“Would you be interested in co-driving Jimmy McRae at Deja Vu Ireland West?”
Receiving such a message was far beyond anything I could ever imagine. Unsurprisingly, I almost fell off my seat when those words popped up on my phone four weeks ago.
I interviewed the seven-time Circuit of Ireland winner during my only other Deja Vu experience in Donegal a year earlier. I was a bucket of nerves as I asked McRae a handful of questions about his Circuit domination in the 1980s. Now, guiding rallying royalty around beautiful Westport – it could only be a dream, except, it wasn’t.
In fact, I’m fairly sure everyone who ventured into Saturday morning’s Parc Ferme was living their ultimate dream. Signatures were collected galore beside iconic rally cars that decades earlier scripted those blockbuster episodes of Irish rallying.
From Sunbeams to Mantas, Group A growlers to World Rally Car weapons. As if they weren’t enough, the addition of Donagh Kelly’s 2017 Ford Fiesta WRC provided a new sight and sound to stages that had played their part in Circuit of Ireland and Galway Rallies of old.
Ah, the stages, well they were something else. Partry Hills greeted crews at 10 am and a better stage you will struggle to find. The autumnal mist through the mountain pass made it feel like the complete Ireland West experience.
Roaring through the rain beside McRae in a Ford Escort Cosworth is something I will never forget. The sight of Austin MacHale’s Ford Focus WRC jumping in and out of the bends ahead was simply surreal.
McRae’s Partry Hills memories were much more captivating than the directions I was trying to give. Thankfully the Scotsman hadn’t lost his touch as he kept the Cosworth within reach of the ever-quickening MacHale ahead, making my job a little less stressful.
There are many pros to the Deja Vu events, some of which I covered in a story after a trip to Donegal Town last year. One more that Deja Vu Ireland West taught me was the importance of returning to classic stages like Partry Hills and Nafooey.
They are stretches of asphalt with many tales to tell. Having fallen away from recent rally itineraries it was nice to hear how much modern-day drivers like Alastair Fisher enjoyed his run through the demanding tests.
The Circuit of Ireland evocations continued as residents waved from their driveways at MacHale, McRae, and the plethora of cars that made their name in the Irish countryside.
It all made for a special atmosphere. The smiles and unhidden joy on the faces of local fans were reminders of how the spectacle and characters of rallying can make anyone’s day.
After all, we are one big community of fans and enthusiasts. That community could be seen by those who offered up their own cars to drivers like McRae, Rosemary Smith, and Mark Higgins – all in a bid to extend the delight of Deja Vu.
The community feeling included unique family moments such as the three champion MacHales who had the next generation of MacHales riding shotgun. Alastair Fisher and Kevin McGlynn in a replica of Bertie’s Opel Manta 400 was a fitting touch too.
A wonderful Gala Dinner capped off the best of days. Plum Tyndall was at hand to interview Austin MacHale, Jimmy McRae, and Rosemary Smith – where else would you get it was my thought that night. I still haven’t come up with an answer.
Finally, I must give my utmost thanks to Dr Beatty Crawford and Connor McCloskey who made my furthest rallying dream become the most surreal reality.
As for my day in the Escort Cosworth – those stories will have to wait for the 2022 Rally Insight Yearbook!
Action photos by Clifford Media