It’s a difficult concept to explain really, the phenomena that is the MK2 Ford Escort in Irish Rallying culture. Every weekend, from mid-February to late December, is likely to have an event of some kind taking place, and its almost unthinkable to think that any would be devoid of the presence of a venerable Escort or two. Now nearly forty years since Ford released the second incarnation of their everyday car for the masses, Escorts continue to prove they’ll always be competitive! Swing by a Quarry for an Autocross and you’ll find one, the Forest rallies are littered with more robust examples but it’s on Irish Tar that the Mk2 truly is royalty.
As a small island, we may be devoid of much resembling proper Racetracks or dedicated Motorsport venues, but that’s turned a nation into a breed of backroad junkies. Rallying pushes drivers and machinery to go all out on twisty, slippy and generally mud-covered ribbons of tarmac passing over bogs, mountains, beaches and bridges. To succeed, not only does it take massive bravery, but a real all-rounder of an Escort is required.
Standing resplendent before me, in a unique shade of Fiat Bambino Blue, is Colin Byrne’s MK2. Squat, wide and aggressive, this beast is of the peak rallying pedigree, one of our much idolised ‘Class 14 Ultimate Escorts’. These cars are ones that sit at the top of the food train, the ones that roar past spectator lined ditches at silly speed and top time sheets stage after stage. This very car, in the hands of talented young driver Rob Duggan, is a recent event winner at the Killarney Historic Rally, while Colin has brought home a whole heap of Class Trophies that are a proud thought for Colin who has dedicated much of the last 20 years to the sport.
Ford has a long connection to Irish rallying, and while something like a 2.5 Escort may be the ultimate dream, many have entered the sport behind the wheel of a Blue Oval. Colin began in the humble surrounds of a 1300 Ford Ka, a perfect entry point for many newcomers to the sport. As the bug bit, the next step was into a true ex-Boreham works Puma. A slight head turn in the way of a French fancy, a Citroen C2R2, is remembered rather un-fondly, but come late 2015 a deal was struck and Colin was the beaming owner of his dream car, a Millington Powered MK2 Escort.
It’s that irresistible mix of a sideways MK2 and a screaming Millington Diamond that draws hundreds of spectators out onto the ditches in all weather, but inside the car it’s just the ultimate rush. While the original engine did fine for the first season, come the winter a deal was struck and a brand-new Series 2 Millington Diamond took the place of the Series 1. A 2.5L normally aspirated beast, the Diamond sends 350 bhp to the rear wheel, delivering a peak torque of 246 ft/lb down low in the rev range which is key in a tight and twisty rally stage.
The huge power is driven through a Tractive 6-speed Sequential gearbox feeding a fully floating Atlas Axle and a Tractive Diff and Half Shafts. Keeping that all traction and power being transferred into lightning quick acceleration is handled through some very trick suspension, designed nearly exclusively for the demands of Irish Tar. The suspension all around is handled by 3-Way Proflex dampers all around, with a pair of XTrac Shocks deployed out back. 15 Inch Minilite Wheels wrapped in Slick Michelin tyres add even further to a machine designed exclusively to cover asphalt against the clock.
With a kerb weight of approximately 1000kg, it’s obvious that plenty of measures have been taken to help gain that extra tenth of a second here and there. Outside, the original bumpers have been replaced with Carbon Fibre corner units. The vented bonnet is fibreglass, while much of the glass has been replaced with Polycarbonate.
Step inside and it’s strictly ‘race car’! A pair of beefy ATech bucket seats swallow up Colin and a brave co-driver, safe in the knowledge that the all manner of precautions including significant Roll Cage, Harnesses & fire extinguishers are designed to help the occupants should anything go wrong. Safety regulations mandate an alloy fuel cell in the boot, with a bulkhead separating it from the cabin.
The weight saving measures taken outside have extended inside, with a full wiring replacement by PT Motorsport Electrics saving over 9KG from the previous ‘mess’ of wires running through the car. Everything is now cutting edge, with a digital Gear display, onboard digital screen relaying vital engine reading and a carbon fibre centre panel containing all manner of necessary buttons and switches, although Colin cheekily adds that it’s up to the navi to learn them as he’s a too busy at the wheel!
With Colin’s CB-Tool Hire business flying and a growing interest in Autograss and Kart racing, you’d think that having the Ultimate MK2 would suffice, but that would be too easy. Having spent years supporting all manner of young up-and-coming driver and various events, this October see’s the CB name adorn an International Rally for the first time. September 29th and 30th will see over 120 crews tackle the CB Tool Hire Cork 20 Rally, and you can be sure that Colin will be in the mix. What he may be behind the wheel of though is still unknown, as while we finish the shoot, a little secret is dropped. An all-new Escort is currently being built by Den Motorsport for Colin, and its promised to have the best of the best in every area possible. That’s rallying for you, the constant strive to improve on Ultimate!