Joe Courtney Reynard 913
“Its a long road without a turn“, as my mother used to say, and this weekend just gone we have turned that corner I believe; metaphorically speaking that is. Joe Courtney has taken the much coveted 2015 Naylor Engineering Irish Hillclimb & Sprint championship in a stunning championship finale in Wexford.
It was around this time last year that we arrived back in Ireland, slightly the worse for wear and filled with pride after a magnificent weekend of racing and crack in Eschdorf Luxembourg.
So Team Ireland didn’t win…but, when you think about it, Team Ireland won the hearts and Minds of their fellow competitors and spectators alike, and that folks is a prize far more precious indeed.
Myself and my daughter Jessika flew out on the Friday morning to Brussels for the start of one wonderful, crazy and spectacular weekend of Motorsport. We met up with Rory Stephens sons who shared our hire car with us…by the way, Rory Stephens drives the outrageously good looking Radical SR8…Yes that’s him…I won’t mention that he has fitted Go-Faster-Pipes to the car…and that yes!, its faster, but quieter, no I won’t mention that at all…not a peep, ok, back to Eschdorf.
One final bit of advice though…it’s nothing to do with the event! But, if you hire a Peugeot diesel, don’t try to change up to sixth! Especially if it has only five forward gears and you happen to be doing 120Kph on a motorway, not a good idea, really! Ohh, and Bales of hay wrapped in white plastic are closer than what you think…must be a left-Hand-Drive phenomenon. I blame the satnav!
Ok, back to Eschdorf…We finally arrived and found the whole town was in virtual lockdown due to the event, one phone call later and Ger Dwane arrived down on a bike and guided us through the barriers, but we still managed to end up in the Rally traffic…I know, I Know…I blame the satnav (again)…well I do…but the lad behind me in a F3000 was less impressed. But even with five gears I could have taken him, I could! Anyway we managed to find our way around the narrow streets to Team Ireland.
For me… (And do feel free to argue amongst yourselves until the cows come home) this was Simon McKinley’s finest hour. Here in Eschdorf the crème_de_la_crème of Europe’s Hillclimb drivers had assembled for an unprecedented showdown; a showdown that included Simon McKinley, Deirdre McKinley, Eanna Carroll, Joe Courtney, Rory Stephens, Robert Dwane and Team captain Tommy Murphy; this was Team Ireland.
Team Ireland & Groupies
Just about everywhere you looked another amazing fire-breathing Hillclimb machine was parked, V8 Norma’s, F3000′s GT Cars…and the sound from the engines as they drove along the narrow streets…It was heaven…it really, really was. We all knew…or at the very least felt that this was something special, a once in a lifetime moment that would never come again; how right we were!
With his own unique style of cajoling Simon McKinley had managed to put a package together that set the stage for one amazing weekend of racing. I got the feeling that somehow Simon had organised the event himself as he so often did at home. He would pick up the phone and ring around and say “Lads we’re going racing this weekend” and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I watched as drivers from all over Europe elbowed each other and pointed to Team Ireland, they were pointing at Simon of course. “McKinley” you could hear them say with reverence.
Simon McKinley & Baby Rory McKinley
This is something I have never quite understood; here in Ireland “Hillclimbing, the least exclusive members club in Ireland!” as Paul O’Connell wrote…(I’ll slip ya a few bob later Paul…Ok.) Well it does not attract the kind of media attention it does in the Euro zone, and our drivers, despite being well known, do not receive the same level of attention that our Euro-Cousins receive.
Like everything else the Internet has had a profound effect on how the rest of the world perceives our sport. For many years Senan O’Connor of Vantage Point Video has captured Hillclimbing here in Ireland and uploaded it to the WWW. It would be fair to say that Senan introduced/unleashed Simon McKinley on the world, his White Escort video of Simon has had 517,122 views!
For many years Simon, and indeed other Irish drivers have raced in Europe, I’ll never forget the first time in France when I watched as thousands of spectators stood and
cheered Simon on as he waved to them while going sideways at about 100mph in his
Lant. It was obvious that Simon McKinley had become a world wide internet
In Luxembourg Simon stole the show once again and won the admiration of drivers and fans alike. For McKinley it was the chance of a lifetime to race against Europe’s finest, or… now that I think of it, maybe it was a chance for the top drivers in Europe to go wheel-to-wheel with Simon McKinley. Either way, Simon gave them a show they would never forget. Indeed all of Team Ireland showed the rest of Europe just how talented they are.
Well…all too soon it was over, and at a very ungodly hour early Monday morning we made our way back to Brussels to fly home, exhausted and slightly hung-over we met at the airport and reminisced on the events of the weekend. One thing that was apparent, just like Ireland, Hillclimbing was a family affair and we had just met our long-lost European cousins. And boy was it one hell of a party. Thank you Simon, Deidre, Rory, Joe, Eanna, Robert..it was epic!
Again I’d like to say thank you to Patrick Weber and all of the crew in Eschdorf for the kindness and friendship you extended to us all.
Well that was the weekend that was in 2014, little did we think that the unthinkable would happen…but it did! In Clare this year Simon was taken from us. It is still hard to believe he is gone; the out pouring of grief from around the world was simply staggering. People who only knew Simon from YouTube were just as shocked and confused as we were at what happened.
Simon has left a legacy that will last for generations to come, and I don’t just mean his records. For example; Simon made it cool to drive/race a Fiat cinquecento, he regularly put drivers of bigger cars to shame in his Chinky, something he loved to do.
The Italian class and the rules behind it was the inspiration of Simon, he recognised the need for an affordable entry into our sport to encourage a new generation of Hillclimbers to get involved. It has proven to be one of the best and most entertaining classes in the championship. He has transformed Hillclimbing here in Ireland in ways we have yet to comprehend and inspired drivers to be the best they can. He’s a hard act to follow, but it is up to us to ensure his legacy continues on.
Have you made it this far? Good for you because I fecked off an hour ago for a cuppa Tea, what can I say…Except thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings, erm…ravings.
And don’t forget The Awards night for the 2015 Naylor Engineering Hillclimb & Sprint Championship will take place on Saturday October 24th in the Talbot Hotel in Carlow. Ohh don’t miss out on the Big Bash, they are always crackers.
Tickets (€40 each) available from Gerry O’Brien 086-2766267. The Hillclimb Committee have a number of rooms block booked for the night with the Talbot Hotel. If booking accommodation please book directly with the hotel on 059-9153000 and ask for one of the rooms that are block booked. More details soon.
Do explore our gallery as the pictures tell the story of Irish Hillclimbing far better than my mutterings can..