The name O’Connell is well established in motor sport circles in Ireland. The Dungiven based brothers; Gerard and Seamus, along with Seamus’ son Tommy have entertained fans for many years and have the cars and the trophy cabinet to boot.
Seamus and Tommy are known for their exciting endeavours in Mark Two Escorts, while Gerard now competes in speed events in an eclectic mix of machinery.
Gerard started his motorsport career in the late 80’s and like most, campaigned a Ford Escort MkII – however, a few accidents later, his courage was dented and a back seat was taken. Helping Seamus and watching the sport was much more enjoyable at this point for the Dungiven man.
After amassing a rather poignant collection of Ford vehicles, which start with a 1917 Model T, Gerard travelled to shows across the UK and Ireland displaying some of the most immaculate Escorts in the world, including one of only five X-Pack RS2000 models, built at the Ford factory in Germany.
Within his collection sat a historic spec MkII – ‘STW’ as she is affectionately known, ended up heading to Kirkistown around six years ago to partake in some sprints.
In Gerard’s words, “one of the main reasons [for sprints] was that I can go on my own, you don’t need an army of boys with you, simply on your own and if anything happens, well, you have the car prepared before you go, so the car should be alright”.
When asked about his odd choice of machinery, compared to the norm on local events, O’Connell laughed saying “I’m maybe an odd kind of a person – I just like to try something different”.
The bug had bitten hard, and feeling that the BDA engine fitted to the Escort at the time was a little lack-lustre, a call to Millington was made and this engine soon helped with Gerard’s need for speed, but over the next couple of years the car felt like it was running out of puff again.
This time, the only option for Gerard was a Smith and Jones turbocharged power-train and once fitted, he started to play with active spoilers, launch control, traction control and various other electro-gadgets to fine-tune and perhaps even tame the beast he had built.
With development very much continuing on STW, O’Connell had a notion to be at the top of the time-sheets and a single seater was the obvious choice – however, on sitting in one, Gerard didn’t feel comfortable and opted for a Radical SR8.
Proving a force to be reckoned with on sprint events the last few years, Gerard went and won this year’s hillclimb championship, just to put any doubt in people’s minds to bed and, on the last two sprints of the season, the paddock was in for a treat as Gerard rolled out this Ford Escort RSR MkI for a shakedown.
When asked for his plans at the helm of the RSR, Gerard commented “we could maybe try it on the hills and see how it works, we just don’t know – one of the reasons for building the RSR was that I was thinking of maybe doing circuit racing – so I might try a bit of that as well – the main racing would be in the GT Saloon series at Kirkistown or Mondello”.
In the words of SHP Engineering, who are the brainchild behind the underpinnings of this car ‘The RSR Escort is a MkI with a difference – it has all the appeal of a MkI Escort, but uses a GRP body and an up to the minute space-frame chassis’.
Essentially, it’s not only one of the most seductive looking space frame cars in the world today, but perhaps one of the most agile and capable ‘tin-tops’ around. Having bought the RSR ‘kit’ – Gerard entrusted long time friend and engineer, Gerard O’Kane, to complete the build in-house.
To power this particular RSR Escort, the two Gerard’s decided, having experienced the engines before, that another call to Millington was required – this time for a 2.9L naturally aspirated unit with custom Simpson Racing exhaust system and manifold.
Power is nothing without control however, and to keep everything sucking, squeezing, banging, and blowing in the correct order, a DTA M100 ECU is fitted. Power is put to the ground via a 6-speed Tractive gearbox, running only paddle-shift by KGP, whilst a semi-floating atlas axle is the last link in propelling the RSR forward, or sideways.
Stopping the RSR is never going to be too much of a challenge, as it weights little more than a case of beer, at just 750KG – though Gerard isn’t taking any chances and has fitted 15-inch AP fully-floating brakes.
Agility wise, the RSR sticks to the road like s**t to a blanket thanks to Ohlins 4-way adjustable suspension combined with 8-spoke revolution alloy wheels with 9”x15” fronts and 10”x15” rears, wrapped in Avon slicks and from the two events thus far, Gerard has clinched a top-four overall result.
Inside this RSR Escort is a plethora of carbon fibre as it features Tillet seats with the door cards and central switch housings all being constructed of the super-light and glorious looking weave.
The dash itself has been flocked and houses a DTA digital-dash whilst Atech harnesses keep Gerard firmly in place and a Tilton floor mounted peddle box has been installed. The electrics were looked after by Ronald Montgomery.
It has to be said, after seeing the car from afar on its first event, and up-close since then in the making of this feature, it truly is nothing short of a masterpiece, almost too immaculate for its intended use, but what good would it be sitting in the showroom I guess.
Words & Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY
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