Ford entered the 'baby car' market with the new Fiesta in 1976

When Ford launched the new Fiesta in 1976, it signalled the company’s entry into the burgeoning ‘baby car’ or ‘supermini’ market.

Ford entered the 'baby car' market with the new Fiesta in 1976

Last year, the baby reached its milestone 40th birthday and is still going strong, having racked up sales of more than 16 million, making it one of the best-selling Ford models ever.

A seventh generation Fiesta is currently in production, billed as bigger, roomier, safer, more efficient, and more upmarket.

Despite its size, the Fiesta has also gained a reputation as one of the finest rally cars on the circuit.

Daragh O’Riordan, of Scarriff, near Midleton, in Co Cork, is a rally driver who has become a serial winner thanks to his trusty 2013 Ford Fiesta WRC.

He was the first Cork driver to win his home event, the Cork 20, in 25 years, and has been the fastest rally driver at the Bantry-based Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally for five years in a row.

“My car, which was built by M Sport, was the first of the new type generation of Fords,” explains Daragh. “I brought it into Ireland from the UK. I changed then from driving a car with a two litre engine to a car with a 1600 engine.

“The Ford 1600 engine was as fast as the two litre engine. Its performance was second to none. The Ford is one great car.”

“I drove a Subaru once, but nothing compares to the Ford for durability, reliance and capability. Lots of people I know who drove Subarus changed to Ford."

Read more: The end of the Ford production line was the end of an era for Cork

Daragh has always loved the make.

“Growing up, Fords were my favourite cars,” he says. “Even for road cars.”

His Ford Fiesta WRC is a high-spec 1600 turbo-charged four-wheel drive, ideal for handling corners and rough terrain in rallies.

“The top speed is in and around 118mph at the Fastnet Rally and similar rallies,” says Daragh, who is fortunate that his day job at Scarriff Plant Hire lends itself to the engine maintenance of heavy vehicles.

“The Ford rarely gives trouble,” he says.

"It is important to look after the car and keep it in tune and well maintained.

"Starting off, the sport can be expensive. It helps if you can service the car yourself. You need to put in a lot of time.”

Daragh knows that to be a successful rally driver, you must be a mechanic, a Tarmac ace, a navigation expert, and an endurance racer, all at the same time.

“I started racing at 17,” he says. “It was my thing and it was always my favourite hobby.

“My very first rally was in West Cork, winning there is always special.

“I won the Fastnet five times and the Cork 20 four times.”

He must be pretty dedicated?

“Yes, although my Ford WRC is parked up right now. It’s in the garage getting ready to be painted. The car has had a couple of tips; nothing serious. It’s easy to get parts for Fords and I can fix it up myself ready to get going for the next rally.”

He is taking things at a slower pace until August when he walks down the aisle with his fiancé, Michelle.

“I met her at a rally,” he says with a smile.

For rally enthusiasts, the sport is a glorious thing.

Drivers run against the clock, one car at a time, on dirt, on pavement and anything in between. They race in all weathers, all year round.

“Rally driving is both mentally and physically challenging,” says Daragh. “Keeping fit for the sport is key.”

A wing-man is important too.

“I had the same navigator for six years,” says Darragh. “My co-pilot, Derry man, Tony McDaid, and I got very used to each other.

“We do a recce of the course the day before and Tony does the pace notes, which are a spoken code that he narrates during the race.

“In a rally, covering more than 100 miles of road, you can drive without seeing the same turn twice. The navigator lets the driver know about blind corners and how fast he can go. Drivers usually have the same guy with them so that they are used to each other.”

How many speed merchants are typically in the race?

“In the class 8 category, there are usually 10 competitors,” says Daragh.

He obviously loves the exertion of the speed of the chase.

“It is pretty exhilarating,” he says.

Nothing beats coming first.

“It’s pretty great all right,” says Daragh, 35, adding: “I’ve had a few minor crashes. But no major hitches.”

Interview: Chris Dunne

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