A (First) Year On The Road

Roughly a year ago, a mail popped into my inbox that I still struggle at times to believe to be real. “Wanna join the Speedhunters team?” Emmmm, (waits about four seconds to not seem overly needy). Yes!

At the time, I had just posted the final update on a very small scale automotive blog that I had joined as a contributor a bit selflessly to gain the published work criteria required for a Motorsport Ireland media bib, but had effectively run single-handily for the best part of two years. The audience was small, but I had a first chance to actually share cool things I was seeing, and I thought others may enjoy.

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One of those who had actually been following my work was Paddy, an absolute icon of mine for quite some time. Here was the biggest inspiration imaginable, someone whose work I had followed for nearly a decade and whose styles and techniques I had so dreadfully tried to imitate, reaching out and saying come join his team. Nah, for real?

Some of you may have seen my name pop up in mid-to-late 2018 with a few IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER articles on the site, and it was genuinely through the channel of seeing something cool and creating a piece around this that I got my break.

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Late ’18 saw a few more IATSH articles trickle through, but 2019 started with a bang for me as a member of the Speedhunters team, taking on the coverage of Rally Monte Carlo.

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The Monte has always held a sense of excitement in my mind, and even heading for the third consecutive year, it marks a true start point to my ‘season’. To be tasked with covering an event of such stature without press access or special passes should seem daunting, but rallying, especially the Monte, makes it easy. The loose restrictions allow everyone to seek out and enjoy the finest locations, but only if you’re prepared to endure the cold and long hikes.

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The WRC is the pinnacle of world rallying, and this current era in particular is one to cherish while still possible. The fastest machines to ever grace a special stage being wrestled by the sports most skilled crews is spellbinding to watch, and something I really need to cover again in 2020. I had intended to cover the fast and flowing lanes of Rallye Deutschland, but an issue with FIA accreditation prevented that, although the very talented Ross Delaney did a super job covering Wales Rally GB towards the end of the season.

In The Ditches
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Back in Ireland, the 2019 rally season was hitting levels of excitement that we’d not seen since the height of the mid-2000s and the Celtic Tiger financial boom. Event after event were attracting bumper entries of top-class R5 machinery, and thrown into the mix this year was the arrival of some notable superstars.

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I covered the opening rounds of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, Galway International and The West Cork Rally, in a March piece. At that point, we had seen current WRC stars Craig Breen and Paul Nagle emerge as the dominant force with a pair of victories in the Irish title race, while West Cork brought the arrival of rallying great and a proper ‘Flying Finn’ with Mikko Hirvonen adapting to, and taming, the unique challenge of muddy lanes and a Class 14 Ford Escort.

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Not long after, I brought you under the skin of what makes up these rallying monsters, with an in-depth look at a brand new Ford Escort build. A deceptive ’70s body style laced with modern tech and performance, these machines have reshaped the idea of speed on a tight and twisty special stage.

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Come May, I dropped possibly my favourite feature of the year, a trip south to Killarney for the Rally of The Lakes. Not only is the rally run against the backdrop of some of Ireland’s best scenery and iconic stages, as well as the sprinkling of proper stardom with Michael Fassbender tackling the 2019 event, but if felt so rewarding to have the event organisers personally request coverage from myself. Any notions you may have of the red carpet being rolled out is about as far away from the reality of me spending the weekend sleeping rough in my car, but that’s what it takes for the best spots.

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While I drifted away from tarmac rallying later in the year, I still got a brace of visits into ‘The Woods’ and a pair of rounds of the Irish Forestry Rally Championship.

Take a guess which of these was mid-summer, and which was in mid-spring.

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And there was a trip to Belfast to Dubshed, the social highlight of my year, hands down.

Spreading My Wings
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Outside of my bread and butter Irish rallying coverage, I explored new and exciting opportunities that I had perhaps put off or hadn’t the bravery to strive for before.

Shooting with an FIA press pass is something a lot of us strive for at some point, and the first time is always exciting no matter who you talk to. World Rallycross is on a different level of excitement to most, if not all, FIA championships, so it was about time I took a look, right?

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I floated the idea within the Speedhunters circles as simply as a message saying ‘So, we ever cover World RX? I’m tempted to do Spa’, and such is the support and encouragement within the team that the reply was ‘Hell yeah!’ So, a week after sleeping in the back of a Peugeot 207, I was standing trackside at Spa-Francorchamps. Shooting the world’s best drivers alongside Paddy was an absolute pinnacle moment.

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Later, my second big trip of the year brought me to San Marino for Rally Legend. The Thursday night Rally Show was on another level of madness to anything else I’ve ever experienced before.

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And the rally that followed was pretty damn spectacular, too. These big trips are an incredible experience, and something I’ve always wanted to do, so to have the opportunity to go out there and chase speed is a humbling experience. I have literally no budget, and the bag of decidedly second-hand camera gear that I carry onto low-cost flights and bargain rental cars is so cheap and affordable that anyone could go and create their own story with very little investment.

On The Roads
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Of all the things I am proud of in 2019, the time I spent covering road racing is my personal highlight. This was a special journey that started out with a piece on the North West 200 that was designed to test the interest in this true bastion of speed, and you guys loved it. It verified my belief that the sport deserved a spotlight, and it shaped my summer.

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Over two months, clocking up mile after mile, I fell in love with a world of road racing I barely knew about beyond the surface. I met great people, experienced outlandish action, and pushed my skill level up a notch when it comes to shaping and developing a story over a period of time, not just over a weekend.

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The road racing world welcomed me in, everyone always seemed incredibly knowledgeable and it felt so very real being around danger all the time. While covering motorsport has such a constant stream of highs, there is always going to be lows, and a few dear friends, some whose acquaintance were more fleeting than others, were sadly lost doing what they loved doing in 2019.

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Looking back on the year, the opportunity to come on board with the Speedhunters, and bring you all my ramblings and photos is an incredible honour. This is a passion that I have, to go out and share the coolest things that I encounter with each and every one of you.

The reward is more than welcome, but don’t for a second think that I’m living the champagne life, as I may be pumping every spare bit of cash I have into a new car that I’ll hopefully have on the road, and sharing more of in 2020. Thanks to each and every one of you for the support in what has been an eye-opening first year here as part of the SH team, and I hope you’ll enjoy what more is to come in 2020! To everyone that makes Speedhunters happen, thank you.

Cian Donnellan
Instagram: ciandon
Facebook: ciandonphotography



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Cian, a number of my favourite articles on here this year were your efforts. There is a gritty realism, a pairing back almost like sharing secrets to so much of your work. You have been responsible for me making many new commitments in the coming year, to attend more events, thank you, sincerely. Best wishes for 2020 and keep up the great work


its inspiring to see such talent and passion coming from our small little island not only in the form of our rich car culture but the great contributors on this website. looking forward to seeing more from the Irish lads in 2020.


Another fantastic photographer from our humble, little island. Always look forward to your stories as they bring a bit of diversity to the site, especially in promoting rallying! Keep it up, Cian! Looking forward to possibly shooting together in 2020!


Really like the content you are bringing to Speedhunters, Cian!
Wishing you happy new years!


So psyched on your photos man. You attended some pretty awesome events and captured every one very well. Hopefully I'll make it back to Rally Legend next year. You should come shoot Mt. Washington Climb to the Clouds this summer (July 12-14)!