BY MARTIN WALSH
THE great inventor, scientist, politician and much more, Benjamin Franklin and legendary footballer Roy Keane could have been an interesting combination. Franklin’s quote, ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,’ and Keane’s version, ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,’ are very tangible to the life of Ballymakeery rally preparation expert Colm Grant.
Formula One racer Juan Manuel Fangio once said ‘To finish first, you must first finish.’ The rallying equivalent is ‘To finish first, first you must finish.’ In all cases those expressions illustrate the importance of planning and preparation.
Life’s journey for Colm Grant switched from being a qualified electrician to motoring matters and in 2002 he set up a rally preparation business under the banner of TTEC that later became TTEC Rally PREP.
At the zenith of an already impressive and burgeoning CV is preparation of a car for one of Ireland’s greatest ever rallying talents, Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin, who under Grant’s supervision won the British Rally Championship at the very first attempt in 2009. TTEC’s maiden voyage was prepping a Toyota Corolla for Midleton’s John Foley for the 2002 West Cork Rally.
‘When I was young I went to rallies with my father, including going to watch the Circuit of Ireland when it was down south. I cycled to the local ones as well,’ explained Grant, as he outlined his interest in rallying.
From those early TTEC beginnings, the move to look after more powerful machinery came quickly.
‘That was in 2006 when Denis Cronin rang me to actually collect his new car, the ex-Ray Breen Subaru WRC. I can remember when I brought it back here (Ballymakeery) I said to myself, “what am I doing?” I went at it and it worked out,’ he recalled.
‘Our first event was the Circuit of Munster in 2006 and we won it. I will never forget that day as I was also running Colm Murphy (Subaru) and he finished fourth and won Group N; that was a great day.’
The same season, the Cronin link was extended when Danny Cronin (Denis’s brother and Keith’s dad) wanted to move Keith into the realms of four-wheel drive. Grant was detailed to acquire a car for Keith. The acquisition took him to Kieran Graffin’s in Northern Ireland.
‘Danny rang me and his words were, “don’t come back without a car”,’ Grant recalled.
A Mitsubishi EvoV11 was acquired with Keith’s Peugeot 206 traded as part exchange and Keith made his four-wheel drive debut in the Cork Forest Rally in 2006, only for a burst intercooler to deny him a good result.
‘It gets to you when something happens and puts you out. I wouldn’t be fit to talk to anyone when it (retiring from a rally) happens. I take it personal, Thankfully, we have a good finishing record.’
For Grant, Keith Cronin’s first BRC win was huge.
‘I will never forget that, it will never go away. I actually get emotional thinking about it, it was amazing. Keith’s really special, he just needed the backing (money). To do what they (supporters) did was also an amazing achievement because it’s expensive. The talent that Keith has, I doubt if we will see his like for a long time,’ Grant said.
The relation between Grant and Keith Cronin grew as time went evolved.
‘When we made the car better Keith went faster and faster. At the time, he didn’t realise actually how fast the car could go, but once it was set up right he could take it to the limits. He would always get the maximum from a car. I would tell him there was more, he just had to find it and he did.’
Like many more, Grant reckons that Keith Cronin is a talent lost to the WRC.
‘The way the WRC is now, it’s more about money than talent. I can recall when Kris Meeke (who drove for Citroen and Toyota in the WRC) went for a spin with Keith and when they returned Kris said to me “I can’t teach that man anything. I wouldn’t like to race him in the same car”,’ he recalled.
Success for TTEC Rally PREP wasn’t confined to the Cronin dynasty, Grant has also prepared cars for Ovens’ Owen Murphy winning the Irish Forest Rally Championship on two occasions and also took another national forest title with Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings.
Such success is the shop window for the rally preparation business and it attracts new clients.
‘There is no doubt that winning raises the profile and other drivers come to you on the strength of such success,’ he said.
Another driver that was under the TTEC banner was Kerry’s Thomas Fitzmaurice in a Subaru WRC. That was in 2012 and they had a great battle with Carrigaline’s Brian O’Mahony, who clinched the Dunlop title on the final round in Donegal.
‘We had a great friendly rivalry, it was a nice championship and it was much different to the BRC,’ Grant said.
Current clients include David Guest, Owen Murphy and Clashmore’s David O’Keeffe. It’s an expanding business and it’s great to see modern cars in the hands of the likes of Guest and Murphy.
‘It’s easier for people to attain cars now that are similar to what is at the top. Ten years ago, you had to have colossal money to be anywhere near them. With what he had, Denis Cronin did amazing things really,’ he said.
It's also a changing dynamic, as he noted: ‘It’s easier to look after an R5 car than a WRC, which are more computer related. The R5 cars are simpler.’
Drivers, like cars, vary as Grant explains.
‘Every driver is different and they want their cars a different way. You have to learn their ways, they drive differently and like different types of roads. You would always suggest to drive a different way and see how it goes.’
On rally day the service park is a busy spot, bustling with anticipation and aligned to a very strict agenda. The normal 20-minute service is planned with military precision, especially if there are a number of cars that are to be looked over. Rally preparation teams are a vital cog in motorsport, but their opinions are rarely sought by governance – that disappoints Grant.
‘There are very few people will ring you in that regard. There seems to be a lot of animosity between competitors and the powers-that-be and the clubs. Yes, we realise that the organisers are volunteers, the drivers are the customers. It’s a thin line,’ he said.
The youngest of the Grant siblings, Keith, is already well versed in motorsport and aside from showing a keen interest in the workshop, he competes in karting, racing in the Cadet class. Although Colm looks after the kart, tuition comes from Kieran Daly of DMS Karting.
‘The margin for error is small in karting, it’s very competitive and while it can be confrontational compared to rallying in terms of tension and rivalry, there are good structures in place as opposed to rallying.’
The success of the team is due to the great commitment of all those involved within. Colm Grant also acknowledged the patience of his wife Breda whilst nor forgetting their daughter Sarah. Like many other business, it’s tough at the moment but when rallying resumes TTEC Rally PREP will be ready checking every nut and bolt; nothing is taken for granted.