finally got behind the wheel. To say I was excited would be putting things mildly, but the apprehension of the lack of visibility and my knowledge of how valuable some other car’s on track were definitely reared its head. The wipers flapped around at full whack, the heater howled as it fought to keep the screen clear and a mist whistled in through a gap in the window, but I didn’t give a damn. Strapped into that little Honda, I felt like Tom Chilton wheeling his own BTCC Civic down the same pitlane with eyes fixed firmly on the run down to Mobil 1.
The following 15 minutes felt like a blur, and had I taken any onboard footage it too possibly would have simply been a blur, as the rain fell at a rate I had never experienced. Visibility, especially in traffic, was almost null, with braking points now being remembered by visual clues off track that were slightly easier to spot. Set the world alight I most certainly did not, constantly shifting down to early while sparing the car of its high red-line abuse when on power. Coming out of the slow bends, the front wheels squabbled for grip that often wasn’t there leaving to plenty of throttle coaxing to maintain the desired line. All around, others slid in all manner of directions as they battled the conditions, and then my wiper fell off. With visibility now truly gone, it was a slow limp back to the pits. A sorry end, yet I felt elated. I had a blast, no matter the time scale, and certainly felt an urge to get out again in a car of my own at some stage!
With that high came the crushing realisation that I had to get out and shoot in that monsoon that I’d just battled through. Wet Gear on, I took to the various expanses of the Mondello complex to take in the sights and sounds of a track day, yet sensibly enough I took shelter in the grandstand to begin with, even if it evidently has a roof like a sieve! From here, you got a sense of speed and commitment on track as well as the variety. Where else would you find a 1.25 MK4 Fiesta going door to door with a purpose built Ginetta race car?
Heading back in the downpour, the slow Turn Four, at the back of the paddock, was a magnet for opportunities to see those coping best with the conditions. I had seen another Civic almost fire off backwards while I was on track, so I understood just how treacherous the conditions were, as the BMW driver soon found out.
Heading back down towards the pitlane, it was eye-opening just how and open and approachable everyone you met was. Each person had a passion for their car, and would happily stand around and talk shite about all manner of car-related things. In an age when online hatred is rampant in the car scene, this was refreshing. Talking about doing a Diesel swap into an RX-7 while an R33 Skyline pop’s and bangs past the damp wall your leaning against is a strange and surreal experience, and one that I utterly adore.
As the poor camera began to take a beating from the weather, I sneaked into a garage to do a dry lens swap. Alas, I hadn’t even that done when Darren O’Hara had me coaxed into the passenger seat of his Toyota MR-2. Cue 10 minutes of utter hooliganism as the somewhat under-powered sportscar danced around Mondello, perfectly controlled on the edge of grip and wanting to kill us all.
Thoroughly soaked through, and with the morning session done, I packed up and headed home, although I did manage to stop at Stone Motorsport on the way home. Trackdays.ie offer, I believe, some of the best value fun you can have in a car on this Island, where you can truly push the limits without fear of ending up in a cell. At €100 for a half day or €165 for a full day, it’s value that few if any can match. So, if you’re at nothing on November 17th, take the plunge and sign up now. I guarantee you’ll come away with a huge grin on your face. Massive thanks again to Rob and all the crew at Trackdays.ie, a sister site of us here on Freshfix. The run several track day events throughout the year, and all info can be found on their site www.trackdays.ie.
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!!
Us Irish love a good underdog story. It’s in our nature that we just adore the thought of David sticking it to Goliath. Tales of heroics live long in the memory and are often recounted with a wistful smile and a stirring pump of a fist. A call of ‘Go on ya Boyo’ is never far away in these instances. Irish motorsport is a venerable treasure chest of people sticking it to the man. For years, Eddie Jordan took on the might of F1 paddock, and occasionally won. In 1974, a Cork farmer by the name of Billy Coleman beat the might of the works teams to become British Champion, in a car run from a rented terrace house and a band of friends as crew. Frank Meagher became a household name in the 80’s and 90’s as he topped lead boards in his ratty old MK2 Escort. Those were the glory days, but the have-a-go heroes are still out there,Eric Calnan is one of them heroes.
Junior rallying, as the title suggests, is an avenue designed to attract younger drivers into the sport. Conceived in the early 00’s, the idea was to limit the cars to 1.6L, driver age to 26 and provide a shorter route to keep costs down. And it has been a success. Countless drivers have come through the ranks and gone onto bigger things in the sport, while the competitive nature of the championship has seen some incredibly close battles down the years. But competitiveness comes at a cost. It’s a natural thing, winning becomes everything!
The loose nature of regulations left the door open for things to spiral. To remain competitive, builds and components became more expensive. The humble Honda Civic is the de-facto Junior Rally weapon of choice. We all see decent Civic track and road builds on a daily basis, but the rally boys are on another level. Trusty B16 engines are hitting dizzying VTEC assisted levels of 200+ BHP. Sequential gearboxes have become normal, as have fully adjustable suspension and all manner of trick bits. Builds topping €40000 are not uncommon. But surely nobody can compete with that??
The rise of Eric Calnan in 2016 was like a breath of fresh air in Junior rallying. Here was a tatty looking 106, built in a shed at home, with an outlandish spoiler coming to upset the status quo. Built for about a quarter of the price of some of its competitors, the 106 and Calnan really began to rattle some feathers. Fastest through Ballaghbeama at the Lakes was a warning shot, but things were only starting. Victory at Imokilly Mini Stages was backed up weeks later with a stunning last grasp snatch and grab at the Cork20 Junior Rally. 12 seconds down sitting on the start line of the final stage, the diminutive Peugeot scorched to a 1.6 sec victory. Internet flame wars erupted as people scratched their head at just how Eric pulled the time out that day. It was these sort of heroics that began grabbing attention. A dominating display on the Fastnet rally really cemented a fantastic season, taking a massive 26 second lead on the 1st stage and controlling the rally to chalk up yet another victory . A Billy Coleman Award nomination followed, while Motorsport.ie’s recently published list ranking 2016’s top Irish rally drivers ranked Calnan at No.6 among some very illustrious company.
But what is it about this car and driver pair that make them so quick? Calnan naturally lays all the success on co-driver Aileen Kelly. Cousins, the pair only began sitting together his year and things have really paid off. Watching any on-board’s, Eric’s mad man nature is balanced by Aileen’s calm and steady delivery of the notes at all manner of kamikaze speeds. Rallying is very much a team sport, with the driver leaning massively on the Navi to describe the road ahead and keep on top of necessary paperwork and time cards, but having an all-out, maximum attack driving style and distinct lack of fear certainly is an added bonus. But every hero spec warrior needs a chariot.
Approaching the silver 106 GTI up close, the battered exterior is a sign of a car that’s had a tough campaign. It’s not a neglected car, but it just goes against the shiny, polished nature of those around it. Straight panels, or even wing mirrors in this case, make no difference when it comes to launching yourself down a rally stage. It almost seems like a ruse to put people off, perhaps guide them away from the potency that lies beneath. It’s perhaps a reflection of the man himself, that the desire to find that extra tenth is far greater than looking good on the start line. Small marks here and there act almost as war paint, carried as a warning to others. A scrape from a chicane here, and dent from a tire wall there, it’s all part of the appeal.
Under the bonnet is where things really get interesting. A Citroen JP4 engine sits proudly in the middle of the bay. Hand built by Calnan over the winter, his engineers touches are seen all over. Clever little tips and trick are seen in the desire to wring as much power from the 16 valve lump, from a redesigned head to a custom manifold. Anything non-essential has been removed in the quest to save weight, but it is the set of GSXR throttle bodies sitting nearly flush with the firewall that certainly grab attention. In typical Calnan fashion, checking even basic things like having room for a wiper motor were secondary to performance, but thankfully finding a LHD unit sorted that issue. Pumping out slightly more than 160 BHP, this is a very quick 106, yet it still gives roughly 40/50 BHP of an advantage to the opposition.
Power is delivered to the front wheels through a 5 speed box and limited slip differential, again built by Calnan in his shed. Bilstein suspension helps to deal with the rough and tumble of a bumpy rally stage, while the solid Torsion Bar rear end is helped greatly with Team Dynamic shock absorbers. Braking, if ever relied upon, is taken care of with Carbone Lorraine pads and Brembo disks front and rear. For true maximum attack, a Hydraulic handbrake is on hand and is clearly not there for show as becomes obvious watching Calnan flying around the Watergrasshill track.
Plastered both front and back is the battling cry #anythingbutacivic. An obvious tongue in cheek gesture towards the opposition, it’s a message that’s resonated around Irish rallying, and one spotted on a growing number of other cars. As with any sort of race car though, having other names plastered on the side of the car helps massively in getting a budget together to go out and compete. Colin Byrne (CB Tool Hire) and Donal O’Brien (Donalobriencars.ie) have backed Eric from the start, along with a number of other local business, and without support like that many would get nowhere in motorsport.
Inside is typical rally car, where function takes priority over form. A pair of beefy OMP seats keep the crew held in place snugly, while a custom weld in roll cage keeps safety in check. Everything here is dictated by FIA regulations to help protect the crew if anything was to ever go wrong.
Plans for 2017 are still undecided for Calnan and the 106. A crack at the Tarmac Junior Championship is a very real option, although it includes a couple of long treks up the country to Donegal and the Ulster rallies. The ’17 season see’s M-Sport launching its own entry level championship in Ireland, the R2 National, which is aimed as a first dip into the world of factory built International level machinery for those with aspirations of going down that avenue. A promising development for younger drivers, it unfortunately remains out of reach financially for a large number of drivers, Calnan included. Money and rallying will always go hand in hand, and to get anywhere you need a lot of it. But Eric Calnan is a reminder that the underdog is still alive, sticking two fingers up to the big boys and having a damn good time and enjoying rallying!
Full Spec List:
Citroen TU5 JP4
P&P Head (Homemade)
K1 GSXR1000 Throttle Bodies
Custom inlet manifold ported to match head (Homemade)
RamAir air filter
106 Cup Car Cams
Custom Stainless Exhaust manifold (Homemade)
Pugsport 2” stainless exhaust
Standard Peugeot MA Gearbox with uprated bearings.
S1 Rallye Final Drive
Bilstein B8 Shocks
AST Adjustable camber top mounts
Interchangeable spring rates/lengths
Team Dynamic 2-way adjustable shocks
CL RC6+ pads and brembo discs
CL RC5 pads and brembo max grooved discs
Hydraulic handbrake & Bias Valve
Full weld in cage with extra bars
Strut top strengthener plates & Strut brace
LHD Wiper conversion
Lightweight shell (prepped by Eric)
Walbro Intank High Pressure Fuel Pump
6mm aluminium sump guard (Homemade)
Seats/Harnesses/Extinguishers to comply with FIA international regs.
With Thanks to:
Jonathon Trill (TM Valeting),
Shane Fitzgerald (EVOSigns),
Denis O Connell (extremely patient man that helps Eric make good looking stuff).
My name is Cian Donnellan…………and I’m addicted to cars!! God that was a relief to get out there, but then again making that admission on a site like this is like saying there’s sand in the Sahara. I suffer from the most extreme of afflictions, namely petrol in the blood. Diagnosed since birth, the parents recall times when I was 2 or 3 years of age happily sitting on their laps during journeys (remember when that was safe and socially accepted!!) naming every car as they whizzed past. Right through primary school, ask me what I wanted to become and the answer was always to be Colin McRae.
Having a parent from Donegal, rallying was always going to have a massive role in shaping my automotive passion. Growing up, every Christmas would see the WRC review annual land onto the kitchen table, while being allowed up late once a week for RPM on UTV was a rare treat. But it took ages for me to experience rallying in real life. In Cork City, the closest we got to the action was the Cork 20 Finish Ramp each year. My parents were busy at weekends, and besides they had better things to do than stand in a ditch.
Once I got my license, there was no stopping me. I’d wreck manager’s heads by constantly wheeling and dealing hours here and there to get Sunday free to drive the country to take in some action. For those that have never been out on the stages, it’s an experience unlike anything else imaginable. It’s a proper rural day out, chasing around backroads trying to decipher maps before the usual rigmarole of hopping fences and gates, but once you experience the buzz of a car at full chat barely meters from your face then you can only be convinced!!
As a natural progression from the stages, drifting emerged onto my radar in the mid-00’s, but then again it was people like Declan Munnelly in the green MK2 Escort that got me hooked. Here was the sideways action of the stages, nicely packaged into a compact format. Suddenly places like Rosegreen, Ennis and Mondello were added to the list of ‘Where’s Cian off to This Week’. Having been at Prodrift Europe in ’08 and been in amazement at the first ever 500+ BHP car on the island (Bon Bon’s Chaser), I’ve become less enthused about competitive drifting in recent years. The thought of a screaming 16v Corolla appeals more, but that’s just me being old skool. Perhaps 2017 is the year or me to fall back in love with pro drifting?
As you may have copped, motorsport in general just does it for me. No matter what the level or the discipline, from bikes to trucks (go and watch them boys race in the flesh. Holy Moly!!) I’ll be interested. I’m also an absolute nerd for racing history, so may YouTube history at times is like a VHS collection of 90’s Touring Car Racing or 80’s Rallying. When I went to Goodwood Festival of Speed a few years back, at one point I stood with a Tyrrell F1 car on overrun in one ear and a BDA Escort in the other. I may have wept!
The modified car scene that I’ve always been aware of from growing up in Cork. The roads were, at times during the good years, a venerable car spotters dream. As a Gran Turismo Era child, all manner of JDM monsters became visible, and among my group of friends we began messing about here and there working on our own cars. Although the show scene died out massively during the recession, events like VAGE become an annual staple of my calendar. Although I’d happily admit that I’m not the biggest fan, the build levels and details really sucked me into that world. Although I still doubt I’d ever have the patience to build a nice VAG car, I began to notice more and more each year. How do you cure this growing interest, era a year out of Ireland should do the trick? Where to go I asked? Ah Klagenfurt in Austria should do. Quiet, sleepy, picturesque, no discernible car scene……..bar for one month of the year, when it’s at the heart of Worthersee Treffen, the world’s biggest VAG show. I swore to the parents it was a coincidence, although study was abandoned for 3 weeks to go and sit in a petrol station. I’ll put together a lookback in a few weeks!!
Going from being into cars to actually photographing cars was a complete fluke. I’d carried a small pocket camera to events the odd time for a few years, but had no real mass on the pics taken. Then in 2011, I went off one day with a month’s pay in my pocket to buy a gaming racing wheel. The shop was sold out, so I bought a Nikon DSLR instead, as you do. What an expensive mistake that was!! Since then, I took more and more interest in photographing cars, studying techniques, trying out things. I’d never even shot a car alone until last year my friend Maurice Malone from CompleteCar roped me into his new feature series.
So being into cars has to mean being into driving cars right?? I was 19 when I Ianded home with my own wheels for the first time. 2 lessons completed, full license in hand and a few bob saved, I went all out. Siting outside the house was a bit of a dream car of mine, an AE92 Toyota Corolla Gti. A fantastic car, but of course I’d never even once thought of insurance or that lark. Turns out, having something that includes the words Twincam, 16 Valve and GTi in the title isn’t the most insurance friendly when your 19!! After 4 months sitting in the shed, the time was night for my 4AGE dreams to begin, but I treated the car like a baby. I think I brought it to 4000 RPM once, I spent silly amounts of money on it over my 2 years ( Looking back, a €345 bill from Toyota just to replace Bolts, Washers, Clips and Hoses was a bit extreme) and ultimately ended up upside down in a ditch.
Between going abroad for a year and everything that entails, it was nearly 14 months before the next proper car arrived. The Puglet was found feeling sorry for itself down the very back of a dealer’s yard, covered in dirt and its paint flat as a pancake. Over the past 15 months it evolved bit by bit, pats coming from all manner of second hand sources. Bumpers from crashed rally cars, interior from crashed road cars. At the height of things, I was driving just shy of 450 miles a week in a 21 year old city car, with a straight through exhaust, hardened race suspension and sitting about 3 inches off the ground. I was almost thankful to be at work some days, but give it a back road and my face would light up. I grew bored (read: weary, dishevelled or defeated) of the daily grind in the Pug, so I’ve gone against my hard-core, old skool mentality and now waft around in the luxury of an E46 318CI. It’s just so nice, I don’t even want to do silly stuff to it.
I look forward to the new era of FreshFix and I hope you enjoy what I’ll be sharing on the site. Look forward to plenty of Rally action from around Ireland, grassroots drifting, various shows and the best of Munster’s modified cars. I have a few large events abroad that I’m planning to get to this year as well, so make sure to stay tuned for that. Here to 2017 and a new era of FreshFix. I