In his latest in his series of “The View From The Right Seat” , our Irish co-driver friend Niall Burns tells us what it’s like back home where tarmac rallying on narrow roads at insane speeds is king! Sit down, strap in, and enjoy the read!
The View From the Right Seat – Part 3
A couple weeks ago I was asked, “Hey Niall, I want to hear what it’s like rallying down those famous Irish tarmac lanes!” This question is actually from Mike Shaw himself so I guess I better answer this one. Because it’s Ireland we should probably re-name this segment to “The View From The Left Seat.” Although I have competed as a driver at 3 rally’s in Ireland myself, so either would work, lol!!
Tarmac. Some hardcore rally followers will have you believe it was only invented so you didn’t damage your service rig whilst towing your car to a gravel rally. These people have clearly never sampled the Irish lanes. The roads are narrow, stone wall lined, with an abrasive surface and endless amounts of bumps, dips and off camber crests. Every now and then you reach an odd patch of freshly laid tar in more populated parts of a stage where the road is wide and fast flowing in comparison to the rural farm (or as we say bog) roads which commonly have grass growing up the centre. If the legend is to be believed, the grass in the middle was planted down Irish lanes so all the horses underneath the bonnet of Ford Mark 2 Escorts would have something to graze on as they galloped down these lanes in all their beauty!! The ever changing terrain and characteristics make it a real challenge for teams. Throw the Irish weather into the mix and you have conditions that even had the top manufacturers second guessing themselves when they visited our shores.
Citroen came to tackle the Donegal International Rally in 2007 with Sebastien Loeb, then 3 times World Champion and tarmac ace. The set up the team had decided on for day one of the event was not working, which resulted in the tarmac king lying second to Mark Higgins (brother of 5 times Rally America Champion David Higgins) and it is not often Mr Loeb was ever lying second in a tarmac rally. Gravel springs were flown in from France that night, a new set up was tried and Sebastien began to claw back his previous day’s time loss to eventually win the rally. Not fully satisfied on their setup they returned with Sebastien and teammate Dani Sordo to compete on the Cork 20 International Rally later that year which further fine tuned their setup resulting in a dominant display on Rally Ireland (the penultimate round of the 2007 WRC). Ireland in recent years has become the go to place for young top flight rallying prospects to learn the tarmac trade so to speak. Andreas Mikkelsen, Jari Matti Latvala and of course Irish natives Kris Meeke and Craig Breen started there early careers on the tricky Irish lanes.
From a Co Driving point of view, Irish tarmac is a unique challenge. There can be so much detail required in the pacenotes that it can really have you under pressure to get all this information jotted down during the recce and even more challenging to call it all out at speed during the rally. From minor bumps, to narrowing roads, to flat out jumps, to sudden corners after jumps, it’s sometimes quite nerve wrecking. Once teams have got a good setup the speeds can be quite high on the majority of our rallies so it’s crucial you get all this information out accurately and more importantly on time. Ireland has hosted the WRC on 2 occasions and hosts a round of the European Rally Championship most years. The top Co Drivers in these championships often struggle on their first visit and believe it is one of the toughest places to call notes. When the rain comes down and the tire choice becomes a lottery, the belts are pulled a lot tighter let me tell you!! I have had the pleasure of sitting in everything from WRC cars to 2.5 Millington powered Ford Escorts on these tarmac lanes. When you are in 6th gear whizzing down a narrow wet road lined with telegraph poles and stone walls, it won’t be long before getting an adrenaline buzz like no other! Add in the atmosphere of the fanatical Irish spectators on the junctions waving us on and it is a real treat and a worthwhile trip for any enthusiastic rally fan!
The Circuit of Ireland rally is definitely on my bucket list! Again, massive thanks to Niall Burns for enlightening us on what it’s like on those crazy narrow roads back home. One of the busiest co-drivers in the world, Niall recently announced that he’s not only competing here in the states when he can, but committed to co-drive the entire South African Rally Championship and a number of local events back home.
You can follow Niall’s exploits at these links: