Every person who’s life revolves heavily around a hobby generally has a key date in mind when planning their year. No matter the interest, we all have that single point in time where we know exactly where exactly we wish to be, and I’m no different. For myself, and countless motorsport or simply car enthusiasts, the third weekend in June is special. For me, it’s pretty much my summer holiday, a chance to unwind and enjoy one of the nicest corners of our Island while taking in some stunning action. It can only be Donegal Weekend!!
This year, for the first time in a long time, I have made the trip North on the Thursday. As this remains the countries only 3-day rally, action kicks off on Friday afternoon, yet the necessary side events begin from early in the week. While the crews have done their recce at this stage, today was mainly the formality of getting cars through scrutiny and parked up ahead of a long weekend of challenging stages. Safety items checked and documents cleared, the crews must now sit anxiously waiting for the mornings alarm.
The way that Letterkenny welcomes the rally is like a breath of fresh air, with hundreds of people out watching tech inspections and countless adverts for ‘Rally Weekend’ social activities. Its an attitude like that which keeps people coming back year on year, and over 50,000 people are expected to visit over the weekend.
In terms of the runners and riders, last years winner Manus Kelly leads the pack away in his Subaru Impreza WRC. An oft dwindling sight of late, Donegal and its allure have attracted a plethora of WRC machinery back out, including similar Subaru’s of Gary Jennings & PJ McDermott, while the Ford corner is stacked with Donagh Kelly in the Focus and crowd-favorite Declan Boyle in the Fiesta.
Donegal has the name of the Modified grand Prix, and the line up of top class modified machinery is clear to see, with a venerable who’s who of star drivers. The same can also be said for the R5 category, with all the regular championship protagonists in attendance, ready to go to war over 20 tricky tests.
Donegal is a temptress that attracts some special entries, and I for one cannot wait to hear John Coyne getting to grips with the Tuthill’s built Porsche 911 RGT car down some twisting country lanes.
The action kicks off tomorrow with 3 stages repeated twice west of Letterkenny. The weather today has been showery, but having driven the stages the surfaces seem incredibly prepared and in great shape. Stay tuned all weekend for more updates and pictures. Cian.
Winter is such an odd time. All the glory and success of the last year is parked in a corner, cars are rolled into garages, spanners earn their keep and generally everyone presses a big reset button. As the days shorten to nothing more than a quick blast of sunlight and the roads descend into a grimy hell, plans are a-brewing. year is the very same. Be it tinkering with new parts, dealing in new cars or even deciding on which events & championships to attack, the rally community keeps ticking over at a ferocious paces. Rumours swirl of who has placed orders on the latest machinery while the various graphics shops only whet the appetite with snippets of new liveries. But then it’s time for Galway Internationl 2017, the talking and shadow boxing is over, the cobwebs are rubbed off and it’s time to launch full tilt into 2017.
A traditional curtain raiser, the Galway International is the opening round of the Irish Tarmac Championship, as well as a number of smaller regional championships, and has long been the place where the masses could cop eyes on the latest cutting edge rally machinery as they got their first blast on Irish Tar. Scrutiny on the Friday was long the go-to spot for all the unveilings, although the rise of the internet makes any surprises almost common knowledge before the covered trailers are cracked open for the first time. Sitting with the coveted No. 1 on the door was Garry Jennings in his Subaru Impreza S12 WRC. Last year’s winner, Jennings has become a sporadic sight on the stages, although watching him at full, often very sideways, chat is special. Although now quite an aging car against its rivals, the Scooby is still an incredibly potent package.
Right behind Garry on the road were a pair of Fiesta WRC’s of Declan Boyle & Roy White. Although none of the WRC men were eligible to score championship points, each came West with strong desires to perform well and get mileage on the cars before tackling the National Series. White, last year’s National winner was on the pace right from the start in the older Fiesta, but it was Boyle in the 2015 spec car that was neck and neck with Jennings at the head of the time sheets early on. Unfortunately for Declan, he seems to always either end up at the head of the pack or suffering from problems, with very little between them. This time around, his Galway charge would end on Saturday afternoon with an engine issue that couldn’t be sorted in Service.
Being the 1st round of the ITRC meant that all those with title aspirations crossed the start ramp, led by last year’s runner-up Alistair Fisher, driving a new Ford Fiesta R5. A string of similar cars followed with the Moffett brothers Sam & Josh in a pair of distinctive R5’s, Stephen Wright was in another and Stephen McCann debuted a high revving S2000 Fiesta. A surprise late entrant was Robert Barrable in yet another R5 Fiesta. Robert was one of the first people to embrace the new-era of cars, when he bought a Skoda Fabia S2000 in 2011, winning the West Cork, and even pushed Craig Breen right to the edge at the 2015 Circuit of Ireland, but this was a return to the stages after 20 months away.
Also towards the front, all manner of new driver and car combo’s got a first outing. Aaron MacHale had swapped an S2000 Fabia for last year’s championship winning Citroen DS3 R5, although his event would come to an end on Saturday. Paul Rowley had gone the same route from a Skoda to a Citroen, while Brendan Cumiskey had traded the Fiesta for an R5 Fabia. Joseph McGonigle was pushing the lovely Maxol-liveried Skoda hard all weekend, while Johnny Green had a redesigned DS3 yet there were eyes looking elsewhere among the International field.
Towards the end of last year, Ford WRC outfit M-Sport announced their involvement in a brand new junior rally programme revolving around the Fiesta R2 National. Based on a 1L Turbocharged Fiesta, and sounding distinctly like a Porsche, this is a route designed to get younger drivers onto the ladder of progression through the sport. While there has been no talk of who has committed to the idea as of yet, Jon Armstrong, a regular competitor at Junior WRC level, was sent out to put on a bit of a show in the all new car, and that he certainly did!
Now, when getting ready for the trip to Galway, there’s two things to expect. The first is that there’ll be new cars to ogle, the other being that it’s going to be cold, and damp and very muddy!! It’s just the way it is. Stonewalls turn black from wheel spray, and standing on Stage 1 it’s clear that nearly every car is scrabbling for any semblance of grip on the shiny tarmac. It seems a real battle to get power down, and the rear-wheel drive modified crew only highlight this. A once solid roadside bank becomes nothing more than a collection of mud and shards of Ford Escort rear lights as all manner of approaches to a slow hairpin right turns into an arse out show for the masses of spectators.
The National section of the rally encompasses all manner of modified machinery, but is naturally dominated by fast Escorts. Gary Kiernan, Damien Tourish, Pat McHugh and countless others were pushing hard all weekend, with the battle for the spoils ending with 1.6 seconds in Kiernan’s favour. Liam Howlett was his ever sideways self when passing on SS1, but alas it was yet another meeting of Big Red and a solid ditch that would end their run on the second test. The distinctive pair of BMW’s of Eugene Meegan and Richard Whelan added a bit of variety, but it was a Corolla Twincam of Kevin Eves who grabbed the final podium spot.
Further down the pack, countless personal battles raged from those looking to take class honours to Art McCarrick simply wanting to finish a rally for the first time! His C-Sport Civic was among a number of rapid Honda’s being pushed hard, and Declan Boyle’s son Michael debuted his newly built EG Hatch. The choice to get left-hand drive is a serious statement of intention as the young Donegal man looks to be gunning for Marty Gallagher or Will Creighton in homologated R2 machinery at some point.
Following a rally can be easy enough, and all it takes is a decent sense of direction with a map and in no time you can be running from stage to stage, buy when taking pictures, I prefer to go deeper into a stage and stroll away from the busy junctions. Where’s the fun in standing at a bale chicane, when a mile down the road you have a personal view as the cars come over a blind crest into a 200m straight. Its bliss as cars fly past inches away at over 100mph, a rare sight on wat is definitely one of the tighter and twistier rallies. The stone lined roads seem a myriad of junctions and turns, and the relative flat landscape makes standing water a definite issue.
The Historic Championship, which kicked off last December in Killarney, was sparse on competitors but certainly didn’t lack in spectacle or commitment. A pair of German visitors brought along some beautiful sounding Porsche 911’s, while Galway’s Frank Cunningham had jaws dropping with his BMW M3, but it was a familiar Escort battle between Ernie Graham and Gareth Lloyd setting the pace. Graham took the win this time, but expect plenty of dicing between the pair all year.
The weather, cold but mainly fine on Saturday, came into play with a vengeance on Sunday morning. Ice covered the stages, and the first loop was cancelled on safety grounds. Coupled with a stage shortage caused by a disgruntled resident, the Sunday blast turned into a sprint to the finish. After being pushed early on by Boyle, Garry Jennings had plenty of breathing room once his rival retired. A very controlled drive saw the red Subaru crossing the winner’s ramp yet again with nearly 60 seconds to spare. Roy White brought his Fiesta home in second to secure a WRC 1-2, but he only had 8 seconds to spare over Ali Fisher. Although 3rd, Fisher heads to Clonakilty in a few weeks with maximum Championship points before Round 2 the West Cork Rally. Sam Moffett got second, while Barrable has committed to further events after finishing 3rd in the championship runners.
And so we’re off. 2017 is go, we have the first big event of the year in the books and now it’s time for planning all over again. No matter where in the country, a rally will be close at some stage, and the merry band of drivers, crews and fans will descend no matter the time or weather!
For many the thought of owning a fast road car or track car is a distant dream. We simply don’t have the means to spend thousands of euros per year for a few days of track time and don’t have the discipline to spend hour after hour in a cold shed inevitably fixing what we broke at the last trackday. As if that wasn’t a big enough barrier to motorsport, in this country we only have one real race track (Mondello) if you don’t count karting tracks and for the majority of people, it takes hours to get there and back. Yet somehow, we are motorsport obsessed. We have some of the world’s best rally drivers and drifters. We have tonnes of great cars on this little island, and thanks to technology we can now get into motorsport in our own homes which I am going to tell you how to get into sim racing and set it up.
Of course racing games have been around for years and years, but it wasn’t until the release of gran turismo, a game which single handedly ignited the imaginations of the mainstream and exposed us to real driving simulation. Of course gran turismo wasn’t the first, but in ireland we didn’t all have PCs to play formula 1 or indycar games. We were really poor in the 90s. And yes, looking back, the physics in the early gran turismo games were pretty terrible. Right up to the latest gran turismo, the physics still aren’t amazing in my opinion. But once you understood the physics, it was a relatively realistic driving simulator and for many of us, the closest we would ever come to driving a real car on a real track. However, in recent times a new generation of simulation is taking hold. We’re no longer happy with compromise, we want it to be real. And we expect it to be difficult. We want to shave milliseconds off of our friends’ best laps and now more than ever, we are customising and investing in our setups so that we can be better and faster.
We have lots of great options available to us in this world of HD, 4K, next generation consoles and relatively cheap personal computing and many people wonder how they can get on the ladder of real simulation. So let’s dive in. I’m going to assume here that you already have a HD (1080p) or 4K TV or 1080p+ monitor, so that’s excluded from any prices I may mention. I’m also going to concentrate on a handful of games: Assetto Corsa, Dirt and Project Cars. Let me also go on record in saying that there are currently no realistic drifting games for consoles. So if all you want is to pretend to be James Deane or Mad Mike then I would skip straight to the PC section, unless you care more about the screenshots than you do about the driving experience.
The trusty console
“But my friend says you need a PC to play real simulation games”. Your friend is wrong, although consoles do have limitations which i’ll get into later, they have many advantages. Firstly, you’ll pick up a new Xbox One or PS4 for around 300euro. That’s a lot of bang for your buck. The average game will set you back €70 when it’s hot off the press. That’s a basic (by today’s standards) simulation setup for under the €400 mark. Which one is better? that’s entirely up to you and how you want to use it. Xbox will give you access to the Forza series of games which are visually stunning but leave a lot to be desired from a sim racing point of view.
Gaming seats and cockpits
This is where most get creative. If you have the space, finding an old bucket seat and some wood or metal to nail or weld together is all part of the fun. If you don’t have the space, there are still plenty of options. Basic steeringwheel and pedal stands are available from around €100 from Wheelstandpro. Playseat has some great offerings too. For stuff like this i would keep an eye on adverts.ie and donedeal.ie because bargains do pop up on a regular basis. Everyone’s setup tends to be different. Some people have entire dashboards and even passenger seat setups.
VR – Virtual reality is taking over.
You’ve probably heard of the Occulus Rift or the HTC Vive. Virtual reality involves wearing a large set of goggles almost like a sleep mask. The amazing thing is that when you move your head around, your in game head also moves. This allows you to properly focus on that apex or look out your side window as you try to correct or maintain a slide. It is a truly amazing gaming experience available on PS4 (Playstation VR) and PC (Occulus, HTC Vive, etc) but as of yet, Xbox One lacks proper VR support. Albeit amazing, it’s not without its flaws. In my personal opinion, it is like going back to a single screen gaming experience. I find that I lack peripheral vision and can’t spot that car trying to undercut me unless I look both ways before making every single move. But that’s not my biggest reservation, I find it awkward that the hands i see in game aren’t my actual hands and my handbrake and gear shifter are in a different place in real life which leads to occasionally reaching in the wrong place. Not to mention that a gaming session that lasts a few hours is tasking as headsets aren’t light and are strapped pretty tightly onto your head. I’m not convinced about the technology yet, but admittedly haven’t spent enough time with it.
For years there has been a snobbery from PC gamers towards consoles and most who make the transition to PC gaming don’t tend to go back to consoles in a serious way. This snobbery stems from the amazing community that has surrounded PC gaming for years and years. Without getting into details, on PC you can get drifting mods for Gran Theft Auto and even drift with strangers online who also have the mod. The biggest barrier to getting into PC gaming is the lack of knowledge around configurations and specs. You can buy a console and all games for that console will run on it, but on PC your game will always only look as good as your system allows it to. On PC you can (with the right knowhow) create your own cars or trucks or even busses and import them into pretty much any game. People have even managed to take models from Forza (Xbox exclusive) and port them to Assetto Corsa and rfactor.
There I go mentioning rFactor again. If you’ve looked it up you’ll probably notice that rFactor is a game from 2007 and was never meant to be a drifting game. It’s a competent racing sim, but with unbranded cars and horrible graphics out of the box this somehow became the drifting game of choice for the past 10 years. They even came out with rFactor 2 but if you want to drift, rFactor 1 is the one to go for. It all sounds glorious but there is a downside. rFactor takes quite a bit of tweaking to set up, and even at that, when you go to one of the few online lobbies, odds are that most of the cars wont be visible due to the vast number of mods and adhoc way of simply dragging and dropping files into your cars or tracks folder. You will spend a lot of time simply asking other what cars they have and where they got them, and should never go on the assumption that any cars are widely available. It is slowly becoming a community of elites and being replaced as those modders gravitate towards Assetto Corsa and Project Cars.
That said, when it comes to drifting there is only one match made in heaven for an entry level sim drifter and that is a heavily modded rFactor on a mid to high end PC. To give an indication of costs, a 500euro second hand PC will most likely run rFactor without issues. That’s a sweeping statement of course and it’s best to consult someone who knows about PC specs before forking out. A good steering wheel as mentioned above would be a Logitech g25 or g27 (around €150 second hand). They are very popular and widely available second hand. Settings are very easy to come by for these wheels too. Then there’s the cost of the game: rFactor will cost you $25 or so and the mods are free if a little hard to find and keep up with. Get yourself involved in some of the facebook groups around sim racing and drifting and you’ll quickly learn the lay of the land. Let’s not beat around the bush though. Although PC gaming is the ultimate in home simulation, it requires effort and dedication and if you’re not paying attention you can completely disable your game by mistake and need to start again from scratch. The end product is worth it though and I would advice simply taking a copy of someone’s setup who has already done all the hard setup work.
There’s a compromise, but it’s gonna cost you. Get yourself a well specced gaming PC. Something that is custom built and around the €1,000 mark. Compared to console gaming, that’s a lot of money but you are buying a PC that’s also capable of lots of other things than just gaming. Then once you have your PC, get a steering wheel. Again, the Logitech models mentioned above are quiet and durable and easy to modify and upgrade. Then finally, buy Assetto Corsa for racing and/or drifting and buy Dirt if you’re into rallying. By all means, experiment with project cars, Automobilista and countless other racing sims out there, but Assetto Corsa gives me those Gran Turismo butterfly feels that i had back in the late 90s when all I thought about was cars and that girl in my class. It has lots of cars out of the box, and lots of downloadable car packs which are simply stunning and extremely realistic. It’s very easy to get access to mods as the community is growing and growing. Not to mention the fact that the game is constantly being updated by the developers and kept up to date using the steam portal. The quality of the user created mods makes them almost indistinguishable from the native cars that come with the game. Assetto corsa is also one of the few games I’ve ever played where you can drive the same car for time attack or drift without changing the game mode or car setup. It’s the best of all worlds and looks fantastic.
To summarise, this is only a drop in the ocean when it comes to the world of sim racing. There are real online races for tonnes of real life money. And I haven’t even gone near hydraulic setups or the fact that some of the top drivers in f1 and rally and drifting have sim setups similar to what i described above which they really use for training. There are even competitions where they take sim drivers who have never driven real cars in a race and they put them in real cars to duke it out on track. At long last there has been a cultural shift in the gaming community as well as the motorsport community. A breakthrough in a way. I think that Ireland is ready to embrace sim racing at long last.
If you are interested in SIM racing please feel free to join the facebook group dedicated to sim racing in Ireland: Sim Racing/Drifting Ireland where the members will help you get set up on whatever platform you’re interested in.