The Overall Saloon Championship for the Simon McKinley Trophy has become a real talking point in the Irish Hillclimb scene. This trophy was the brainchild of the late great Simon McKinley who was one of the fastest and most spectacular saloon drivers to watch on this island or abroad. The general feeling among the Hillclimb family was that we needed to reward the exploits of the fastest saloons by creating a Championship for saloons. Over the last few years, this Championship has encouraged some amazing machinery to push the boundaries of saloon car speed and preparation. The Overall Saloon Championship is open to all steel bodied saloons regardless of engine size. 2 wheel drive or 4 wheel drive is all ok. Basically as long as your car is not a spaceframed fiberglass wonder it is eligible for this prestigious trophy. More specific class details on
The Overall Saloon Championship was won last year by Peter McKinley driving the famous white Warrior powered Mk2 Escort. A famous car that became even more so by the exploits of his son Simon. Peter has wasted no time in re-acquainting himself with a car that he has not driven much in the last ten years. His driving style comes from a deep appreciation of the capabilities of his lightweight car with a potent Warrior engine and super sticky Avon tyres. To hear and watch this car approach always puts the hairs standing on the back of my neck. Having been lucky enough to drive it a few times, it is a bit of a fearsome beast. With a lightened flywheel and a 60mph first gear it is a nightmare to drive around the paddock but show it some clear road and it transforms into a guided missile that encourages you to pick whatever crazy angle you wish to achieve on entry or exit of a corner.
This well sorted car and driver package are the benchmark for all other saloons on the Irish Hillclimb scene at the moment. Many have tried to beat the combination with little sucess so Peter has to be the favourite to retain his title as Ireland’s Fastest Saloon driver.
There have been rumblings from Galway about a possible return to competitive action of Loughrea’s Eanna Carroll and his 450bhp+ Honda Civic turbo. While normally aspirated civics fill the entry list of every competitive motorsport events these days, Eanna decided that the only way to improve a great engine design was to bolt a turbo charger the size of a dustbin onto it. In reality the modifications behind this pristinely built and maintained car are many and extensive with the attention to detail on every facet of the car that is second to none. This car still has the physical limitation of being front wheel drive but in recent times he has managed to put in some amazing times and indeed won the Overall Saloon Championship in both 2014 and 2015. The physics would say that this package should not work but it is a testament to what good engineering and adapting a driving style to extract the fastest times from a car can do. Seeing this car on a hill at maximum attack, sucking up all the available air as it reaches warp factor 5, is a sight to behold.
In 2016 one driver that had worked very hard to put the pressure on McKinley was Limerick’s Denis Hogan. His weapon of choice is a BMW E36 M3 sporting a supercharged 3.0 litre engine developing over 420 bhp. Denis has been on the hillclimb scene for over 15 years but has only recently returned to the sport on a more full time basis due to family commitments. Denis had been working on a supercharger setup for this car for many years having previously ran the car in its factory NA form. Its quite a unique sound from this supercharger straight six cylinder engine. He hoped that this reliable alternative would yield a big drop in times and so it did on most events, although a lack of seat time and the BMW’s thirst for tyres and fuel really consumed the development funds for the car. With an expanding family it is not known yet if the affable Limerick man will return for another full championship campaign or will he return to competing only on selected rounds in 2017? One thing is for sure if he does he will be one to watch!
Dublin’s Mark Carroll in his Toshiba Toyota Starlet turbo had a ding dong battle all the way through the year with Denis Hogan and Peter McKinley. Mark used to compete mainly in Rallycross with his starlet but has found the competitive but friendly hills have appealed to him. The challenge of learning new venues on closed roads has come naturally for Mark and he has made steady progress up the time sheets over the last few years. Rumors abound that Hillclimb rival Peter McKinley and Mark have been hard at work over the winter making handling modifications to the starlet to make it more suitable for high grip tarmac Hillclimb and sprint venues. In 2016 the Mark spent more time on 2 wheels than 4 such was the grip from his new Avon hillclimb tyres. He jokes that his car is trying to do handstands on its way up the course. With knowledge from Peter he is sure to have the car even more sorted for 2017. There are not many sports where your biggest rival would be the one helping you improve your car but, thankfully, that is the attitude in Irish Hillclimbs and Sprints. Who would bet against Mark making another big jump up the timesheet in 2017? I would not!
Martin Treacy and his Mitsubishi Evo is another potential candidate for the overall saloon award. Martin was very narrowly beaten to the overall saloon championship in 2015 by Eanna Carroll in his Honda civic turbo. It was a titanic battle that captured the imagination of all watching these totally different cars being driven way beyond their limits with the boost turned up to 11! While Martin has been waiting for a second bite at Eanna Carroll’s cherry, could 2017 could see the return of the Evo to the Irish hills? Indeed if Martin can run a proper set of Hillclimb tyres it could swing things in this talented drivers favour.
There are also tales emerging of another new crazy saloon car aiming for saloon glory. Limerick based Ben O’Brien is thought to be bringing out yet another BMW. Nothing new there you may say as he is a renowned Bmw enthusiast. However the story goes that a 5 litre race engine V8 powered M3 is about to shake things up on the Irish Hillclimb scene. Ben has previously campaigned a BMW 330diesel that gave him great reliable fun but however it appears he is hungry for even more speed.
An honorable mention to Neil Dugan who joined the saloon circus in 2016 with his rear wheel drive Fiesta Cosworth. Could a full Hillclimb season yield our Northern brother some Championship glory? One things for certain he has appeared right at home on the hills he has competed on in 2016. If he can invest in a proper set of Hillclimb tyres then the sky is the limit!
Paul O’Connell