‘SHE ended up a hedge somewhere,’ is how Bandon’s Vincent McSweeney (31) recalled his rally debut on the 2010 West Cork Rally.
The ‘she ‘was a Suzuki Swift that previously belonged to Clonakilty’s Cal McCarthy. The embrace with the West Cork scenery polished out and the car saw a few more outings before a Honda Civic became his mode of rally transport.
Given the background, motorsport was a pretty natural progression for McSweeney, who chose fellow Bandon man and his national school pal Michael Kearney as his co-driver. They grew up together, McSweeney in the townland of Farranhavane, Kearney in the adjoining townland of Mishells. A partnership that began in the junior rally categories has enjoyed success and promises more.
‘My father (Vincent) has a garage and I suppose I always had the interest in cars. There were also times when a stage of the West Cork Rally went past our door.’
Even though his second attempt at the West Cork Rally also failed, it didn’t dampen McSweeney’s enthusiasm. There was a simple explanation that was accompanied by an important fact: ‘To be honest, I was probably too eager, but I was always competitive.’
A third place in Class J2 in the Killarney Rally of the Lakes was probably the highlight of the 2011 season.
A first junior category victory came on the Fastnet Rally in Bantry in 2012. Again, another insight into the mindset: ‘We were starting to get the car and indeed ourselves up to speed and that win on the Fastnet was great. We had a competitive streak to us.’
Certainly, it was the prelude to a very successful 2013 with a first finish on the West Cork Rally - second in Class 11F, a Class J2 win in Killarney, outright Junior success on the Raven’s Rock Rally and Class 11F victories in the Imokilly Rally and the Fastnet Rally.
Aside from class results, the 2013 Fastnet Rally gave McSweeney his first top ten finish in a main rally but, after three years, it was time to say goodbye to the home-built Honda Civic.
‘We decided to upgrade the car, we got a new shell, better cage and we took everything good from the old car really.’
Instant success wasn’t guaranteed or neither was it realised and 2014 was pretty barren in terms of results, but not in progress in terms of getting the car to where the father and son preparation partnership wanted.
The 2015 season started in great fashion with a J2 class win on the Galway International. This was followed by a Junior category victory on the Abbeyleix Rally and a Class 11F win on the West Cork Rally, a fine tenth in overall classification and the top County Cork and, more importantly, best West Cork crew.
More great results followed – including an eighth overall on the Rally of the Lakes and a Class 11F win. The special significance on that occasion is the fact that both Vincent and co-driver Michael Kearney were, and still are, employed by Liebherr in Killarney where they are mechanical engineers in the design department.
Michael subsequently departed to Australia on a working contract with Liebherr during which time Eamonn Creedon, Damien Fleming and Andy O’Donoghue called the pace notes in his absence.
The success in the Munster region powered McSweeney to overall victory in the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 Rally Championship. It also led to a ‘wild card’ nomination for the Billy Coleman award even though he didn’t make the final trio. Ironically, the award was won by his Liebherr colleague Killarney’s Rob Duggan.
‘It was a great year. It was nice to have the consistency and reliability to win a championship especially after the troubles of the previous season. The result in Killarney was also special as we work down here.’
Although there was another non-finish on the West Cork, the final appearance in Class 11F saw a class win on the Fastnet before switching to Class 13 (two-litre) for the 2017 season that yielded class wins in the West Cork and Killarney, along with a fine fourth overall (national section) in Clonakilty and a superb third overall in the National section in Killarney. He actually led the Fastnet after its opening stage in Bantry but retired on the next stage.
Little, if anything more could be extracted from the Honda Civic and it led to a review: ‘I suppose by the end of that year we felt we had brought it (the Honda Civic) as far as we could, so we decided to move on.’
A Class 20 Mitsubishi Evo VII was acquired and, again, it was another home-build to prepare it for action. Not surprisingly, it took most of the 2018 season to find some form of reliability and consistency. Fourth overall and a class win on the Fastnet Rally (where Eamonn Hayes deputised for Michael Kearney, who missed out due to work commitments) offered hope and encouragement for the future.
While records show he failed to finish the Rally of the Lakes, they mask an incredible performance that saw him lead the national category after the opening day only to retire with a broken clutch after the opening stages of the second leg.
Later in the season, there was a third overall on the Imokilly Rally and, later still, a similar position after the opening stage of the Fastnet Rally – only to end, dare we say, in a hedge somewhere on the second stage.
Vincent McSweeney enjoys his rallying, the team is very much a family affair, as he explains: ‘We get great satisfaction at building our own cars and setting them up and trying to make them competitive.
‘Trying to get the right balance of power and reliability is the challenging part of the build, trying to find a happy medium without costing a fortune. You could say that my mother (Geraldine) looks after the catering side and myself and my father look after the panicking side of it.’ Vincent also added that rally preparation expert Colm Grant (TTEC Rally Prep) has been extremely helpful with the Mitsubishi project.
The mechanical engineer within the design department of Liebherr is pragmatic about his rallying. When looking at options after deciding to change from his Honda Civic, he remarked, when asked if he considered switching to a Mk 2 Ford Escort, ‘Not really, to be competitive in the national is where I wanted to be and to try and do it in a Mk 2 Escort was going to be out of our budget so that is why we bought the Mitsubishi.’
For all of his rallying, Vincent has enjoyed the support of Bandon-based Patrick Horgan Tyre Services. ‘He’s been a great backer all through.’ If finance wasn’t an issue, the Bandon man would like to rally a VW Polo Gti R5.
As for his favourite driver, he adds: ‘You would always look to Keith Cronin, he’s at the top of his game.’
As for the future and when the sport returns, it’s a case of more of the same. ‘I will stay with the Mitsubishi, we haven’t seen the best of it yet. It’s not until something is gone that you appreciate what you had really.’ A fan of the rally tracking system and safety in general, he added, ‘We all want to be on the right side.’
Even if it’s only a hedge!