*The rally Minis covered nearly every year of production.
Our rally group of two was now a tad behind the others, so we ended up altering the proscribed course a bit. We motored quickly along the Irish west coast to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher (pronounced "more"), which stretch for 5 miles and feature sheer drop offs of 700 ft and such forceful winds that even the most acrophilic person would have second thoughts about approaching the edge. I crept as close as the photo shows. As we headed back to our MINIs, stalwart and brave co-driver Brian tossed me the key; it was my turn to drive again. I looked at him as though he'd lost his mind, then got in behind the wheel. I felt a bit more alert, as "The Incident" and an infusion of caffeine seemed to have shocked my system into a state of hyper-awareness; I just hoped it would see me through to our first stop for the night in Westport.
At this point came our first route deviation: Instead of hugging the coast we headed across The Burren, a karst limestone region of approximately 300 sq km that lies in the northwest corner of County Clare. It is a rugged countryside that looks nothing like the pictures of rolling green hills one always sees of Ireland; it is also starkly beautiful. Our short cut brought us to the small village of Ballyvaghan where we briefly caught up with the 70-plus-strong rally group on its way to Galway Bay and points beyond. It was here that we also learned the two journalists in the Cooper S Works car had a minor incident of their own. A large rock and a front tire had an explosive encounter, flattening the tire. Fortunately, the stock runflat really did run while flat. According to the drivers, the only noticeable indication of an airless tire was the warning light on the dash display.
*The new MINI looks huge, even when compared to the Mini pickup.
From Ballyvaghan, we circumnavigated Galway Bay and headed up through Connemara (considered one of the last unspoiled areas of Ireland and which Oscar Wilde called "a savage beauty"), Joyces Country (a mountainous region woven with rivers) to Westport and the Westport Woods Hotel, County Mayo. Our group of three had driven 217.20 miles on our first day-actually, the MINI Cooper's mileage was a wee bit less due to our catch-up short cuts. The Irish Mini Owners Club had covered 308.1 miles on this, their second day (day one for them was a short 38 miles from Mizen Head to Glengarriff). The weather had been fantastic: sunny, clear and mild; the roads were perfect for rallying: narrow, twisty and, after Kilrush at least, practically deserted; and all 70 Minis (and MINIs) had made it to the overnight checkpoint.
The MINI Cooper was deemed an excellent road rally car, nimble and relatively quick-the 115 bhp and 110 lb-ft of torque of the 1.6-liter engine is more entertaining than you would expect it to be when the engine is kept at its 4500-rpm sweet spot. The seating and ride quality were quite comfortable, allowing us to drive for many miles without adding to our fatigue. As we cruised into the hotel, all we really wanted to do was sleep. But, this being Ireland and the rallyists being Irish, the partying was just starting and would continue on well past the time I staggered with exhaustion to my room. I slept like the dead.