When you first think of elite level motorsport as an industry, where is the first place that comes to mind?
Motorsport Valley in the United Kingdom is usually my first thought; it’s the home to McLaren Technology Centre, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, Prodrive and other Formula One, Formula E and other top tier motorsport outfits after all. Then, there’s the industrial park at the Nürburgring, where all manner of prototype production cars and race cars can be found on any given day.
These are the sort of places you expect to find motorsport, but they aren’t the only places you will find it. In fact, and more often than not, you fill find that motorsport exists in places where you least expect it to.
This is a prime example. In Carnmore, not far from the fields of Athenry outside Galway City, Ireland is a small workshop sandwiched between a farmyard and the back of someone’s house.
It’s invisible from the road, but chances are if you’re an avid motorsport fan, you will have seen products born out of this facility in action at some stage over the last decade. If you’re a regular Speedhunters reader, you would have recently read about something this particular company had a pretty big hand in developing. It was this story that encouraged me to find out more.
There is no external signage to indicate what goes on behind closed doors here, but that’s pretty common with a lot of companies like this. They’re not the sort who depend on walk-in business.
This is Galway Carbon, an outfit which specialises in motorsport composite materials and has strong connections to the FIA World Rallycross Championship, amongst many others.
Before I really get into this, I think it’s worth pointing out from the very start that this isn’t your typical company profile. Sure, we’ll take a look at what they do and how they do it, but I think the most interesting part of their story is how it all started.
Brian Grealish and Sean Hession are the co-founders of Galway Carbon. Friends since school, with a mutual interest in rallying, Brian and Sean have no background or formal education in composite materials. By trade, they’re actually both carpenters, and when the last major recession hit Ireland, both found themselves out of work.
At a loose end, they started to make fibreglass panels to make ends meet. Brian told me: “We pooled some funds together to buy a roll of carbon fibre to experiment with.” Sean added: “Lots of it ended up in the bin.”
I doubt either of them realised at the time, but that roll of carbon fibre has most certainly changed their lives. By 2010, Galway Carbon were producing their first parts to Irish rally competitors. Their output was modest, as they concentrated on making the best quality parts they could, rather than outright mass production.
It was in a sort of wild roundabout way that they came to the attention of former World Rally Champion, Petter Solberg, who was at the time planning to enter World RX with his own team. The connection came through Solberg’s former navigator, Phil Mills, who runs Viking Motorsport in the UK. The connection to Mills in the first place came from Irish rallying royalty, Kenny McKinstry.
You could consider all of this as just good fortune, but when the call came through from PSRX in 2013, it was a defining moment for Brian and Sean, who throughout 2012 were still working three days a week in a nearby factory to keep roofs over their heads.
Naturally, this was all the encouragement that the pair needed to take on this venture full time. It wasn’t an easy task to scale up production to meet this level of demand, which required some 650 man hours over the course of just 20 days to prototype the bodykit, produce moulds and the first full carbon kit. It was worth it, however. With all eyes on Solberg’s arrival in World RX, the rest of the paddock took notice of Galway Carbon’s work.
After PSRX came Liam Doran, then Marklund Motorsport, Munich Motorsport, Kenneth Hansen, EKS and Gronholm RX amongst others over the following seasons. There was a point where almost three quarters of the World RX paddock were wearing Galway Carbon parts.
The carbon name plates inside the car which can be seen on the on-board footage, were all supplied to the championship by Galway Carbon as well. So, technically, every World RX car has a Galway Carbon piece on it.
That’s an incredible achievement for two carpenters who just wanted to try their hand at something new in order to pay the bills during a recession.
2020 has had a peculiar effect on the motorsport world, and I don’t think that there’s a team, driver or company out there which hasn’t been affected in one way or another. Even the strangest of times provide opportunities, however.
Galway Carbon were fortunate to produce some parts for Ken Block’s Escort Cosworth as well as another big motorsport project stateside (which was launched recently) during the time where motorsport was on hold
Traditionally, when developing new parts, they would be first crafted on a vehicle by hand using foam or other materials. A mould would then be taken and the part could be produced in whatever material required. Two years ago, Galway Carbon invested in CAD (Solidworks, in this instance) and a 3D scanner, and this year they have taken delivery of a large format 3D printer. All of this opens up a lot more opportunities, while allowing them to rapidly prototype parts much faster and keep every stage of the process in-house.
The above is a current work-in-progress dry sump tank cover for Brian’s own B20-powered Honda Civic rallycross car. He could have made something much simpler, but wants to develop his own skills while showcasing what Galway Carbon can create.
Another example in progress, was an upcoming part for ‘The Project’ Impreza WRC build, in the shape of an S5 WRC rear spoiler lower element bottom pattern. This piece started as a scan, before being re-drawn in CAD to ensure accuracy, and then sent to a 3D printer.
The parts were just about finished on the printer – which typically runs 24/7 – when I visited. The two halves will be combined, finished, and then moulded before the first carbon pieces are created.
This piece will ultimately be mated to seven other individual pieces to create a full spoiler with a target weight of around 1.8kg (3.9lb). These photographed parts have been produced solely to test layups and a cure schedule.
The spoiler will be created using pre-preg carbon fibre, which is preferred for its rigidity and ability to form complex and intricate parts. The decision whether to use pre-preg or vacuum infusion comes down to the intended use of the part. The more rigid pre-preg is also more likely to shatter in an impact, which is why the vacuum infusion layup process is preferred for body panels as it’s more impact resistance due to the resin and fabric they use, and will typically deflect and return to its original shape.
When body panels are to be made for non-contact use, pre-preg is often used.
There’s also consideration for weight and thickness, the latter of which is often defined by the governing body of each major motorsport series. As an example, World RX rules state that a panel must have a minimum thickness of 1.5mm.
While some might balk at the cost of using carbon fibre panels and bumpers – especially in forms of contact motorsport where they can be easily damaged – the idea is that as the carbon items are much more resilient, and that they won’t need to be replaced as often.
That’s not just a cost saving in the long run, but when time is of the essence, mechanics and teams can focus their attention on more pressing repairs and setup adjustments, rather than replacing panels. It’s one less thing to worry about during competition.
Upstairs is now home to a catalogue of moulds, both current and previous.
It also offers a pretty decent top-down view of both cars in the workshop, the aforementioned EG Civic, and two-time European Rallycross Champion Derek Tohill’s World RX-specification Fiesta. If there’s interest, I’m sure I can put together something small on either, or both cars.
It did feel particularly appropriate that Sean was finishing the most recent S5 WRC kit, considering it was Jamie Flett’s project which opened the door here in the first place.
In hindsight, I probably could have saved Jamie a trip across the country and brought his panels to him, but also, I don’t think I want that responsibility either.
Galway Carbon is a humble operation, still operating on the same principles today as when it first started, which continues to put an emphasis on quality over quantity. It might not have the ‘wow’ factor of McLaren’s Technical Centre, or the resources of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, but Brian and Sean are still making a positive and worthy contribution to the world of motorsport.
If there’s only one thing I hope you take away from this, it’s that if you want to chase your own dreams, regardless of how big or small they might be, then you just have to go for it. Remember that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Additional Photography by Larry ChenCutting Room Floor