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 year is a long time, but in reflection, it is nothing more than a well-orchestrated collection of events, routine and emotion. We spend the clear majority of the year fixating on points in time, forthcoming proceedings and reflection on moments passed and only come the end do we pause and look at what has transpired. I’m exactly like everyone else, in so much as I’m always trying to get to more places, see more things and meet more cool people, all while fitting in a full-time job, a social life and seeing family and friends every so often. In the past 12 months though, I have pushed myself to follow my obsession, and experience more and more of the automotive world I only dreamed of before. Some of these experiences I shared with you on this site, with 27 published articles and countless pictures revolving around my rambles, but only now can I look back and reflect on how mad 2017 actually was, and share an insight into all I did and saw over the past 12 months, and take a chance myself to chronicle what was an action-packed period.
January 2017 was an exciting time in a number of ways. On the 1st day of the new year, FreshFix.ie went live after an absence of nearly four years’. I had grown up addicted to automotive content, and my regular teenage internet surfing was spent hopping from Bebo and MSN to Speedhunters, AutoLifers, PistonHeads and Freshfix. It was on those pages that I learned so much about the crazy depth of the automotive world, and hearing of an imminent relaunch, I chanced my arm at possibly getting an article or two published on the all new FF. On launch day, I got to see photos of mine published for the very first time, that of the Kouki Monster Nissan Silvia S14, shot in Oranmore in Galway.
Over the next few weekends, January was spent close to home, checking out some events that are a great way to ease into a new year. A local vintage run is something that happens in every corner of the country, pretty much all year round. While not everything on display may excite or interest me, it’s a great way to pass time in the company of some older car-nuts, who will happily impart wisdom and stories upon us youngers. January also got me to Watergrasshill for the first time, this time for a New Year’s sprint, bringing together all manner of goodies from race and rally, and I managed to take a look at Eric Calnan’s famous Peugeot 106. Speaking of rally though…..
Late January saw the first ‘big’ outing of the year, and the very first international coverage I brought to FreshFix, an abstract look at following Round 1 of the World Rally Championship, Monte Carlo. The Monte was an event long on my dream list, something I always wanted to experience. I am a gluten for the romance of icy French mountain roads, the Col de Turini and the allure of the fastest rally cars on Tarmac. This year was the one I vowed to take risks and welcome adventure, so with no more than a sleeping bag, a camera bag and a rucksack, I headed off.
Having overcome the trials and tribulations of my jaunt to the continent, next stop for me at least was anther opening round of a Rally series, this time Galway International kick-starting an all new Irish Tarmac season. Galway is pretty much always wet, muddy and cold. Would you believe that in 2017, it was exactly all those things!! The traditional launch pad to a year, Galway will be sadly missed from the 2018 calendar as the event simply didn’t have enough financial backing to run next year. This is a worrying trend in rallying, one not unique to Galway, and a lot of thinking is needed to try and figure out a sustainable future for the sport in Ireland.
Mid-February came with an icy chill in the air, but the second Sunday of the month brought my first visit to Cars & Coffee. The most informal of all car gatherings, C&C is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, a group of cars parked up while their owners drink coffee and talk about cars. Its such a great social side to the car scene, where everyone is there for the love of cars, and a great place to pass a few hours on a Sunday morning. Before the shortest month passed, I also got a chance to shoot one of the most unique cars seen in Ireland this past few years, a full-blown Kanjo EF Civic, fresh at that stage from the Far East.
March arrived in a whirlwind of rain and storms, and what better conditions to take a day out and drive to the top of a mountain. The Vee in Co. Waterford is a jewel of a piece of road, complete with hairpins, flowing bends and undulating straights. Away from civilisation, this ribbon of tarmac is a mecca for drivers, and the prospect of Tea at the Vee was enough to coax a few hardy souls out for an afternoon’s spin. The regular Cars & Coffee meet saw me for a second time as well, which wouldn’t be the case for much of the rest of the year!
Come St. Patricks weekend, the only place I ever intend to be found is in Clonakilty, home at that time to the West Cork Rally. The picturesque stretches of Cork coast surrounding the town come alive for the weekend to the sound and vibrations of the best the ITRC has to offer, as well as remaining the ultimate Clubman rally at the very same time. My West Cork was dominated by Time Keeping Duties, yet I still managed to take in the scenic treat that is the opening Ring stage. This would also sadly be the final time I would see the iconic Yellow Escort of Donal O’Brien flying past me stage side. Donal was known not only for his exploits on the rally stage, but for his involvement in local autocross and grass racing, and it was he who had run the New Years sprint in Watergrasshill. Donal sadly passed away in a traffic accident in May, yet his Ford Escort was there to guide his final journey having been rebuilt after a large off in Clon.
March ended for me with a visit to Ultimate Drift in WGH, seeing the month out with some local grassroots drifting, a part of the sport I have professed my love for on these very pages.
As another month got crossed off my calendar, April brought with it the single busiest period for me. Things kicked off with a few local shows, including Rob O’Riordan’s OldSkool Easter Show. Rob is one of those people that we need more of in the car scene, someone who just enjoys putting on show’s simply to enjoy what will turn up on the day. Originating from a Toyota show which has spiralled to an unprecedented scale, Rob now organises various indoor and outdoor gatherings for retro and JDM machinery, as well as a series of summer evening outings designed to simply bring car people together for the love of cars.
Mid-April saw the trip to Belfast, for what is to me the best Car show we have to offer on this Island, GTINI’s incredibly impressive Dubshed. Held over two days’ in the vast Eikon complex, the show has evolved from being a strictly German Stance show into a much more varied affair encompassing all that is cool in the Irish car scene. I speak of my affinity to event even though I am not a VAG guy, nor have intimate knowledge of the various rare and expensive parts on display, but as someone who enjoys being around well executed and imaginative builds.
On the floor of Dubshed I laid eyes on a car I knew so well, yet in a new guise. Seeing the Akai Livery for the first time on Hickey’s MK1 Golf, who would have known what lay in store for us both. Before April was out, I lay in a deserted paddock of Mondello Park shooting the car for arguably one of the biggest tuning magazines in the world, Performance VW. I suppose the phrase Go Big or Go Home comes to mind when I think that I would do a first print feature for such a title, but it’s made all that easier when it’s a car and owner combo that you know so well.
April ended in a flurry of sunshine and pouring rain, as Killarney’s Rally of The Lakes was ticked off the list for the year. I made a special effort this year to get to try new things, so destination of choice this year to take in the Saturday action was the stunning Healy Pass. A scouting trip a few days before the event in the mighty Puglet opened my eyes to this hidden jewel of a road, and come rally time it certainly did not disappoint. Driving home that evening, after the Killmickalogue stage, I vowed to never go to a rally ever again such was how soaked I had got. That mood lasted all of about 20 minutes!!
May started with another collaboration with a fellow automotive outlet. I met Maurice Malone by chance on a rally stage a few years ago, and copped pretty soon that he eclipsed everything I thought I ever knew about Car-Geekery. An encyclopaedic knowledge of all things rallying and a penchant for fast Renault Clio’s aside, Maurice is an absolutely gifted motoring journalist, one of those rare breeds who can leave you captivated in a moment through the careful use of words and phrasing, adding soo much oomph to a story that you think here’s a fella who must have been a whizz at creative writing in school. In 2016, we started a little project on the CompleteCar.ie site, called Irish Icons. Essentially an ode to some of the best cars ever built, here we were coming face to face with Godzilla in the Dublin mountains. The article is well worth a read here.
As the days grew longer and the sun began to peer into sight, I spent a wonderful afternoon chasing a string of retro cars through the mountains of Kerry as part of the Anne Casey Joy Run. A charity event, this has become a go-to event for me the past few years, not only for the variety of cars on show, but to take in the stunning scenery that seems to adorn that part of the world.
Of all the events I had the pleasure of getting to this year, the North West 200 is still hands down the single most exciting of all. Speed, raw and un-filtered speed, passing inches from your face. To hear a bike at full tilt is an experience, but to fell and witness the sight of a pack of the quickest racing Motorcycles on the roads whizzing by at about 200mph is next level. It’s guttural, as your body takes a pounding from the wave of noise and air rushing past while you’re head seems unable to swivel quick enough to take in the action. Anyone that hasn’t been is missing out!!
June started for me with another first, getting to an Irish Hillclimb event. I had always looked on from a distance at these Men and Women pitting themselves against some of the country’s most technical and steep stretches of road, but to hear and feel the buzz of a single seat race car bumping and scraping along a back road was something else. It felt raw and old-school, a reminder of days when regulations may not have been as lax and race cars on the road would have been less problematic. The Imokilly sprint would not be my only Hillclimb, nor my last encounter for the year with the Stone Motorsport Drift Taxi!!
The third weekend in June is a date so fixed in my calendar at this stage, it’s like my birthday and Christmas wrapped up in one. As the year races towards its mid-point, the rallying world descends upon Letterkenny, in anticipation of the Donegal International Rally. The last remaining 3-day rally in the country, and still boasting the largest entry of all events in the country, Donegal is an assault on the scenes. The whole town comes to life for a weekend, welcoming the influx of car hordes unlike possibly anywhere else in the country. Accommodation is booked out months in advance, petrol stations overflow with cars, clubs boast queues hundreds of metres long, yet in the middle of all that we get the best rally this country has to offer. The stages are legendary, the stories and history equally so. The ultimate weekend??
July came with an all new show on the scene, the much-anticipated debut affair from ILoveBass with Districts. With a glut of shows now emerging, mainly across Northern Ireland, it important to have a unique feature to draw the crowds, and having a collection of stunning shows cars under the roof of a former DIY store was definitely a reasonably strong USP!
As work commitments increased, outing across the rest of July were limited to say the least. I managed to take in yet another Ultimate Drift event in WGH, and come the end of the month I got a WhatsApp to say that a Dubshed 2018 build was about to begin, with Ronan, owner of the Akai Golf, had picked up an extremely rare Fire & Ice MK2 Golf, left in some cattle shed for nearly 10 years.
August began with a trip to Glenroe, not to meet Mily and Biddy, but to take in the Limerick Hillclimb, yet another round of the Irish Hillclimb championship, and my first time coming face to face with the infamous Simon McKinley MK2 Escort, one of the most famous race cars in the country.
The next few weeks were spent close to home, with Rob O’Riordan’s evening spins filling a mid-week gap before a trip to Fermoy for the VAGE annual show, my 5th straight year making this show. The weather chose not to play ball, but that didn’t discourage a large turnout of cars showcasing all the best of the German car scene.
To close off the month of August, I managed to take in opposing spectrums of the Motorbike racing world, the highest echelons of the Ulster GP through to the ultimate grassroots level Roberts Cove Hillclimb. The Ulster was spectacular as expected, but I came away somewhat less excited than I had at the North West. The racing was great, but I didn’t seem to enjoy the day, perhaps due to the unrivalled access available at the ‘200. Roberts Cove on the other hand was a refreshing chance to watch guys, some on road bikes, push themselves in a way many can’t do very often. I had not got to much motorbike racing before this year, but the plan is to correct that even more in 2018 with plenty of dates pencilled in already, and a trip to a small Island off the Irish coast!
September brought with it one of the most unique events I attended all year, the very first Festival of Drift held in the Hub in Kilkenny. Taking all the usual elements of a traditional drift event, throwing them out the window and bringing in Chris Forsberg and Ryan Tureck to play hosts for the weekend was a brave move, but I for one at least found it to be a fantastic concept, and one I sincerely hope returns bigger and better in 2018.
As the month rolled by, very little got done as I was kept busy in the office job that pays for all my travel and adventures, but a sunny Saturday afternoon was spent with some iconic Hot Hatches for another Irish Icons piece, while the final weekend of the month was spent yet again hanging off a ditch, this time for the Cork 20, final round of the Irish Tarmac Championship. It was a season of utter dominance from the Moffett Brothers Josh and Sam, but it is the latter who will back on 2017 as a historic treble winning campaign.
October brought with it plenty of rain and cold, so the natural environment to spend long periods of time in those conditions would be trackside in Mondello right? I was delighted when Rob King from Trackdays.ie offered the use of one of their rental Honda Civic track cars for a first blast around the hallowed International Loop, but it would be just my luck that it would develop into a full-blown monsoon!
On the way home that day, still drenched to the bone and camera gear dripping wet, I took the chance to call into Stone Motorsport for a look, and experience what may just be the most impressive workshop spaces anywhere in the country!
The last weekend in October is always the Cork Jazz festival. The city comes alive, the streets buzz and it’s a great time to go out and enjoy. I had the weekend free of all distractions, ready for some fun, until Thursday night happened. Listening to WRC Radio, a quick browse online and a small bit of coaxing had ferry tickets bought to go to Wales the following day for Rally GB. It was a great call in the end, as to experience a full-blown WRC car tearing through the wooded darkness is a real highlight of 2017!!
November was the year’s quietest, especially when it came to me photographing cars. At the start of the month, I caught up briefly with one of the nicest Subaru’s in Ireland at Cars & Coffee. Plans are most certainly in place for a more in-depth look into this Impreza, as well as a feature look at this incredibly striking AE86 Corolla found lurking in a shed while checking in on the progress of Hickey’s MK2 Golf, which is soon to become a home to a 3.2L V6 Audi powerplant.
The month finished in Watergrasshill for even more grass roots drifting with Ultimate Drift, in what would ultimately be the series’ final event. It was also here that I managed to take a quick look at a pair of impressive Nissan Silvias.
December has been naturally hectic with all that the festive season entails, yet it kicked off in flying form with the Killarney Historic Rally, an event I have professed to be right up there with Donegal in terms of my favourite Irish rallies. Taking all the excitement of old-school rallying, condense and make use of some of the most spectacular rally stages in the country and you have a sure-fire winner. As if that wasn’t enough, Killarney and District Motor Club would also provide my final outing of the year, their yearly Autocross held in Tralee. Autocross is a side of motorsport I have ignored for a long time, but spend a matter of minutes in the company of the mental Semog Buggies, and it’s incredibly addictive!
2017, as you may have copped at this stage, was quite an incredible year for me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts bringing you my rambling thoughts throughout the year. This is a passion project, done not for money or recognition, but just as an expression of my true love of all things automotive. Before the new year rings in, I already have Autosport International, Rally Monte Carlo & Sweden, a number of feature shoots and some behind-the-scenes penciled in, and who knows what else I will manage to fit over the next 12 months. Thanks to each and every one of you for the support all year, and here’s to an even bigger 2018. Cian.
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.