With the Galway Rally set for January Keith Lynch gets the need for speed

Neil Pearse, Michael Cunningham and Enda Hanlon.
Photo: Mike Shaugnessy.

Neil Pearse, Michael Cunningham and Enda Hanlon. Photo: Mike Shaugnessy.

The Ford Escort Mark 2 was like a drunk girl in heels trying to make it to a nightclub. We were all over the road, spinning and sliding, the arse trying to escape into the bushes.

Driver Enda Hanlon (who competes for HR Property Development ) told me the tyres had to be warmed up. This meant reckless, throw-the-car-around-the-place driving.

Great, I thought, hanging on to the grab handles above the window like a granny in a souped-up Ford Fiesta. Enda continued on taking corners at 80mph and I felt like a baby in a clothes dryer.

Then we spun out. The back of the car shot out, we pivoted and landed facing backwards on the grass while the other cars flew by.

We were pulled free and Enda set off again with not a care in the word. Two more laps and I emerged from the Escort, a mixture of ill, thrilled, shaky, and excited.

The sense of speed, it must be said, is remarkable. The Escort itself doesn’t seem the friendliest but it’s incredible fun to be in.

Next up I popped into the Honda Civic, the favourite of boy racers everywhere - a car that, it seems, has led to more deaths than the AK-47.

Neil Pearse, who drives for Safety Direct, was in the hot seat.

“What about if I shout medium left just before a hard right?” I asked.

He laughed. I thought better of trying.

The Honda Civic is fun. The front of the car, though, constantly seems to be trying to get away from the back.

Up the main straight of the Tynagh Track we were reaching speeds of 110mph plus before skidding around a corner covered in pebbles at 60mph. I was happy I was in the front seat just in case we actually managed to escape from the back.

The ride was slightly easier than the Escort, and again the skill of the driver was exceptional.

Finally I took a ride with Michael Cunningham, who drives for Cunningham Higgins. A Mitsubishi Evolution. It looked nice. It looked bigger and sturdier than the other cars. It was smooth. It was like driving to the shops to pick up some lunch. I could have brought a cup of tea with me and not spilled a drop. Being in the other two cars was like running cross-country. The Mitsubishi was like a relaxing stroll in the park with your missus.

I got out, and even went to look for a parking meter.

The driving experience itself is a real eye-opener. Before my trip to Tynagh I’d been bugging the PR girls for weeks pleading to be allowed to drive a rally car.

In the end I was glad I didn’t. I’d have crashed. I’ve have crashed right into the bushes. Richard Hammond eat your heart out.

The sense of speed even out on the racing track was surprising. It would be impossible to imagine how these drivers speed down those old country roads at 120mph with trees rubbing against the side windows, relying on their co-drivers for directions.

If a co-driver messes up they crash. And they crash hard. There’s real danger in rally driving, for the driver and spectators alike. And in a perverse way that’s what makes it interesting. Terrible conditions are the norm, the cars hop around bumpy tracks. Drivers rely on someone else to tell them when to turn the wheel. Anything can happen.

Being driven around a race track is one thing. To actually see these men speed down tiny roads at 100mph plus is just something else.

The Safety Direct Galway International Rally 2009 starts on Friday January 16 and runs until Sunday January 18.

The headquarters is in the Clayton Hotel in Ballybrit, and more than 40,000 spectators are expected to attend this year’s event.


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