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Donegal Diary – Thursday

Donegal Diary – Thursday

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.

Sher It’s The Lakes!

Sher It’s The Lakes!


Have you ever got to a point, where the only logical question to ask is “What the *expletive* am I doing with my life?”, and all possible answers seem soo much more appealing than your current situation? It’s a point when every choice made in getting to the here and now is thought over, analysed and its sanity evaluated. Had anyone the misfortune of crossing my path last Saturday evening, it’s easy to imagine the barrage of moany, life questioning drivel they would have had to endure. One thing is for sure though, I would have sworn blind I was never going to look at a rally car ever again.


Let’s backtrack a little here before my look back at the Rally Of The Lakes, round 2 of the Irish Tarmac Championship, turns into a desperate misery log of what Saturday was like. We’ll come to that in time, but all seemed soo rosy 24 hours previously. In the run up to any big rally, I get a real sense of excitement that builds all week. Constantly checking my work computer calendar would add to the buzz, as plonked between all manner of important meetings and deadlines, a bright red ‘Laaaaaaakesss’ icon had sat since early January. Leaving work Friday afternoon, it was all go to get home, changed, camera loaded and on the road to Killarney. The car itself had got hours and hours of polishing and deep cleaning for the weekend, as god forbid you were seen driving about in a filthy vehicle. As always, seeing the ‘Keep The Race in Its Place’ signs is the start point that truly marks the start of Rally Weekend.


Having moved into the world of a steady Monday to Friday job, I’ve got a much better chance these days of making it to events nice and early, often visiting the scrutiny area o even ceremonial launches. Neither of these excite me greatly, as my love is watching these machines at full chat on a country lane, but yet it’s fascinating being able to get up close and personal with the machinery. Small details that completely invisible at speed seem to jump out at you, while noticeable differences in car building styles ignite my inner motorsport geek. Taking place right in the heart of Killarney on a Bank Holiday Friday, the launch was among the busier I’ve seen. Crowds were out in force to see what us rally folk have to offer, and it’s this level of outreach that helps built ties between events and local communities.

Once the cars were tucked up for the night, eyes were glanced towards a difficult route in store the next morning. In a traditional move, an early morning blast up Molls Gap was a decent test of bravery right from the off. Over that, what lay in store was over an hours driving South to a loop of stages that could only be described as breath taking. I decided to base myself on the Healy Pass for the day, and having taken a midweek spin down to get a sense of the place, there’s a strong reason why I’ll be soon doing a feature on this glorious stretch of tarmac. Leaving home at 10 past 6 in the morning, all was well. The excitement was palpable looking forward to the rally, seeing the Healy Pass at full chat and trying out a few new camera bits. Nearly 2 hours later, I was simply hoping the car wouldn’t be blown over in the storm!


Watching the marshals, all volunteers, out battling storm force gales to get the stage set up was a glimpse into the dedication that lies at the heart of Irish rallying. People turning up five minutes before the first car have no concept generally of the huge effort that has taken weeks to get the rally ready to go live. As the first of the safety car’s passed, the rain came. You might start to get the mood I was in Saturday evening already. As a shower turned torrential, Ali Fisher came roaring over the apex of the Pass. Scrabbling for grip, the R5 Fiesta banged through the gears as it headed for the ribbon of asphalt below. Generally, we are lucky to get any more than about 10 seconds sight of a rally car, but the unique nature of the Healy Pass allows over a minute’s action from even the quickest machinery. Sam Moffett came hot on Fishers heels in a similar Fiesta, while the still novel sight of Robert Barrable’s Hyundai was a big change in a sharp end dominated by Ford’s.


As the day passed, times began to filter in from Cod’s Head & Ardgroom. Fisher had hit trouble and had retired from the rally, taking a coastal wall with him. Leading the pack was Roy White in yet another Fiesta. Last year’s National Champion, Irelands second championship based over 10 single day events, has really got to grips with the step up to a World Car, and it was the noticeable performance difference helping guide our sole WRC entrant to an overnight lead. Passing the second time through the Pass, I’d decided to relocate to a location before the top, sacrificing the allure of the countless hairpins in the other direction for the stunning scenery. It’s crazy at times to stop and think about some of the beautiful places in this country that rallying brings us to, and sometimes it’s easy to ignore the backdrop when viewing a rally through a viewfinder!

In the national section, Killarney has always seemed to struggle when it comes to attracting the real superstars of modified rallying. While the Likes of Donegal and West Cork are right at the forefront of attracting large entries in the ITRC, many of the country’s fastest crews give Killarney a skip. That is not to say that we had a massive entry here, but when the overall battle boils down to two cars jostling for the win with minutes to spare over the closest competitors, it does show how important it is for events to attract the best entry that they can. That being said, the National section on the Lakes was truly spectacular to follow. The key battle proved to be an all Donegal affair as the perennial challenger of the AE86 Corolla took on the MK2 Escort, with Kevin Eves storming to a second championship victory in his Toyota. After a disastrous venture into 4wd machinery, Kevin is really starting to show the speed we always knew he had, and the wee Corolla looks well dialled for a championship push. Hot on his heels all weekend was the returning Declan Gallagher. The Milkman has been absent the past 18 months, and returned in an unfamiliar Ford. With the trusty KP Starlet sat at home in waiting for Donegal, the Fear Bainne was pushing Eves all weekend while getting used to new surroundings. Come Sunday evening, barely 40 seconds separated the pair.

Behind the two guys above, third on the time sheets was yet another spectacular drive from Cork’s Vince McSweeney in the flying Honda Civic. As I said earlier, getting up close with the cars in scrutiny gives a chance to get a feel for the cars, but getting close to Vince’s chariot is a stark contrast to the polished, professionally prepped cars that surround it. The epitome of the home built clubman spec vehicle, function certainly drags form along as an oft abandoned after thought. A plethora of perhaps non-automotive screws and bolts keep the Civic held together, but looking at a 1600cc car finishing 3rd in the National is a sign that skill will always win out over budget in people’s estimation.

While battles raged for victory, down the field, as in any rally, crews fought tooth and nail for all manner of class awards, personal battles or even driven to record a finish on the results. People like Art McCarrick and Ed Twomey are exactly what our sport needs at the minute. Both young and ambitious, their enthusiasm for Rallying is immediately evident in their company, and it’s this sort of person we need to attract to the sport if we are to have a long-term future and continue to fill entry lists for years to come.

And then there was Saturday evening!! As I said at the start, had anyone met me on the way home, I would have sworn blind that I would never see a rally again. After battling the stormy winds on the Healy Pass, all looked well as the convoy headed for the final stage of the day. I had the opportunity a few days before the rally to travel over a few stages, and certain locations stand out in a photographic sense. Right down along the coast, a sweeping right hander with the stunning backdrop of the Atlantic seemed ideal. Arriving, all was well, the sun was out and the scenery was as breath-taking as always. First few cars passed, and then the down pour arrived. Now, as a rally follower, a variety of weather is naturally expected, but this was a monsoon. Waterproof clothing soaked through, puddles formed in shoes, cameras started acting up and for well over 5 minutes, it was impossible to turn left and face the rain. Stuck on a grassy bank, this felt more like torture than fun!!

Saturday also had the novelty of playing host to the Lakes Junior rally. The massive entry list fascilated the need to switch days, and the action was naturally as frantic as to be expected. We looked in depth at both Junior Rallying and Eric Calnan and the giant killing 106 at the start of the year, and unfortunately it was yet another event to be remembered for mechanical difficulties. Jason Black showed pace for long periods in his RWD Starlet, but come the end of the final stage it would be Shane McCarthy who would be celebrating a pretty dominant victory, leading pretty much from start to finish in his EG Civic.

Come Sunday, I had decided not to bother going to see any rallying. I was fed up, still cold and suffering the opening bouts of a flu. But, opening the curtains and being met with scorching April rays makes it almost unmissable. Thankfully, a quick glance at maps showed a nice spot on a nearby stage, and an hour later I was back on the ditches. No matter how bleak Saturday evening was, watching rally cars at full chat down a country lane in blazing sunshine is up there with the best ways to pass an afternoon.

Heading back into Killarney, the sunshine was a chance as well to scope out some high-quality road cars that had emerged. Rally followers are well known as hard core petrol heads, and there’s a huge amount of fun standing about and enjoying the spectacle of the Lakes cruising scene over the weekend. It’s fair to say that the dark days of Booing TDI’s seem to be over, and people are seemingly less fearful of spending money on big cars yet again.

While results matter, and congratulations to Sam Moffett on taking the win after Roy White hit trouble, to me rallying is soo much more. It’s about atmosphere, personal triumph, an addiction to speed and an enjoyable escape for a day or a weekend. Leaving Killarney though, the drive home left me time to think about how the weekend had been. While the rally action was as fast and frantic as always, all did not seem well. The crux of what hit me was a sense of feeling unwelcome being a rally follower in Killarney for the weekend. When you arrive in Letterkenny or Clonakilty, you feel like people are happy to see the rally in town, but not so in Killarney. Heavy handed police tactics smothered the town on Friday, forcing people out of the area. Now, I know full well that a certain cohort attach themselves to rallying here in Ireland with the sole intent of ‘causing wreck’, but I feel it’s the blacklisting of the event that works to feed the anti-establishment motivations of some. Locals hate the event, and many vocally want rid of it, and it feels as if Killarney is a town that could happily live without the rally.

I do not in the slightest mean this as a dig at KDMC, as they organise a fantastic rally year after year, but it’s just an awful shame the passion for the sport is not shared by those around them, and as such your left feeling bad admitting that you’re there to watch rallying. The Championship needs the Lakes, as they have some of the most iconic stages and backdrops in Irish rallying, but it seems that the relationship with Killarney seems to be strained at present.

Bonus Images:


Mud Sweat & Gears in the West: Galway International 2017

Mud Sweat & Gears in the West: Galway International 2017

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!

How To Get Into Sim Racing & Set Up

How To Get Into Sim Racing & Set Up

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 and 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.

The PC
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.



This Is Irish Rallying 2016

This Is Irish Rallying 2016

Things happen in Ireland happen every day of the week that we never hear of. Events slip by without a single sliver of coverage, yet enjoyed immensely by those involved. It’s an Irish thing, and any bit of driving around the country you’ll find plenty of signs and posters for a plethora of oddball gatherings. But how is it that there are events going on nearly every weekend, all over the Island, attracting thousands of enthusiastic followers and competitors willing to rack up huge costs in expensive cars solely in search of excitement, yet most have never heard of it?? Welcome to Irish Rallying!

The year, for me at least, kicked off in Galway in mid-February. The traditional season opener for the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship (ITRC), the country’s premier series, Galway is renowned for being the first sighting moment for all manner of new cars and crews. This year was different!! Not only did we see the start of a new season, but also the start of a new Era in Irish Rallying. Over the winter, Motorsport Ireland had decreed that 2016 would see the rise of the R5, the chosen top line category for the championship moving forward.


Until now, WRC’s had ruled the roost in Irish rallying for the past 15 years. Looking back over previous title winners, the roll call of Subaru Impreza’s and Ford Focus WRC’s victories was stunning, but it was becoming too much. Expensive to run, both the older 2L cars and more modern 1.6L equivalents, and scarcer at big events, the powers that be decreed that the latest R5 spec cars were to become the shining beacons.


An R5 car is, in all regards, a very serious piece of kit. Based on road cars, rules stipulate a 1.6 Turbo Charged engine pushing upwards of 280BHP, Four Wheel Drive, massively uprated suspension and much more. The difference, when parked next to a WRC car, is not inherently noticeable, but it’s the part sourcing, and cost saving where the true difference lies. Rather than having a car packed full of very expensive, very bespoke parts, R5’s use a lot more off the shelf components and as such running costs are lowered. But would the gamble work?? Absolutely. For the first time in years, we saw a true battle for the title across nearly a dozen top drivers, which ultimately went down to the final round. Added to that, it was brand new cars out there pushing hard on the stages such as Ford Fiesta’s, Citroen DS3’s and a few Skoda Fabia R5’s.


But back to Galway. I still feel wet thinking back to that weekend. Saturday was like a battle scene. Car after car wheeled off on the back of trailers each in a worse state of destruction. We had leaders in ditches, hard chargers ending up on their roof and all manner of slipping and sliding in between.

And then Sunday brought the deluge. I don’t remember ever being out in such conditions. Access roads began to flood, yet the rally went on regardless. And who better to send out in such awful conditions then the Juniors. A separate section on nearly every rally, and something I’ll be looking into more deeply soon, the Juniors is a shortened rally designed to get younger competitors involved in the sport. Cars are capped at 1.6L, driver’s age at 26, and basically, everything else goes. It has slowly become a parade of fast charging Honda Civics of late, although we’ve seen some noticeable exceptions.

Next up was the traditional Paddy’s Weekend trip to Clonakilty for the West Cork Rally. Ever a crowd favorite, and a recent addition to the Tarmac championship, the West Cork is just a string of some of the most iconic stages and locations in Irish rallying. Ring Village, Ballinglanna, Ardfield etc. While the World Cars may have been excluded from scoring points in the championship, it didn’t stop their owners from competing. For a record breaking third time in-a-row, it would be Donagh Kelly tasting champagne aboard the Double Decker bus in Clonakilty come Sunday evening.

Over in the National Championship, though, the WRC car still reigned supreme. A series of one day, smaller events, the National championship has blossomed of late with massive entry lists and fantastic stages. One of those mounting a serious early charge on the National was the ever flamboyant Gary Jennings in his distinctive Subaru Impreza S12 WRC.

By the time May came about, Killarney was awash with the sunshine, and my clothes and camera were peppered with dust and stones. Rally of The Lakes is a name that resonates across car scenes, and although perhaps we don’t all trudge South solely for the rally, it’s hard to match the buzz around the town for the weekend.

For those standing out though, there’s always a certain vehicle that both creates smiles and scratches heads almost everywhere you go. The Ford Escort MK2. Once a venerable grocery getter designed by Ford as an everyday car in the 1970’s, the Escort has become a staple of the rally scene, none more so than here in Ireland. One of more extravagant exponents of the sideways style adored by fans is Liam Howlett. You don’t get a Hitler Subtitle video or a song dedicated to you by being quiet behind the wheel. This year would see Liam never mind finish the Lakes (there were commemorative t-shirts to mark this fact) but steer Big Red to third overall in the Modified section. He promptly returned to form and crashed soon after, and again, and again!!

But Killarney had been a lot damper only a few weeks previously when we old school rally geeks got an Easter treat. I’ve grown up fascinated by tales of the Circuit of Ireland. A distantly related event bearing the same name ran as part of the ’16 ITRC, but it was the true ‘Circuit’ from the 70’s and 80’s that has me up at all hours watching grainy videos on YouTube. Back then, the circuit was not merely a title but a description. The event ran for 5 days, often with little rest, and saw crews tackle stages right around the country. And it was massive!! International superstars became legends as they tackled Irish lanes. As a chance to look back at the glory days, Circuit déjà vu brought together a plethora of rallying’s legendary names and cars for one hell of a special day.

It’s not every day you stroll into a coffee shop in rural Kerry with a priceless Porsche Carrera sitting at the door. As you make your way in, you have to excuse yourself as you brush past Paul Nagle, Citroen Works Co-Driver for Kris Meeke, discussing the Monte Carlo Rally with none other than 1964 winner Paddy Hopkirk.

As you queue for a coffee, it’s becoming almost surreal as standing right in front is none other than 5-times British Rally champion, and father of the late Colin, Jimmy McRae.

And then to cap it off the only spare seat in the house is at a table with Billy Coleman who’s just given a display in sideways driving in his ’74 British Championship winning Escort up Molls Gap less than an hour beforehand. A man that could have taken on the world yet chose to farm instead.

Returning from Dreamland, and the events continued to roll by thick and fast. As the ITRC completed its northern loop of events, Donegal, The Circuit of Ireland & The Ulster, I was out closer to home. The Imokilly club in East Cork has grown enormously over the last while. Evolving from hosting a RallySprint in the Cork Mart a few years ago, they now play host to one of the more competitive Mini-Stages events in the country. A non-championship event, these rallies are a chance for the clubmen to really go out and enjoy their local stages without the pressure of the big guns at the head of the field. Its club man level events like this that provide the lifeblood to Irish rallying, and are a real proving ground for anyone with aspirations of moving up the ranks.

An added bonus for this event was their ability to attract two of possibly the country’s crowd favorites, Frank Kelly & Declan Gallagher, to give their co-driver seats up for charity to raise funds for a very worthy local charity. This certainly wasn’t just a fun run though as the Milkman (Gallagher) came home 2nd overall with rookie co-driver Shane O’Mahony.

The main championship came down to a final battle royal around the stages of Cork as 4 drivers came to the ’20 with hopes of walking away with the Tarmac crown. First to wilt was Alistair Fisher. Coming in as point’s leader, Fisher lost control on the last loop on Saturday seeing both his Fiesta and title ambitions turned upside down.

Another pair of contenders would be the Moffett brothers Sam & Josh. Each pushed right to the very last, aided by both sibling rivalry and determination to grab the title. Josh ended up taking the rally victory, but results elsewhere just didn’t fall right for his title charge. As a reward for his hard charging all year, Josh Moffett took home the Billy Coleman award for Young Rally Driver of the year.

But alas, it was the quiet man from Ballylickey that ended the year as Irish Tarmac Champion. Keith Cronin had a mixed year with some stunning championship victories peppered with crushing lows as the title lay in the balance. Seeing his main rival Fisher drop out on Saturday, the 3-Times BRC champion had the required cool head to get his DS3 R5 home safely and secure the tarmac crown.

With the two main titles secured, Roy White taking the National crown in his Fiesta WRC, the Donegal Harvest rally was a chance for the local RWD crews to have some fun. Although every rally sees its fair share of spectacular Modified action, its seems to be Monaghan and Donegal that really ramp this up to the last. The Modified’s are home to the wild side of Irish Rallying. Race engines push once humble every day cars to unbelievable speeds. Engine sizes are capped at a maximum of 25% larger than original, so the 2.5L Class 14 is the zenith. Builds regularly top €80,000, while every last inch of performance is squeezed out with all manner of upgrades allowed.

Twin Cam Corolla’s, normally associated with marking cross roads at events like Killarney or Donegal International, really have a warm place in Northern Rallying. I’m sure I lost count at about 9 or 10 of the Toyota coupe’s out talking the Harvest Stages, although it was the McGettigan brothers who were really on a charge all day, both on road and occasionally when taking flight.

The Harvest also gave me, in particular, the first glimpse of John Mullholland’s incredible 1.3L BDA engine Escort. When people call things a screamer, it can generally be debated. But an Escort coming down a country lane at nearly 10,000 rpm is something that still gives me a fizz.

The last event for me anyway in 2016 was actually the first event of 2017’s championship bizarrely. Aimed solely as Ireland’s only Historic rally, Killarney plays host in early December to a dazzling array of older rally cars. Split into two distinct parts, the first cars you get to enjoy are the true Historic spec cars, built to the same spec as in their heydays of the late 70’s, complete with screaming BDA’s.

The other side of the event is a chance for some of the country’s fastest Modified rally cars to really come out and play. The Modifieds is where you’ll find Escorts that in the right conditions could outrun World cars, Millington engines, cutting-edge technology all wrapped up in 30-year-old bodies. It’s truly glorious.

Add in the beauty of having Irelands only night stage and Killarney Historic is a special way to end the year. It’s an absolute nightmare to photograph, but by god its one hell of a cool sight to witness.

So that’s my little look back at the 2016 rallying year. The next 12 months has plenty instore and I’m looking forward to another year hanging off ditches and hopefully, I’ll give ye an insight into the mad world of Irish Rallying.

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