Last weekend, I was in Ireland soaking up the sun (really!), so I thought I’d check out something I’ve always wanted to- Irish drifting. Apparently, they do it best… so I had to see for myself. As it turned out, the Irish Rallycross Championship was in town too, happy days. The event staff at Mondello Park were super friendly, and had a hell of a job on their hands with the IDC crowd, as well as the fans of IRX being out in full force.
Two wildly different championships being held at the same time, using the same track? What could possibly go wrong…
Having only really come for the drifting, the chance to see a bit of rallycross for the first time was both unexpected and educational. Here’s me thinking it’ll be just like the Top Gear episode where the three hosts compete for less than a (very expensive) bag of golf bats… and yeah, it was pretty much that. Fast, frantic and very much embracing the ethos of ‘rubbing is racing’, the competitors didn’t give an inch, even in the exhibition races where no points or championship standings were at stake.
Everything from Super Rallycross cars to motorbike powered buggies to a Ford Escort rally car, no matter the class, each competitor pushed their cars to the limit and it made for spectacular viewing. As a rallycross noob, it was very much an eye opening experience.
Let’s face it, a classic Escort rally car is a thing to behold, but it lacks a bit when it comes to plain… insanity. The buggies made up for that in spades. Showing what can be done with a (reasonably) small budget, and a less-is-more attitude, these guys crank the crazy up to 11 with these things.
Essentially some scaffolding attached to a motorbike engine and some wheels, it’d be a disservice to simply say that these little beasties are seriously fast. As they whip by, the unmistakeable wail of a high-revving motorbike engine being pushed to its absolute limits pierces your eardrum and lets you know that these boys are the real deal. These minimalist machines oozed agility, dancing around the track at the limits of grip seemingly all the time. These drivers have a real job on their hands keeping their vehicles in check.
The drifting, however, was another kettle of fish. Taking what the rallycross guys know about speed and applying it to the art of going sideways, the Irish Drift Championship competitors have got it nailed. The IDC has gone from strength to strength recently, with last year being their biggest and best yet; this year is bigger and better still. CEO Dave Egan’s words while he was commentating proved apt- “These guys are ready to go to war”, and the drivers certainly proved that through the day, putting their cars and bodies on the line in the name of showcasing their talent.
Let’s talk about Mondello itself for a second. The vibe surrounding it, even if only just for the event, is that Mondello is a bit of an Irish drift fan pilgrimage, a drift heaven, if you will. Listening to people speak about it made me feel almost like Mondello is held, at least in Ireland, in the same regard as some do the legendary South Ebisu circuit in Japan. Yeah, that one, with the jump. The same one that every drifting fan in the world has seen videos from, where the top Japanese drifters go to perfect their craft, and where tomorrow’s best often start out. In short, Mondello feels special.
I’d not been at qualifying, so for me the action started with the top 24. The word to take away form that sentence is definitely ‘action’. These guys are NUTS. The first corner is a blind, 80 degree one, it goes over a crest at a 70+ mile an hour entry speed, and the chase car sits behind a car that’s producing so much smoke you’d think it was auditioning for the part of James Bond’s next motor. NUTS. It’s worth bearing in mind that, for the quicker drivers, all 4 wheels aren’t on the ground while at the peak of the crest. These guys know what they’re doing, and they mean business.
The wall that the IDC had installed also threw more spice into the pot, meaning that the chase cars could really apply come pressure to the lead as they entered the final corner, again, at breakneck speed. The wall itself was a genius and gutsy move to add more ‘do or die’ moments at the end of a run. It works.
The weather took a toll on the track, and while it wasn’t raining all day, the unpredictable nature of the rain made judging corners and track conditions tricky to say the least. Bearing in mind that this was the top 16, the battles were nothing short of intense, with some of the most bonkers machinery, not to mention driving, in motorsport on display.
In amongst all that intensity, #110 Mark McBurney had a heavy off in his S13 after a (very!) minor shower, the rain causing some serious understeer woes, and a big impact into the middle barrier. The amazing thing is that Mark called a 5 minute rule, allowing his team 5 minutes to try to fix the car so that he can continue competing. The car was fixed, and the run that followed was a solid one, albeit not enough to rule out the previous battle’s drama. It’s a great example of the never-say-die attitude these guys have.
Much was made of the fact that since IDC’s birth, no foreigner had beaten the Irish on home soil. 15 years of pressure ultimately fell on the shoulders of a 14 year old (#79) Conor Shanahan, defending the honour and reputation from the Thunder from Down Under- (#111) Mitch Larner. After an impressive drive from both, a bonnet-less Aussie couldn’t quite match the youngster’s run, and ended up coming 3rd in the event, with Conor progressing to a controversial final alongside #25 Duane McKeever, going on to place 2nd overall, McKeever taking the top spot on the podium.
Think on this- what were you doing at 14 years old?
A while ago, I heard Dave Egan say about IDC something along the lines of “Where it’s going is more exciting than where it’s been”, and I couldn’t agree more. The continuous evolution of the IDC is obvious to all those who watch it on a regular basis, and Round 1 at Mondello only proves this further. Bigger, louder and with a higher caliber of driving than ever before, Irish Drifting has an ever increasing amount of eyeballs on it, and it’s more than happy to show the world what it’s missing out on.
And let’s be clear- this growth and success has nothing to do with the luck of the Irish. It’s blood, sweat and sheer passion from the organisers to the drivers and everyone in between. Long may it continue.