It’s a difficult concept to explain really, the phenomena that is the MK2 Ford Escort in Irish Rallying culture. Every weekend, from mid-February to late December, is likely to have an event of some kind taking place, and its almost unthinkable to think that any would be devoid of the presence of a venerable Escort or two. Now nearly forty years since Ford released the second incarnation of their everyday car for the masses, Escorts continue to prove they’ll always be competitive! Swing by a Quarry for an Autocross and you’ll find one, the Forest rallies are littered with more robust examples but it’s on Irish Tar that the Mk2 truly is royalty.
As a small island, we may be devoid of much resembling proper Racetracks or dedicated Motorsport venues, but that’s turned a nation into a breed of backroad junkies. Rallying pushes drivers and machinery to go all out on twisty, slippy and generally mud-covered ribbons of tarmac passing over bogs, mountains, beaches and bridges. To succeed, not only does it take massive bravery, but a real all-rounder of an Escort is required.
Standing resplendent before me, in a unique shade of Fiat Bambino Blue, is Colin Byrne’s MK2. Squat, wide and aggressive, this beast is of the peak rallying pedigree, one of our much idolised ‘Class 14 Ultimate Escorts’. These cars are ones that sit at the top of the food train, the ones that roar past spectator lined ditches at silly speed and top time sheets stage after stage. This very car, in the hands of talented young driver Rob Duggan, is a recent event winner at the Killarney Historic Rally, while Colin has brought home a whole heap of Class Trophies that are a proud thought for Colin who has dedicated much of the last 20 years to the sport.
Ford has a long connection to Irish rallying, and while something like a 2.5 Escort may be the ultimate dream, many have entered the sport behind the wheel of a Blue Oval. Colin began in the humble surrounds of a 1300 Ford Ka, a perfect entry point for many newcomers to the sport. As the bug bit, the next step was into a true ex-Boreham works Puma. A slight head turn in the way of a French fancy, a Citroen C2R2, is remembered rather un-fondly, but come late 2015 a deal was struck and Colin was the beaming owner of his dream car, a Millington Powered MK2 Escort.
It’s that irresistible mix of a sideways MK2 and a screaming Millington Diamond that draws hundreds of spectators out onto the ditches in all weather, but inside the car it’s just the ultimate rush. While the original engine did fine for the first season, come the winter a deal was struck and a brand-new Series 2 Millington Diamond took the place of the Series 1. A 2.5L normally aspirated beast, the Diamond sends 350 bhp to the rear wheel, delivering a peak torque of 246 ft/lb down low in the rev range which is key in a tight and twisty rally stage.
The huge power is driven through a Tractive 6-speed Sequential gearbox feeding a fully floating Atlas Axle and a Tractive Diff and Half Shafts. Keeping that all traction and power being transferred into lightning quick acceleration is handled through some very trick suspension, designed nearly exclusively for the demands of Irish Tar. The suspension all around is handled by 3-Way Proflex dampers all around, with a pair of XTrac Shocks deployed out back. 15 Inch Minilite Wheels wrapped in Slick Michelin tyres add even further to a machine designed exclusively to cover asphalt against the clock.
With a kerb weight of approximately 1000kg, it’s obvious that plenty of measures have been taken to help gain that extra tenth of a second here and there. Outside, the original bumpers have been replaced with Carbon Fibre corner units. The vented bonnet is fibreglass, while much of the glass has been replaced with Polycarbonate.
Step inside and it’s strictly ‘race car’! A pair of beefy ATech bucket seats swallow up Colin and a brave co-driver, safe in the knowledge that the all manner of precautions including significant Roll Cage, Harnesses & fire extinguishers are designed to help the occupants should anything go wrong. Safety regulations mandate an alloy fuel cell in the boot, with a bulkhead separating it from the cabin.
The weight saving measures taken outside have extended inside, with a full wiring replacement by PT Motorsport Electrics saving over 9KG from the previous ‘mess’ of wires running through the car. Everything is now cutting edge, with a digital Gear display, onboard digital screen relaying vital engine reading and a carbon fibre centre panel containing all manner of necessary buttons and switches, although Colin cheekily adds that it’s up to the navi to learn them as he’s a too busy at the wheel!
With Colin’s CB-Tool Hire business flying and a growing interest in Autograss and Kart racing, you’d think that having the Ultimate MK2 would suffice, but that would be too easy. Having spent years supporting all manner of young up-and-coming driver and various events, this October see’s the CB name adorn an International Rally for the first time. September 29th and 30th will see over 120 crews tackle the CB Tool Hire Cork 20 Rally, and you can be sure that Colin will be in the mix. What he may be behind the wheel of though is still unknown, as while we finish the shoot, a little secret is dropped. An all-new Escort is currently being built by Den Motorsport for Colin, and its promised to have the best of the best in every area possible. That’s rallying for you, the constant strive to improve on Ultimate!
Holiday, a natural time to relax, unwind and recharge the body. Early June, with two full weeks booked off work, would be absolutely ideal for catching up on sleep, chilling out and enjoying a few cold beverages in the sunshine. It’s natural, but our man Cian doesn’t conform to normality. The following is an excerpt from the EuroTrip travel blog of a an absolute automotive nutter, and that’s in his own words!
This is becoming repetitive, almost to the point of feeling utterly futile. Each 30 second blast feels exactly like the last, only this time there is an angry looking man approaching at a rapid pace and I have little time to compose myself. Everything is flung across the passenger seat in flash, and my now free left hand jabs the gearstick into first while my other pulls the wheel violently right as I make way on this narrow stretch of tarmac. I needn’t have worried though, as if not even spotting my presence, a Clio 197 swings hard left straight into the ditch without a lift of throttle. Surprised, I grab my map and pen once again and scribble ‘Big Cut’, but 4km into the first stage, it dawned that I needn’t have bothered. This is Ypres, and every corner is BIG CUT!
Each and every one of us had a list of dream events, and I’m sure plenty of you, just like myself, have been influenced by tales of adventure and PetrolHead nirvana told through Speedhunters down the years. For years, I spent my time day dreaming in school and college about the places I wanted to travel simply to enjoy looking at other people’s cars. Coming from an Irish rallying background, a lot of my dream list consists of a number of the most spectacular examples of the sport, although I have to admit nearly all are of the sealed-surface, tarmac-based side of the discipline. Rally Ypres has, for quite some time, been pretty near the top of my list.
The fascination with this rather unique gem of Belgian rallying stems from a childhood spent watching as much motoring-based shows on TV as possible. As a rally-mad child growing up in Ireland, it was a real treat to be allowed sit up to watch RPM late on a Thursday evening. Showcasing all manner of events from both Rally and Track, the UTV show was a real gem in its day. Not content with just covering the Irish classic’s like Killarney, Donegal and Cork, RPM made the occasional trip further afield. The sight of a young Kris Meeke throwing a Corolla WRC around Barbados was cool, but it was the yearly duel between some of the UK & Irelands best and the likes of Freddy Loix, Patrick Snijers and Armin Schwarz in the Flanders sunshine that seems to set a seed.
Year after year, mid-June would see my attention turning to going’s on in Ypres. Generally clashing with events at home, I’d come home to a VHS recorded chock full of Eurosport recordings. Year after year, no matter the current leading style of vehicle, from Group A to WRC, S2000 to R5, it seemed nobody could topple ‘Fast Freddy’, as Loix racked up 11 wins. He walked past me in the square in Ypres on Saturday afternoon. I said hello, and he replied. Freddy continued upon his way, while I had an internal fan-boy moment.
Now, while I have been doing well of late to tick a few dream events, there was always a sizeable obstacle in the way of me making it to those flat, flowing fields of West Belgium. You see, while going to watch something at a circuit, like at the Nürburgring the previous week, can realistically be done by flying in and living out of luggage for a few days, rallying takes a lot more logistics to follow, thus driving is the only real option when photographing an event.
Wednesday morning, I closed the boot on my car, going through the mental list in my head that I’ve developed over years traipsing around Ireland. Clothes and camera gear were obvious, but the addition of off-road boots and thick socks is a lesson of many sore feet. Getting to the best spots requires often arriving hours before the action, so a camping chair, stove, pots and cutlery are added to the mix. Being that it’s the height of summer right now, a cooler box found its way in too. Driving on the continent requires a breakdown kit, and the prospect of an occasional nap sees a pillow and blanket tossed in for good luck. Now, how much would that be in Baggage?
Car fuelled, cool box/fridge (plug in job to make you feel exactly like a Rolls Royce owner) stocked up and sat-nav set, it was destination Ypres. When I did say a sizeable obstacle earlier, I may slightly have understated. Door to door was a 15 hour, 1100km one-way journey, done through the longest day of the year. I watched the sun set across the bow of an Irish Sea ferry, yet saw it reappear barely a few hours later somewhere along a UK motorway. In a weird status of high energy drinks being cancelled out by easy-listening to late night music, the miles clicked off with ease. Through the Channel tunnel and remembering to drive on the ‘wrong’ side after being awake for 24 hours, it was hammer down for the Belgian Border!
Arriving in Ypres, the first striking thing is how much this event takes over the whole city, with the large central squares becoming the Service Park for the weekend. Large awnings stretch out in front of historic churches and museums, Waffle-Houses reverberating to the sound of lumpy idols and smelling strongly of Race Fuel. Every turn reveals more teams setting up base for the weekend, with each square becoming less and less distinctive leading to quite a bit of head scratching as to where I’d parked the car. Signed on and stage maps in hand, it was time to take a look at these mythical stages.
For all the advances in modern technology, rallying remains decidedly old-school in how it conducts its business. To find the route, spectators have to purchase a printed Rally Programme. In this, the centre page is generally a tear out map detailing the route, and from there is up to you to plot your route. With a few hours to spare until the opening action, I head out onto the stages to find the best vantage points. A few hundred metres into stage 1 I had stopped twice, and scribbled V.Fast and Big Cut onto the map. By the 2 km mark the maps was a mess of dots and handwritten notes, and by Kilometre marker 5 I had given up, as watching a Recce Renault 197 dive nearly sideways into the scenery was a clear reminder that I need not bother with a Recce. I wanted speed and cuts, and Ypres is just that and more.
Thursday night is practice and qualifying, with the top crews getting a chance to take on a short stretch of stage to sort any last-minute niggles and set a time that would decide road position for the following day. Stood in a dusty field surrounded by waist high crops, the first crackle of an exhaust notes at full chat echo’s in the distance. The sizeable crowd, three and four deep in places, becomes tense. Casual chit-chat stops in anticipation. I’m like a child. A Fiesta R5 roars into sight on my left, the audible scream of a limiter being bashed accompanying it along its path. As it approaches a tight right, it’s an assault on the senses. The car makes a sudden dive for the ditch, inside wheels dipping feet off the tarmac. The scrape of a sump guard against the black-top is audible above the engines roar, as is the visible sparks through the kicked-up dust. In a matter of moments, the car is gone again, leaving only a large plume of dust to waft over the masses. 9.5 seconds the car is in the line of sight, and that’s it. Rallying, speed and excitement all in one. And then the next car follows.
By the end of qualifying, the clock is well beyond 9pm. I’ve been awake for 36 hours at this stage, and am beginning to watch a second straight sunset without sleep. Getting rather delusional, its back to the Air BnB, a real sign that this is a holiday as an Irish event would usually be done by sleeping in the car, yet by the time I get pictures downloaded, edited and sorted, its nearly 12. A thirty-nine-hour day before the event even begins, that’s rallying!
Friday is an odd day in Ypres, as it feels like there is a lot to time to sit and wait around before the action begins. The first stage of the rally doesn’t kick off until 16.30, giving the fans plenty of time to get up close with the stars. One man seems to move amongst a scrum of eager supporters everywhere he moves. They love their rallying in Belgium, and the current superstar is Thierry Neuville. The Hyundai driver currently leads the World Rally Championship, so its understandable that his decision to spend the mid-season break putting on a show for the home droves is a popular decision. Come the evening though, it was go time.
Ypres, as a rally, has always held a unique place in the rally world. Bar a few spells in the European Championship, the event has never been a round of any major championship, thus it has developed organically into the beast that it now is. The prospect of this being a round of the British Rally Championship has enticed a large entry of UK and Irish crews yet again, but the real cutting edge of the entry is loaded with the cream of European talent, be it both the cohort of quick locals used to the challenge or the influx of WRC2 drivers using this as a test for WRC Germany. The R5 class is the pinnacle here, and a mind blowing Thirty-One take to the start.
During the 1980’s and 90’s, Ypres was a 24-Hour rally, and although financial restraints have pretty much ended the endurance rallies of old, the event still manages to cram 23 special stages into 27 hours. Its well into the night when I get off the Saturday stages, nearly 23.30, but its worth it for the sight of rally cars racing through the sunset.
While the R5’s were leading the way, the crowd was divided on what was the real highlight. To many, the battle for RGT glory was an absolute feast for the senses. Developed as a class to encourage the return of sports cars to the stages, RGT has seen everything from Aston’s to Abarth’s, but the Belgian’s are all for Porsche. Full blown, un-silenced, howling, flame spitting GT3 911’s, snaking through the Belgian scenery, the large rear tyres fighting for grip on a constant basis. The spectacle was both incredible and deafening in equal measure. Patrick Snijers, yes THE Patrick Snijers of that infamous Manx rally 1988 video, led the way, but seven other GT3’s followed.
To me though, the additional ‘Historic Rally’ was just a sweet addition. Not did the entry boast all manner of hero cars, the driver entry included names like Latvala and Toivinen. The sight of a sideways MK2 Escort is something that we are spoiled with in Ireland, but to see the admiration held across the continent for what was Ford’s mid-70’s family car is just staggering.
After three long days and absolutely caked in dust, I had become completely drained. In the setting sun over Flanders Fields, it would be that man Neuville who would take the victory, but in as commanding a manner as expected. For me, Ypres was every bit as special as expected, and I may never look at a grass ditch the same again as that’s where the time lies. The long road home passed close to Goodwood and there was some Stance show on, so it would have been rude to not add a few days and call in for a look!
A fresh Sunday morning in late Spring, at a time where the addition of a jumper or coat becomes an optional extra, is an incredible time to escape and unwind. Getting out in the early crispness of a clear day seems to allow the whole body to release tension. The work week just past seems at this point almost forgotten, while the following is still somewhat far enough away to be of no true significance. Stood beside a mountain road, a sense of tranquillity reigns. Thin wisps of morning fog rolls off the lush mountain side all around, while shimmers of yellow and pink punctuate the vast expanses of green wilderness. Everything seems silent, except for the occasional swish of a Wind Turbine grabbing a rare puff of wind. But like everything, it just can’t last. The lucid early serenity must make way for reality, and I’m expecting a guest at any moment. Then, an unholy roar begins to echo through the tree’s below. It’s Here!
There’s something oh-so-mystical about hearing the iconic thumping roar of a Boxer engine punctuating the still and quiet air, forcing every hair on your body to stand up. Looking down the hill, flashes of blue whizz through breaks in the canopy. This is everything I live for all in one. The excitement of a rally derived monster from the pinnacle of the sport, rushing towards me at stunning pace. Images flash through my head of McRae, Liatti, Burns & Kankkunen racing up ribbonous mountains stages, and the buzz of the fans standing road side waiting for the roaring monsters to arrive. I am truly having a moment, and as soon as Piotr comes around the bend before me, I know this is going to be special.
I’ve had it said to me recently that cars, the newest in particular, are getting more and more aggressive looking these days. The beefed up, over the top styling of something like a Focus RS is the current poster child of the rally inspired road cars, but 20 years ago the method was very different. As a pair, Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evo and Subaru’s Impreza defined a section of the market totally at odds with all around them. As if wheeled straight off the World Rally Stages, the pair were landed into the 90’s car scene like a pair of spaceships. They brought useable, reliable face bending power to the masses. While the body lines and lack of arches may seem total opposite to the latest breed of Hyper Hatches, the truest modern continuation of the lineage, it can never be denied that the GC8 Impreza is one of the single most aggressive body shapes that ever made it into production.
Before me sits Piotr’s 1999 Subaru Impreza WRX Type-R, a car that belies its near 20-year age with ease. The clean crisp lines, razor sharp headlights and sweeping bumper vents are truly stunning, but the addition of bonnet vents, the large intake scoop and massive rear spoiler quickly remind anyone within sight that this car means business, real proper full tilt business. Looking around this Ver 5 model, there plenty of little touches that grab your intention, but then haven’t I gone and missed the largest and most obvious touch of all. While many people correctly couple Impreza and the colour Blue together, this particular car does not wear its original hue of World Rally Blue, instead the colour is that found on the 2003 spec WRX.
The model year designation in the paintwork is no fluke nor simple decision of what looked the best, instead it is a celebratory nod to one of the brands finest days, Petter Solberg’s WRC victory. Piotr, like myself, is totally obsessed with rallying. Have stared his motoring life competing in Poland, the aim was always to acquire the dream Impreza. Originally a JDM car, the route to Piotr’s ownership is rather unique. Rather than leaving the Far East destined for Dublin Port, the car was bought by an RAF pilot in Cyprus. Over the course of a few years, the car was transported back to the UK before eventually finding its way across the Irish Sea in 2007. As a high-grade import and having had a number of proper enthusiast owners, it plain to see why the car is immaculate all round. Besides the new paintwork, only a slight arch roll in the rear to accommodate wider tyres and the addition of a Ver 6 front lip, the car sits exactly as it left the STI specialist dealership in 1999, complete with original roof vent!
So far, so….normal. A clean two-door Impreza, while absolutely stunning, isn’t exactly what this car is about. It’s what’s under the surface, hidden from initial sight, that really marks this car out as being something truly special, and worthy of chasing to get this shoot done. The first clue to the purposefulness begins with the bright White 18” Rota GRA Tarmac wheels, an obvious bone of contention who like that distinctive Blue-on-Gold colour scheme. I question the colour choice, and Piotr says its simply about being different without being over the top visually, a theme carried through the build. Being different though means not settling for any old parts. Perfection, to Piotr, can only be achieved through the use of high-end components. It begins with the brakes. While the rear retains a Brembo setup from a ‘03 WRX, up front is a work of art. Sat behind the multi-spoke white faces of the wheels sit a pair of 355mm AP Racing Discs, with nothing less than a pair of Porsche GT3RS 6-pot calipers utilized for some of the sharpest stopping power I’ve ever seen on an Irish road car.
The brakes are only the start of the rare and expensive parts that make up this build, each sweep of the eye grabbing something previously missed. A genuine Prodrive WRC diff Guard shields the rear drivetrain from the harshest of terrain, much of which is dealt with ease through the BC Racing Coilovers at each corner. The Whiteline catalogue has been well and truly raided aswell, with everything from Anti-Lift camber enhancement plates through Bump Steer Correction kits, Adjustable Drop Links, Fully Adjustable Rear arms and a complete Polybush treatment ensure that every ounce of power is transferred onto the tarmac. Oh ya, there’s that word Power. I’d almost forgot about that. It makes a full blown 276 BHP!
Ha, as if.
Power here depends on which fuel map you choose, with the adjustable ECU being the very first addition Piotr made to the car. I feel almost giddy asking the question, waiting for figures that I would expel expletives as a reaction. The man plays ball, I swear and this car instantly gains monster status. On road fuel, power sits at 480 bhp, but add race fuel to the mix and fire up the methanol injection kit, your looking at well over the 520 mark. Under the vented and scooped bonnet lies the true beating heart of this beast.
While I could go into the incredible engine build, I’ll include a truly mega spec sheet at the end. To begin with though, this is certainty no standard Type-R Impreza engine. The build began with an EJ22 block more commonly found in the legendary 22B, in this case stoked out to 2.35 litres. Added to the ultimate Subaru engine is a shopping list of some of the true pinnacles of After Market tuning parts. The majority of the engine internals, including Pistons and Conrods are forged items from Cosworth, with the English tuners also supplying the Kevlar Timing Belt and Baffled Oil Control Panel.
The forced induction side of things are looked after with a MDX321T Hybrid Lateral Performance Ltd turbo, a huge addition designed to provide not only large power figures, but torque right through the rev range. The Alkatec stand alone ECU has been designed to allow for the provision of a ballistic sounding Anti-Lag at the flick of a switch. All the spent gases, and that sweet Boxer note are taken care of by a Kakimoto 3” N1 Racing exhaust system.
All in, this is truly one of Irelands top modified cars, and the culmination of a lifelong dream to create the ultimate incarnation of a dream car, one that evokes memories of a single pivotal point in the history of world Motorsport. Asked about future plans, Piotr wryly smiles. The obvious route is to head along the path to creating a replica of the S5 WRC, but the car is so perfect right now that it might be a while yet. And with that, in a blaze of anti-lag pops and bangs, the Scooby roars off into the distance, and quiet serenity returned atop the mountain once more.
- EJ22 block (2.35 build)
- forged pistons & conrods
- baffled oil control plate
- kevlar timing belt
- MDX321T – Hybrid Lateral Performance Ltd turbo
- 1000cc ID injectors, flow-matched by Lateral Performance Ltd.
- FueLab fuel pressure regulator
- Bosch 044 fuel pump
- Exedy Hyper Twin clutch kit
- Apexi Power Intake filter matched with HKS RS intake pipe and Samco inlet turbo hose.
- HDI GT2 Front Mount Intercooler
- Blow-off valve delete
- Lightened Perrin crank pulley
- Mishimoto uprated radiator
- Alcatek stand alone ECU with custom maps (ALS + Launch control) with 2nd map for 20% meth add in fuel.
- 4bar MAP sensor
- 3 port Prodrive turbo solenoid
- Custom oil catch tank
- Cusco 3” decat downpipe
- Kakimoto Racing 3” Mega N1 exhaust
Chassis & Suspension
- BC ER series coilovers
- Whiteline polybushes all-round
- Whiteline AntiLift-Kit with custom castor enhancement plates.
- Whiteline Front Roll Centre / Bump steer correction kit
- Whiteline 22mm adjustable antiroll-bar
- Whiteline adjustable drop links
- Cusco lower arm brace Version II
- Beatrush front engine pitch stopper fork.
- STi Spec-C quick steering rack 2.25 turn from lock to lock
- Whiteline steering rack bushings
- v6 STI RA 5-speed close ratio DCCD gearbox with front LSD
- R180 rear LSD diff
- Whiteline gearbox solid mount
- AS performance gear link bushes with short shifter.
- Whiteline 24mm adjustable antiroll-bar
- Whiteline rear antiroll-bar mounting kit
- Whiteline solid droplinks
- Whiteline adjustable control arms
- Whiteline rear camber bolts
- HardRace uni-ball based lateral arms.
- Cusco top strut tower bar
- Whiteline rear diff solid mounts.
- Prodrive diff guard
- Rota GRA Tarmac 18” White
- Nankang NS2R 225/40 ZR18 medium compound track tyres
- Porsche GT3 RS – 6 pot calipers
- Powerstation adapter kit
- 355mm AP racing disks
- Brembo Sport brake pads
- 310mm disks with 2 pot Brembo calipers (conversion from 03 STi)
- Brembo Sport brake pads
- Sparco 383 steering wheel
- 5 DEFI Advance BF gauges with control unit (Boost press, Oil temp, Oil press, Water temp, EGT)
- The car was completely re-sprayed 4 years ago with a slightly different shade of WR Blue from 03 WRX STI (colour code 02C)
- Rear arches rolled to fit 225/40 18” wheels
- Ver6 STi front lip is pretty much the only part added to the bodywork as I wanted to keep it standard just as it came out from factory.
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!
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!!