Why Ireland is the underrated capital of road trips
When you think of the greatest driving roads in the world, the roads of Ireland probably wouldn’t jump out at you as major contenders. I can guarantee you’re already thinking about the Stelvio pass, along the Californian coast or some Japanese touge roads, but I’d like to put Ireland forward, especially the Wild Atlantic Way, as one of the greatest driving experiences in the world.
Before I wax lyrical about what Ireland has to offer, I must add a small disclaimer that I was experiencing the country for the first time in a Ford GT40. This means that most of the journey was seen through the rosiest of tinted glasses you can possibly imagine. My whole four day journey through Ireland and Northern Ireland had a constant V8 soundtrack a mere 10 inches behind my ears and now I have lost the ability to hear anyone that sits more than one metre away from me in the DriveTribe office.
My journey began by joining the car's owner, Alex, in North Wales to get acquainted with the GT40. If I was going to spend four days being a passenger and driver in one of the all-time great racing cars, on roads that were new to me, I'd need to feel comfortable around it. When I first saw the car, 'comfortable' was the last emotion running through my mind. The emotion was a lot closer to debilitating dread. Every time I laid eyes upon the shape of the car that beat Ferrari at Le Mans in '66, '67, '68 and '69, it genuinely took my breath away.
The one redeeming factor that made me a little less apprehensive about driving a GT40 was that it was in fact a GTD40. 'What does that mean?' I hear you ask. Well, it means that this isn't an original GT40, neither is it a replica. It is made as close to the original GT40 as possible, but doesn't wear those ugly 'Q-plates' for kit-cars. It felt as raw and aggressive as the real deal, I can assure you. It also means that if I completely stacked it and wrote off the car, it wouldn't be a multi-million pound disaster and I wouldn't be on the front page of The Irish Sun newspaper.
When Alex began to take me through the car and its little idiosyncrasies, a wash of calm came over me. Alex is the type of classic car owner that uses his pride and joys for what they were intended. He knew every little detail about the mechanics and drivability of them and this is reassuring just before a four day drive through the Irish wilderness.
It also quickly became apparent that when I was a passenger, it wouldn't be a time to relax and get my energy back. I'd basically have to adopt the role of rally co-driver. I'd need to keep an eye on both fuel tanks and estimate when we'd need to refuel. I'd be keeping an eye on all oil and temperature gauges on a constant basis to make sure we hadn't exploded. I'd be doing all this whilst not really fitting in the car.
As if juggling those responsibilities wasn't enough, I'd also have to make sure I didn't accidentally stamp on the clutch and send us into a deathly whirlwind spin off a cliff.
One more small item on the agenda is that I'd also have to navigate and keep up with 30 supercars. That's right, just to add a little bit more danger and risk into the journey, we'd entered the car into The Cannon Run.
The Cannon Run is a great event where car enthusiasts and car owners get together and drive a beautiful route together, experiencing the life of the rich and famous. I'm not exaggerating about the 30 supercars, but what separates The Cannon Run from other runs I've been on is the variety in cars. Of course, you have your Audi R8s, McLarens and Ferraris, but what caught my eye was the heavily modified '90s Japanese heroes. Two Irish fellows brought their Nürburgring track cars, a Nissan 180SX modified beyond belief and Toyota Soarer that sounded utterly biblical.
The leader of the pack would be a McLaren 570S tuned by Deutsch Tech to over 700HP and wrapped in a not-so-subtle Joker livery. If that didn't bring enough potential attention from the Irish police, the number plate 'W4NTD' surely would. Despite my best efforts, I kind of loved it.
Even though the competition was pretty spectacular on the The Cannon Run start line in Dublin, the GT40 held its own. Especially when it pulled its little party piece of the engine reveal.
This was my first time in Ireland and the first thing everyone noticed was just how welcoming the Irish are. Having lived in London for nearly five years, the supercar fans and general car scene is a little muted and the enthusiasm is pretty numb. Switch to the start line in Dublin and you have a massive group of petrolheads scrambling to get close to cars and ask as many questions as they can before they theatrically pass out from excitement. It was fantastic. It sparked something inside me and the butterflies in my stomach were back.
The first day of the Irish tour took us from the Dublin start line all the way to Cork and up to Galway. At this point I still hadn't plucked up the courage to take the wheel of the GT40 and I'd let Alex do the early heavy lifting. I told Alex that was because I thought he should enjoy the start line theatrics, but it was in fact my fear of looking a complete tit by stalling a GT40 in front of a large crowd. If I was going to embarrass myself, it would be in front of some non-judgemental sheep in the countryside.
I was determined to get behind the wheel before we arrived at the first night's hotel, so I took the reins with what I thought was a nice leisurely drive along some Irish A-roads to get to grips with the snarling '60s psychopath. My fears of looking a tit were realised within 11 seconds. Now, I consider myself a pretty competent driver, some would say a good driver, but this car threw everything I'd learnt out of the tiny little side window.
The clutch was a pretty easy affair, but getting the correct input onto the accelerator pedal was like tickling the belly of stray cat. Just the right amount of pressure and a satisfying purr came from the V8. A little bit too much pressure and it has lunged at your eyes and extracted two pints of blood from your face.
The advice from Alex that seemed to work best was the 'scrunch your toes' technique. A light scrunching would apply the perfect pressure in order to pull away in first and second gear without playing buckaroo. I was off and running.
My first journey was quite the blur. Concentration levels were at an all-time high as I just tried to keep the GT40 in a straight line. It loved a bit of a wander and this was pretty manageable until the heavens opened…
The entire rest of the journey had sunny blue skies, but as soon as I took the wheel the Irish gods thought it would be hilarious to have a little rain-dance. As you can tell by the look on my face in the above video, I'd completely and utterly filled my underpants with an Irish stew. I honestly don't know how racers, like Jacky Ickx, ploughed down a soaking wet Mulsanne Straight at 200mph in this car. It is incomprehensible. The gear box is so close together that even if you've slotted the gearstick into 4th, you may have caught the edge of 2nd gear and now you're dead.
Once the rain subsided and I'd started to feel comfortable, I had time to take in some of the prettiest surroundings in recent memory. Growing up in North Wales, near the Evo Triangle and Snowdonia, I am pretty privileged to drive picturesque roads on a regular basis, but Ireland takes this up a notch. On day two, we were driving along the 'Wild Atlantic Way.' This is a road I'd never heard of before, but it's now one I'll never forget.
Lakes bigger than most seas, mountains that make Snowdonia look as flat as Holland and sweeping roads where you can see far into the distance giving you the green light to (delicately and legally) put your foot down and release the guttural roar of Ford's V8 masterpiece. It takes a lot for me to admit that somewhere has better roads than Wales, but I think Ireland might have just done it.
Keeping up with some of the other supercars on The Cannon Run proved to be a proper test for the Ford GT40. Up against a modified McLaren 570S, a Liberty Walk Ferrari 458 and a McLaren 720, just to name a few, the '60s car was agile and playful enough in the tighter bends to keep the spitting flames in sight.
Day three of the Irish tour took us through the border up to the North Irish coast. We had a waypoint on Downhill beach where the streets were lined by over a mile's worth of eager supercar spotters waiting to get a glimpse of what The Cannon Run had to offer.
I genuinely couldn't believe the amount of people who had been waiting there for us. Alex was a little overwhelmed by the reception too and decided to drive back through the parade twice whilst revving the absolute buggery out of the engine. Absolute scenes.
After carefully parking on the beach whilst trying not to sink, there may or may not have been an epic impromptu drift show starring a Ferrari F12, McLaren 570S and a Toyota Soarer, but I couldn't possibly comment. It's fair to say I was loving life in Ireland.
I'm well aware that my experience around Ireland wasn't your typical road trip as The Cannon Run does everything but 'typical,' but nothing can change the roads, environment and, most of all, the people. Every stop we made we were greeted by smiles, stories and a constant and infectious positivity that has become a rarity. Living in London, if I asked a stranger on the tube what the time was, I wouldn't be that surprised if they spat on my shoe and told me to 'mind my fucking business.'
If you've never considered Ireland as a potential road trip or holiday, I couldn't recommend it more. You won't be disappointed.
I'd like to give a massive thanks to The Cannon Run for being such great hosts. They've got some great events coming out if you want to feel like royalty for the week.
I'd also like to give a gargantuan thanks to Alex, the stunning Ford's owner, who let me be the first person to drive his car other than his dad. If you could let me take the car out for my date next Wednesday, that would be great.