It was a period that featured trips to Japan, Italy, California, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom, but it didn’t feel like a vintage Speedhunting year.
2017 was always going to be a tough one to follow, and I knew from the get-go that 2018 would introduce a new set of challenges. I mentioned these previously in my December editorial, but if I was to summarise everything into one, neat and condensed line, it would be this: I might have the best job in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest.
The biggest challenge I faced in 2018, and one which wasn’t immediately obvious beforehand, was the considerable reduction in days out shooting and and hunting speed. Instead, I spent most of my time behind a screen working with the rest of the team to ensure a steady stream of content was coming in from all over the world.
The numbers reflect this as well: I’ve never been heavy on the shutter button, but I shot some 62% less photographs in 2018 compared to the previous period. I guess I’ll save on new external drives, so every cloud and all that.
What this ultimately meant was that when I did actually get out to shoot – whether it was for Speedhunters or other clients – I really got to appreciate and enjoy those moments, rather than feeling like they were a burden and something that had to be done, just because. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?Japan In January
This was the trip that I had waited my entire adult life for. Expectations were at their absolute highest, but somehow, Japan delivered on every level.
I’m very fortunate to have seen so many corners of the globe in the name of Speedhunters, but nowhere else even comes close to Japan. It honestly felt like visiting a whole other planet, let alone country. Thankfully, for my sake, I was basically tagging along on what was our fearless Community Manager’s – he with the hair that makes women weep in envy, Mark Riccioni – dream photography holiday. It was certainly a case of maximum result with minimum effort, albeit with an absolutely chronic amount of jet lag.
Despite having never owned a Japanese vehicle (I honestly don’t know if I ever will, either), the way people in Japan approach cars and the culture around them completely captivates me. I don’t think there’s any other area of car culture which inspires me as much as Japan. I think this is reflected somewhat in Project GTI, as it certainly isn’t the typical approach to Germany’s most beloved hot hatch.
Our trip to Japan was relatively short, but I know that it was just the first of many. And, we still haven’t gotten through all the content we shot…Marching On
It took a few weeks to get over the fact that I wasn’t in Japan anymore.
I do feel lucky to live in Ireland, as it’s a country with good, solid, reliable car culture. Jordan considers it the Japan of Europe (for reasons which he’ll elaborate on in a future post), and while I don’t think he’s wrong, there’s a lot more than just Japanese cars here. With more and more time being spent in the office, I had to get my speed hits where I could find them.
As my new ‘local’, Stone Motorsport was certainly a frequent destination on Waze. Whether they were hosting dyno days, working on my GTI or building their own cars, there was always something there to satisfy my need for speed throughout the year.
With a late winter, and what might well be a once in a lifetime snow event, March was a peculiar month. Fortunately, the snow cleared all across Europe just in time for Ben and I to visit our new friend, Dr. Rouven Mohr at Lamborghini. Nothing can fill you with confidence in the future of a company quite like knowing that the people making the decisions are just as much car people at heart as you and I.
A perfect, but different example of this was the new Audi RS4 Avant I drove and photographed for Audi Ireland. Being a twin-turbo V6, there was a lot of talk of its RS status being ‘diluted’ when compared to its previous V8 form, despite the original B5 RS4 also being a twin-turbo V6. In spite of the fact that I had just been driving a Huracán Performante the week previous, had you offered me the choice of either, I would be vanishing towards my nearest IKEA in the RS4 before you could blink. It’s fast and has even more tuning potential than the naturally aspirated V8 cars.
Sometimes, although not always, manufacturers know what we want even better than what we think we do.
From Ireland to Italy, back to Ireland, and onwards to California where FD Long Beach would be my first and last Formula Drift event in 2018. When I took on the role of Editor in Chief in late 2017, I knew that this would be one of the potential outcomes of trying to balance my workload on top of a trans-Atlantic and trans-continental flight with abhorrent amounts of jet lag. It was never going to work, but I just wanted that one last hurrah with the Worthouse Drift Team, and it’s something that I’m really happy we were able to make happen before they went on their way to dominate the championship for the second year running. They’re a special crew of good people, I can tell you that.
Interspersed between these trips was making small but significant progress and updates to my GTI. I think the RAYS Volk Racing TE37 Sagas were sat in my parents’ garage for a good six weeks before they were fitted due to the inclement weather and getting the coin together for new, wider rubber. It was worth the wait, mind.
One project that I followed closely from 2017 through 2018 was the Stone K24-powered Silvia, which turned its first wheels in anger far earlier than I anticipated. I find it such a fascinating car because they’ve decided to do their own thing with it, rather than just going the now default 2JZ route. There’s still a lot of development to be done with the car, but that’s the nature of trying something different, especially on this side of the planet.
Maybe one of my favorite adventures this year was something which was in the back of mind for several years: taking a five-cylinder descendant of the Group B era and seeking out the old Circuit of Ireland special stages. It was as enjoyable a story to create as they come, but it did highlight how so much knowledge and how many stories of Ireland’s greatest rallying days were being lost to time. As generations pass on, along goes with them a little bit of this history every time. ‘Bittersweet’ is how I can best sum that one up at the moment.The Pilgrimage
Where Japan provides the majority of my automotive-related inspiration, there is one place in particular outside of that country that excites me greatly. In fact, I would go as far as saying that this is where I feel most at home: Wörthersee.
This wasn’t my first trip and it certainly won’t be my last either, but it was arguably the most special to date. It’s not everyday you get to drive a real ’80s icon from Münich, Germany to Austria. It was a proper ‘is this real life?’ moment.
It’s only now that I’ve realised that 2018 had been a touch Audi-centric up until this point in the year. While I would happily take their money (or an RS4, if you’re reading Herr Audi) this wasn’t the case, just a series of coincidences.
To be honest, every person I interacted with from Audi during this trip was a bonafide car person. It wasn’t their marketing department present either, but a group of like-minded people from throughout the company who love what they do and wanted to support the scene in whatever way they could. In fact, I might have been told that the actual marketing people back in Ingolstadt weren’t all that impressed with the activities in Wörthersee, as it wasn’t their target market.
I’m glad those that persevered to make this happen, did. They made an impact and in a non-cynical way, too. They’ve also mentioned some ideas for 2019 which will be very impressive if we can pull them off…
The summer did supply ample opportunities on both sides of the Irish Sea to satisfy my thirst, with two of the highlights being Players Classic at Goodwood (it’s the UK show to attend, in my humble opinion), and Fundracer at Mondello Park.
The latter was more of a track day with some photography on the side, which suited me just fine. Because as much as I do love shooting, I enjoy driving maybe that little bit more, although that answer might change depending on what day of the week it is.
The Irish Motor Festival featured the first official Speedhunters gathering in several years, and my first attempt at organising, well, anything. Thankfully, it wasn’t a disaster and I didn’t bring great shame upon the team.
The idea was born out of awareness that Speedhunters needs to exist in the real world as much as it does online, and this is something we’ll be working on more in 2019 and beyond.
Drifting is perhaps one of the core reasons as to how I’ve so far made a living doing what I do. As such, I still have a lot of love for the sport, although I don’t think it’s perfect by any means. Mad Mike’s Drift Shifters had my attention from day one as a friendly and exciting way to bring drifting to the masses, and with his first attempt at taking the show outside of New Zealand happening just a short ferry trip away in Liverpool, it was an easy decision to attend.
Even if you’re not a fan of drifting – and I totally understand why a lot of people aren’t – it’s absolutely worth giving it a try if it ever ends up on your doorstep. It’s frantic, exciting and a complete blast to spectate. However, I think the pinball sound effects are still ringing in my ears. Either that, or it’s Aasbø’s rowdy levels of anti-lag.Home Is Where The Heart Is
I can never iterate enough just how fortunate I feel to have seen so much of the world and the various forms of car culture contained within during the course of my job. Even in 2018, which was a quiet year by my own standards, I got to experience what a lot of people won’t in their whole lifetime. I do feel hugely grateful, and it’s not something that I ever take for granted. I will say this, though: there’s no place on earth that I would prefer to call home than Ireland.
Ben gives me a lot of stick for my unrelenting patriotism and my ability to shoehorn Ireland into pretty much any conversation, but it’s only because I’m immensely proud of what this island has created over the years. Between the annual 86Fest and the Juicebox BBQ – which happened only a few days apart – Ireland is certainly enjoying a boom in car culture again.
I don’t consider it to be ‘better’ than anywhere else, I just like to enjoy and appreciate what we’re very fortunate to have here. Ireland is a small country with a small population that makes a big noise when it comes to our cars, and long may it continue.‘Holiday’
A recurring theme amongst Speedhunters is that hunting speed isn’t something you can ever switch off, typically to the dismay of those around you. It’s not very often that I can find the time to vacation, but it was something I forced myself to do in September this year.
Previously, it had been over two years since I took some time off with my (long suffering) girlfriend.
Fortunately for me, I have a tremendously understanding human in my life who knows how much cars mean to me. So even on holidays, there’s always going to be something car-related sought out. Thankfully, there’s no shortage in Southern California (and in Nevada either, as it happens), but the key to all of this was balancing car things out with the typical tourist things, which there were plenty of. In my defence, I did leave the DSLRs at home and only brought a pocket-sized digital camera, so it wasn’t really a working holiday at all.
Someone will have to fill me in on when the Impala went front-wheel drive, as I was severely disappointed in its burnout abilities. What else are rentals good for?Until The Next Cartoon
Since California, it’s been pretty much non-stop in the office, with only the occasional venture outside and a lone track day last month, which was really only a single 20-minute session. The GTI has since been prepped for winter, with the ZE40s returning (in a new colour) and Michelin Cross Climates being fitted. I have made some other small changes, none of which are visible here, but you’ll have to wait until next year to read about those.
There’s still a lot to be done before we break for Christmas, which I really need to get back to, but I’ve enjoyed taking a look back at 2018 and reminding myself just how good I have it. Finally, I just want to thank all of the Speedhunters team around the world for the effort and work they’ve put in this year. It was rarely easy, but then if it was, everyone would be doing it.
See you next year, folks.