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Diaries of a Trackday Novice

Diaries of a Trackday Novice

Mondello Park will always maintain an incredibly special place in the car scene on the Island of Ireland. Being our sole dedicated racing circuit capable of holding international level events, it truly is a mecca for all manner of truly exciting and different motorsports pursuits. To each of us that have either entered through the gates or wanted to at some point, the legend of Mondello holds various states. Some reminisce of the day a young Ayrton Senna battled for Leinster Trophy victory, others remember the iconic roar of the Jordan F1 car as it wowed the crowds in the 90’s. The sideways escapades of James Deane have left visual clues on the tarmac, while the grass and ditches are littered with remnants of long forgotten duels and close battles. I’ve stood on the grassy bank around Turn One before taking in the action, and had my first major Photoshoot, that of Ronan’s MK1 Golf, in the pitlane, yet in all that time, I’d never got around to getting on track myself.

We’ve covered virtual reality Sim racing here on the site before, and we concluded that as a platform, the advances in technology allow us to experience driving circuits all over the world at a degree of realism never before imaginable. During the year I spent living in Austria, while not at Worthersee car show or studying, I passed hours dialling in lap after lap of Mondello on RFactor, picking up the racing line, braking points and road camber as much as possible in a virtual way. When Rob King at Trackdays.ie got in contact and offered the opportunity to experience it for real though, it definitely didn’t take long for me to send back an enthusiastic YES!

Launched at the start of this year, Trackdays.ie is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, in so much as it allows anyone at all the opportunity to come out and have a blast on the only International Circuit that we have. It truly is a case of ‘Run what ya brung’, but the emphasis is placed firmly on enjoyment rather than allowing competitiveness to take hold. I’ve long thought about doing a Track Day, but I just never felt comfortable in the idea of spending a day pounding around a track, while always thinking about the prospect of having a 3 hour drive home afterwards.

It’s an obvious issue, as not all of us have either the facilities or the resources to own a dedicated track car, nor transport it long distances to Mondello. However, Trackdays have this box ticked off in the shape of their fleet of EK Honda Civics’ and the well thought out Arrive and Drive package’s available. These track prepped cars are built for this environment, come kitted out with all manner of safety equipment and the packages can be tailored to include everything from Helmet hire through to professional driver tuition. If you have ever wanted to test the water when it comes to circuit driving, I’d struggle to think of a better way to do it. Before I was to take to the track though, I thought it wise to check out those that I’d be sharing the circuit with (or those that I was about to hold up!!)

Variety plays a massive role here, with people coming to Mondello with different purposes for their day. To some, the day allowed the opportunity to try out new components or setup’s, such as the wild 400BHP Turbo’d Honda Integra using the time to try out a new sequential gearbox, whereas some like like Paddy was simply out getting to grips with his newly purchased Beams-engined AE86 Corolla which is an RYO demo car from Japan.

As the rain begin to drizzle, still grand weather for a track debut, I took refuge in another pit garage, this housing Ken’s rather mental MK race car. Built originally to compete in the Irish Hillclimb championship, every inch of the vehicle screamed cool! Under the Lotus 7-esque bonnet lay the roaring heart from a Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle, sending power through a sequential box to the rear wheels. What little bodywork on show was mainly carbon fibre, while an adornment of wings front and back were surely there to stop it taking flight once on full throttle.

A few of my Rally brethren came out to play, but it soon became apparent that a single hot-hatch is the current budget King of the track scene. The RenaultSport Clio, in either 172 or later 182 form, is a formidable package, considering it rev happy engine up-front mated to one of the best handling chassis of all time. It was an enthusiasts dream, but surprisingly the values have dwindled. A decent example is now in the €2-3k range, meaning that these cars are incredibly attainable and as such they are a perfect affordable track toy. I am incredibly fond of these little cars, and I would very happily provide a home to a French Racing Blue 182 should I get the chance, as I still believe it to be one of the greatest OEM colours of all time. (Alongside Polestar Blue and VW’s Cornflour Blue, I may have a certain love for one particular vehicle colour!)

After a detailed briefing though, things got real. And I mean very real, and very very wet. As the track details were read out, that light drizzle had turned into a monsoon. The power flickered on and off, track hoardings creaked, and my stomach grew un-easy. Un-perturbed, I put on my helmet and strapped in alongside Rob for my first spin around Mondello. It only struck me once seated that I had never sat in a Civic before, but that thought quickly vanished as we left pit lane and opened the throttle for the first time. I couldn’t see the apex of Turn One, nor Two, Three or Four. Listening to Rob’s detailed instruction over the roar of a screaming Honda, I had to visualise the corner’s that definitely didn’t all look like pools of water on RFactor.

After a few sighting laps, I finally got behind the wheel. To say I was excited would be putting things mildly, but the apprehension of the lack of visibility and my knowledge of how valuable some other car’s on track were definitely reared its head. The wipers flapped around at full whack, the heater howled as it fought to keep the screen clear and a mist whistled in through a gap in the window, but I didn’t give a damn. Strapped into that little Honda, I felt like Tom Chilton wheeling his own BTCC Civic down the same pitlane with eyes fixed firmly on the run down to Mobil 1.

The following 15 minutes felt like a blur, and had I taken any onboard footage it too possibly would have simply been a blur, as the rain fell at a rate I had never experienced. Visibility, especially in traffic, was almost null, with braking points now being remembered by visual clues off track that were slightly easier to spot. Set the world alight I most certainly did not, constantly shifting down to early while sparing the car of its high red-line abuse when on power. Coming out of the slow bends, the front wheels squabbled for grip that often wasn’t there leaving to plenty of throttle coaxing to maintain the desired line. All around, others slid in all manner of directions as they battled the conditions, and then my wiper fell off. With visibility now truly gone, it was a slow limp back to the pits. A sorry end, yet I felt elated. I had a blast, no matter the time scale, and certainly felt an urge to get out again in a car of my own at some stage!

With that high came the crushing realisation that I had to get out and shoot in that monsoon that I’d just battled through. Wet Gear on, I took to the various expanses of the Mondello complex to take in the sights and sounds of a track day, yet sensibly enough I took shelter in the grandstand to begin with, even if it evidently has a roof like a sieve! From here, you got a sense of speed and commitment on track as well as the variety. Where else would you find a 1.25 MK4 Fiesta going door to door with a purpose built Ginetta race car?

Heading back in the downpour, the slow Turn Four, at the back of the paddock, was a magnet for opportunities to see those coping best with the conditions. I had seen another Civic almost fire off backwards while I was on track, so I understood just how treacherous the conditions were, as the BMW driver soon found out.

Heading back down towards the pitlane, it was eye-opening just how and open and approachable everyone you met was. Each person had a passion for their car, and would happily stand around and talk shite about all manner of car-related things. In an age when online hatred is rampant in the car scene, this was refreshing. Talking about doing a Diesel swap into an RX-7 while an R33 Skyline pop’s and bangs past the damp wall your leaning against is a strange and surreal experience, and one that I utterly adore.

 

As the poor camera began to take a beating from the weather, I sneaked into a garage to do a dry lens swap. Alas, I hadn’t even that done when Darren O’Hara had me coaxed into the passenger seat of his Toyota MR-2. Cue 10 minutes of utter hooliganism as the somewhat under-powered sportscar danced around Mondello, perfectly controlled on the edge of grip and wanting to kill us all.

Thoroughly soaked through, and with the morning session done, I packed up and headed home, although I did manage to stop at Stone Motorsport on the way home. Trackdays.ie offer, I believe, some of the best value fun you can have in a car on this Island, where you can truly push the limits without fear of ending up in a cell. At €100 for a half day or €165 for a full day, it’s value that few if any can match. So, if you’re at nothing on November 17th, take the plunge and sign up now. I guarantee you’ll come away with a huge grin on your face. Massive thanks again to Rob and all the crew at Trackdays.ie, a sister site of us here on Freshfix. The run several track day events throughout the year, and all info can be found on their site www.trackdays.ie.

Anyone For Golf??

Anyone For Golf??

Car’s, like people, evolve over time. Build’s grow, modifications become wilder and reputations soar. To many of us, the internet has become the go-to place to get an overload of forum Build Threads, Instagram posts detailing every nut and bolt or even dedicated online video series’ all allowing the masses to watch on as yet another PetrolHead dumps their own money into a labour of love. The likelihood is that we may only physically see the finished product out of the digital world and in the flesh at a large show or event, but on the flip side there are always the select few local car’s who’s evolution can be tracked in frequent passing glances. This Golf is definitely one of these cars.

Growing up in Cork City through the middle of the recession, the car scene was certainly there, but so too was a distinct sense that every conversation was verging on going down the route of “It used to be soo much busier” or “All the best cars are gone now”. That’s natural, that with time people hanker for what isn’t there anymore, but us new breed continued to do our thing. Toyota’s ruled our lives, with the local Topaz liable to see an influx of up to 15 of the brands finest on a Friday night with everything from my Corolla Gti through Glanza’s, Levin’s and all else. Around the City, cheap affordable JDM goodies ruled the streets, but there was always a mysterious Black Golf roaming.

The car, in it’s first guise, was hard to miss. Personally, I’ll always have my head turned by the MK1 shape as I’m an freak for all things old-skool, and so the sight of those distinctive lines was enough to lure me in. To other’s, the bright red BBS mesh wheels were certainly eye catching. Parked around the City and in other locations, I often passed feeling admiration for the mystery man doing things soo differently to the rest of us, keeping things real and doing so with style. Over time, the car changed. These changes wern’t seen on a screen, but with each passing glance subtle differences became obvious. And then I met the man behind the creation, and became aware of just how potent this machine was, and would ultimately become.

It was the Sunday of Dubshed 2016 when I was introduced to Ronan Hickey. Waking up incredibly hungover and having slept on a hotel room floor, I was asked if I had room for a stragler to take to the show. My little 106 was in full anti social form at the time with little in the way of interior, smelled strongly of fuel and was covering as a make shift van carrying all manner of ex-works Peugeot goodies. Effectively a single seater, a bearded man managed to somehow fit in the passenger seat with the flexibility of a Gymnast, head pinned about 6 inches from the windscreen thanks to a pair of bumpers for a car not much longer than it is wide. This was Ronan MK1, the man behind that Golf I’d seen for soo long and now here we were talking pure shite about cars driving around siuth Belfast headed for the show. Plans were forged to get photo’s taken, but thankfully the 14 month wait allowed the car to hit peak evolution.

Now on a set of Ronal Turbo wheels and sporting a seriously aggressive and uber-rare Foha front splitter, the car really felt more shouty then I had remember from years ago. With very little in the way of body modifications, it made it even clearer just how good a job the boys with the pencils did in Wolfsburg when drawing that now iconic shape. Finished in that sumptuous VW Schwartz black paint, the MK1 just seemed to shout ‘look at me’. After the show, I finally got to see the car I suppose ‘in the wild’, to hear the racious exhaust roar, to smell it’s dumps of un-burnt fuel and to experience the immense task of trying to keep up with it along a back road.. It seemed fitting for a guy who always wanted to stand out from the typical JDM crowd, that one of the best reactions to the car I ever saw was when it gatecrashed a local Japanese Car meet!!

Over last winter, I’d heard that the car was undergoing a change of look, but when I saw the first teaser images, my inner motorsport geek was intrigued. Emulating historic race liveries has become a thing of late among the VW show scene, with countless iconic colour schemes seeing modern twists on all manner of German metal. Here though, this is no spin on a household style, but a complete detailed reproduction of the GTI Engineering Group 2 race car campaigned by Peter Lloyd in 1979. Finished to an incredible standard by Seamus Walsh in Moose Design, this truly was the icing on what was in reality an incredibly executed cake.

A quick meet up in a local car park allowed me to see the end product first, but it just wasn’t enough. A few quick pics blew up online, so reality hit that I really needed to pull the finger out and get a proper shoot done on the VW. Initial thoughts were veering towards using a local Kart Track, but things spiraled. Suddenly, the shoot became my very first feature shoot for a massive Car Magazine in Performance VW simply by a few chancing-my-arm email’s, and before I’d fully processed things, two weeks later I stood in the paddock of Mondello Park, deserted bar our little cohort including the E34 BMW already featured here and the Golf. This was dream material, mainly as my utterly dreadful Alfa Romeo actually made it (and yes it was on an AA truck the next morning), to have all this to ourselves to create automotive art.

As I already mentioned, the car’s exterior is totally original bar the wheel’s and splitter, but step inside and it’s a world apart. Ronan was a former Kart racer, and a quick one at that, so a love of motorsport has fed through into the cabin. A pair of beefy Recaro bucket seat’s grab the headlines straight away, the driver’s one in particular being a full wrap-around piece, but are added to by a Weickers half-cage to add to incredibly chassis stiffness. Ably assisted by a complete set of Poly-bushes all round and BC Racing coil-overs, the car sit’s with purpose, and even at speed remains flat with all the required agility to justify the safety additions. Nestled in place, the other main practicalities are special aswell, with the steering controlled by a small Momo steering wheel, yet it’s between the two occupants that a bit of engineering-porn sits.

 

Milled from Billet Aluminium, CAE have become famous for producing some of the most eye-catching gear shifters around. Looking like a sequential, this ultra close shifting unit not only cost an eye-watering amount, but is simply beautiful to look at. Mated to a standard 5-speed box, the gears click through with immense speed and are often accompanied with loud bangs of fuel out of the hand built stainless steel exhaust. The driving gloves are a gentle reminder that while this car can strut with the best on the show floor, it is was for simple driving pleasure that it came to be.

For how cool the whole things look externally, pop the bonnet and watch jaw’s drop. Where a humble 8v engine once sat, now resides a G60 Supercharged lump. The blower itself is a G-Werks unit, while the engine has been treated to all manner of goodies including a Large Port Head, Schrick Cam’s and Covers and an all-new ECU. Add launch control into the mix and this little car certainly doesn’t hang about, ever further cementing the need for the safety gear loaded inside. Being a welder by trade, much of the piping is both home-made and exquisite, while the lashing’s of gold insulating foil just finish off the bay to a tee.

For a car that took almost 10 year’s of evolution to get to this point, there was a distinctive sense of closure. Although the old saying is that a project car is never done, to Ronan it was. He had brought the MK1 as far as he wanted, and it was time for a change of scenery. About a month after the shoot, as is the way soo often in the car world, the MK1 had been stripped of many parts and was on it’s way to a new owner. And as for the change of scenery, well that changed aswell, and who can go to OZ these days when there’s and uber-rare MK2 Golf after landing in the shed…..and a 3.2 VR6. Ya, you might want to stay tuned for that build thread!!!