Welcome to Top Gear's lap of Ireland
Join us as we lap the Emerald Isle, from the coast of Antrim to the Ring of Kerry
Posted: 23 May 2014
DUBLIN - LONDONDERRY
ROADS IN THE 4TH DIMENSION. THE ANTRIM COAST ROAD. A LETHAL TORR
"A decent hot hatch will beat a supercar down a typical B-road". As a statement of fact, it's a load of rubbish. Even the most anaemic of super-sports cars will eat a hot hatch for breakfast down pretty much any road, because that's what they do for a living. Supercars, as the name would suggest, are generally very fast indeed. What might be more appropriate to suggest is that there are cars that are much more fun down a typical B-road than a mid-engined, 200mph monster with suspension nicked wholesale from a Le Mans car, whose hips brush the hedges and whose insurance value is somewhere north of everything we will ever earn. This makes sense. And so, in typical TopGear fashion, to test the theory we've come to Ireland, an island composed pretty much entirely of B-roads, in a supercar - a McLaren 12C Spider with 616bhp, rear-wheel drive and worth nearly a quarter of a million pounds - to see how little fun you can really not have down a B-road in a supercar. There's logic in there somewhere.
First, we ferry. The 12C is packed literally to the rafters with kit and managed - to everyone's surprise - to swallow two men with photography equipment and spare underwear. A slight dice with the loading ramp of the Irish Ferries hydrofoil bodes well, and before too long we're in the Emerald Isle, armed with a load of suggestions for decent roads and a positive attitude. Dublin, fine city that it is, is a bit too urban for our purposes, and so we hook the E01/M1 north towards Swords and Drogheda. I have a road in mind that I want to drive before it gets dark, so we impolitely belt up past Belfast and track out east on the A2 towards Larne.
Now, above Larne is a little squiggle called simply the Coast Road, which I'd seen on the interweb as part of the thing called the Ulster Rally. It looked dangerous, and bouncy, with the cars spending as much time off the ground as on it - especially up past Glenarm and the Garron Road, and a little detour called the Torr, which is kind of a sneaky right at a place called Cushendun. It took us a couple of hours to get there, but when we did... we discovered a beautiful coastal sweep full of road-based lies. And I'm not talking about little white lies, like looking smoother than they really are - which they aren't, incidentally - but huge great whopping porkies. The Torr road section especially is a place where there's not very much traffic, but a seeming half-mile straight will develop, instantly and alarmingly, to contain both a hidden 30ft dip and a 90-degree left-right combo, which will somehow also sprout a tiny trollish humpback bridge with a cheerful warning sign that you see just as you leave the ground.
The white line in the middle of the road? In most places, it indicates the two sides of a carriageway, but seeing as these roads are only about one and a half McLarens wide (a metric based on the fact that the Spider isn't actually very big for a car of this performance), it's bugger all use when it comes to meeting other traffic. False sense of security. Think of them more as a loose guide as to where the road might be going. Actually, use anything you can, because these Irish country lanes are essentially dimension-busting stretches that contain too many planes of existence to qualify as strictly standard physical. On one bit, there's a downhill section on the side of a hill/cliff that throws in a kind of uphill corkscrew that varies the camber between the two sections across the beam of the corner. So, just as you think there's helpful, friendly lean, it drops away to be murderous evil camber, at which point the corner swaps direction anyway, and you're left a little wild-eyed and thankful for ceramic brakes and stability control. There's no run-off, no gravel trap and no mercy. No wonder Ireland generates such exceptional road racing talent - if you haven't learned to think fast around here, you'd be rolling downhill faster than you can swear. These are not roads to be taken lightly.
Lightly chastised, we head up past Ballycastle, get lost near Bushmills (this will prove to be a theme), head down around Portrush and run the A2 into Derry/Londonderry for an early night. This all looks very promising.
Words: Tom Ford
Pictures: Justin Leighton
This feature first appeared in Top Gear magazine