*Four new MINIs and one old up top at Banba's Crown.
"Have a Guinness or two for me."
Every time a friend or coworker learned I was off to Ireland to drive a MINI Cooper S Works in a local rally, their second sentence always involved imbibing stout (The first usually contained such words as "bitch" and "how do you rate."). In order for me to honor each and every request to lift a pint, I would have needed to start drinking on the flight over. Not a good idea, since this was to be my first experience driving a right-hand car on the left-hand side of the road.
Ah yes, driving on the other side of the road. It's not something I'd recommend doing when jetlagged, let alone soused. And we were not just driving but were rallying on the fifth running of the Irish Mini Owners Club's MTM adventure. MTM stands for Mizen Head to Malin Head, which are the most southern and northern points on the Emerald Isle. It was deemed an informal rally, but the driving was at all times spirited and, on occasion, flat-out insane. The rally began in Mizen on May 1, and we joined up with the club on May 2 at Killimer on the River Shannon.
There were six of us, four journalists and two PR reps from MINI USA. Five out of six of us arrived in Shannon at 8:00 in the bloody morning (Michael McHale, MINI's communications manager, was already there on holiday) after flying all night. Two of us (me included) had started from the West Coast. Three MINIs were waiting for us, a MINI One, a MINI Cooper and the car we'd journeyed all this way to experience, a MINI Cooper S Works. By 9:30, we were loaded up and off to join the rally group. The two MINI guys got the MINI One, my co-driver, Brian Robinson of Motorweek, and I got the MINI Cooper, and the two other journalists got the MINI Cooper S Works, which turned out to be a very good thing.
*Ballyvaghan: This Mini Moke has run in the MTM every year, rain or shine.
Why? Well, because of "The Incident." Not even an hour had passed after meeting up with rally organizer and leader Gerard O'Leary in Killimer, when "The Incident" occurred. I was driving, of course-despite only getting an hour or so of sleep in the previous 24 hours and being a newbie to driving on the wrong side of the road-and I was punchy as hell. My main fear was oncoming traffic; I constantly reminded myself that my side of the road was the left side. Then it happened. In the aptly named town of Kilrush, I clipped (my preferred action verb) a parked car-on my side of the road!
*The only way to tell this is the MINI Cooper S Works is the rear badging.
Oh, shit. In the 12 years I've been a motor journo, I'd never hit another car (or anything else). I felt as though I'd run over my grandmother's cat or, worse yet, my grandmother. Fortunately, the damage was minimal to the parked car, and the MINI Cooper was still driveable: no smashed headlight, just a basketball-sized dent in the left front fender. My ego, however, had been thoroughly crushed. The MINI guys and my co-driver were great, and "The Incident" was placed in its proper perspective: a perpetual teasing point for the rest of my career.