Long before Dungannon was famous for a son called Kris, it was renowned for a man called Sydney. Sydney Meeke was the man behind such legendary names as Bertie Fisher and Billy Coleman.
Building and running cars for the stars was only a small part of what Sydney Meeke Motorsport was about. What it was really famous for was some of the most imaginative and ingenious rally car engineering around. Cars like the Ford Orion RWD and, of course, the four-wheel drive Opel Corsa.
If the Orion was the talk of the ’80s in Britain, the Corsa certainly caught Europe’s imagination a decade later. Sadly, homologation changes meant the forerunner to the Super 2000 category would never find a home on the international stage.
Both cars will, however, find a home in south-west Ireland this week, when they’re driven on the Déjà Vu Tralee event.
Kris Meeke drives the Corsa with his brother Barry taking the wheel of the Orion. Sydney will co-drive Kris in the Opel.
The Corsa was created from a rasping two-litre naturally aspirated engine and the four-wheel drive system taken from a Vauxhall Cavalier rally program Sydney was working on for the Spanish Gravel Championship in the mid-1990s. Both cars have benefitted from a ground-up rebuild and will take pride of place in an event which tours through some of Ireland’s finest stages including Slea Head and Conor Pass.
As you can imagine, no celebration of Irish rallying would be complete without Craig Breen’s input and the M-Sport Ford driver will run the Sierra RS Cosworth Frank Meagher used to win the 1992 Circuit of Ireland.
Behind them, the stories just keep on coming with Austin MacHale reunited with a Toyota Celica and Rosie Smith driving a Sunbeam Tiger. Frank O’Mahony in a Mini Cooper S, anybody? How about Denis Biggerstaff in a Subaru Impreza WRC or Michael Barrable in a Fiat 131 Abarth.
Whichever way you turn on the Dingle peninsula on Saturday, there will be cars and crews worth watching and waiting for.
Saturday’s action in this event organized by Beatty Crawford and Plum Tyndall gets underway from Tralee town centre at 9.15am.
For one night only…
For those of you who don’t know Ireland as well as you should, Tralee sits just north of Killarney – a place famous for two things: its Lakes and the Nagles. Maurice Nagle was not only one of the nicest men you could meet, he was also a co-driver and the clerk of the course of the Killarney Rally of the Lakes. And he’s Paul’s dad.
Chip off the old block, Nagle junior is one of Ireland’s most successful co-drivers with five world championship wins. A poorly timed family gathering keeps Paul away from Saturday’s action week, but he’ll be attending the gala for a very good reason.
He’s putting one of the crash helmets he used to co-drive Craig Breen in a factory Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC last season up for auction to raise money for a cancer-related charity close to home.
There’s more to this lid than meets the eye – unless you look more closely. It’s been signed by 21 of the sport’s most legendary names, including both Sébastiens, Carlos Sainz, Petter Solberg and Marcus Grönholm.
Nagle told DirtFish: “I can’t be there on Saturday, but I’ll be able to make the evening and hopefully we can make a difference.
“It’s a great event that Plum and Beatty have on and I’ve no doubt there will be a few stories told and a few more made in Tralee this week.
“It’s fantastic to see Sydney’s cars coming out on the event and even better to see Kris and Barry driving them. The Orion and the Corsa are both iconic and certainly the Opel was well ahead of its time. Sydney was always a fantastic engineer and a great businessman and, of course, he brought two great men into the sport in Kris and Barry.
“There’s 160 cars going to be out there on Saturday and the chance to see the Meeke cars as well as Craig driving Frank Meagher’s Sierra is going to be something very, very special.”
Anybody interested in bidding on the helmet who is not attending the gala should email email@example.com for further details.