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Martin taking it to the Max at Circuit of Ireland

It was not long off the boat from France and still carried the identity decals of the Le Touquet Rally. But in 10 days time Martin McCormack’s little Citroen C2R2 Max will be all dressed up and ready for the UTV Drive Circuit of Ireland.

It had a tough time in France, suffering an electronic glitch and then differential failure which required a hasty gearbox change, but McCormack still battled his way to second place in the French C2R2 Cup series.

The British junior champion from Draperstown beat all the French contenders and lost out only to the experienced Belgian Thierry Neuville.

Why France when there are two rewarding Citroen competitions closer to home?

McCormack has won both the Irish and UK Cup series in the past two years and wanted not just a fresh challenge but to broaden his experience. And where better than in Citroen’s home territory.

“I’d been to France for a couple of rallies last year and saw for myself the level of competition,” explains the 24-year-old who is a member of Team UK’s elite young driver squad.

“It would have been easier to stay at home where the Citroen prize fund is very good but it would have meant doing the same rallies over again and facing the same people again.

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“Don’t get me wrong, the competition in Ireland and the UK is very good but I wanted to do something new and to push myself, to challenge myself.

“And it is very different. My inexperience showed at one point at the weekend when I went out in the rain on the kind of intermediate tyres I would use in the wet here. Big mistake. It was like driving on soap.”

But McCormack survived and came home with precious second placed points.

And it isn’t hard to see why after spending some time squeezed in alongside him in the little French flyer, a raucous buzz-box of a car which literally dances down the road.

He’d brought it straight from France to a pre-Circuit “Keep the race in its place” road safety campaign day at the Maze racecourse where a demonstration stage had been laid out around the access roads which are used by the emergency services during race days. Ideal for rallying they were too.

Just 1600cc and only front-wheel-drive, a C2R2 in McCormack’s hands is quite capable of punching way into the top 10 on most major British rallies.

The technique, he says, is simple — accelerator pedal flat to the floor almost all the time, change gear with the sequential box when the dashboard light flashes — at 8,000 revs — and, when you have to, brake with your left foot.

“With a car like this you can’t afford to let it drop out of the rev band; you have to be on the power all the time, keeping the momentum up to maximise the speed — and, of course, if you lift off it loses adhesion and will fly off the road,” McCormack said.

Just what you need to know when it is bucking and bouncing close to 100mph down a narrow strip of tarmac before he tosses it into the next corner, the engine screaming and the tyres desperately scrabbling for grip.

But McCormack makes it look and feel effortless. He’s completely in control, radiating re-assurance as only naturally-gifted drivers can do.

“Enjoy that?” he asks afterwards with a cheeky grin.

Enjoy is perhaps not the most appropriate word but it was an insight into the changing face of rallying.

The big supercars are fading out, killed off by changing rules and the recession, and Citroen are one of a number of companies offering affordable alternatives.

And just as the cars are changing so are the drivers with McCormack one of the faces of the future.

He’s No.19 on the Circuit of Ireland next week — watch out for him taking the aptly branded Re-Bound C2R2 to the max.

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