AS A result of his father’s involvement in cycling, Glounthaune’s Luke McCarthy grew up with a competitive nature whether it was on two or four wheels.
Even now, he still loves the adrenalin rush of competing in a sport that has changed so much since he made his debut on the West Cork Rally in 1980 where he was co-driven by Joe Walsh.
His father, Karl was a proficient cyclist and represented Ireland in road races such as Tour of Britain in the 1950s and world championships and when his competition days were over he was a key member in the administrative side of Irish cycling.
Understandably, it was the family sport as Luke explains, “Yes, along with my other two brothers we (their sister watched) all took it up through our school years.”
Luke’s interest in things mechanical saw him serve his time as an apprentice fitter with Progress Engineering in White’s Cross and it was there that he became interested in rallying.
“Yes, there were people there that were interested in cars and motorsport and it wasn’t long before I joined the Munster Motor Cycle and Car Club and the Cork Motor Club.”
From pedalling the highways and byways, it was pedal to the metal and even Karl took an interest and going along to events.
Luke has taken a few sabbaticals from motorsport, mostly after he married Eileen and subsequently when their daughters Sinead and Niamh became involved in equestrian sport. But even then, chats at events with other parents or more specifically other fathers, always seemed to revolve around rallying.
Companies or products are synonymous with many drivers and in Luke’s case it was Biocel, a company founded in July 1966 by his father Dr Karl McCarthy just weeks after he was elected and admitted as a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry.
After a few years with other companies, Luke joined the family business, now MD and following his father’s unique vision, Biocel has become one of Ireland’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of high quality, cost-effective and specialist chemical formulations to industry.
Biocel develop biochemical and chemical process aids and additives for a variety of Irish industries. Downtime remains important and rallying is Luke’s ideal avenue especially as his daughters are, so to speak “are now out the gap.”
After a few forays in a Hillman Imp and other cars, it wasn’t until the 1986 season that Luke really came to prominence behind the wheel of a Vauxhall Chevette HSR (an ex-Mike Dunnion car) finishing third overall on the Raven’s Rock Rally where he was seeded at No. 18. Aside from stage rallying, Luke and navigator James O’Brien competed in the National Navigation Championship and won the series in 1989/1990.
In late 1990 the Chevette made way for an Opel Manta 400 (an ex-AJ Keating/Johnny McGirr car) and his first major rally win came the following season on the Monaghan Rally as he contested the Anglo Irish Bankcorp National Rally Championship, a series won by Donie Keating, the brother of the great Tipperary hurler Babs, Luke, who was co-driven by Dominic Quinlan, finished third.
As rallying continued to evolve, the next car with the Biocel livery was an ex-works/Kenny McKinstry Group A Sierra (GBZ 3644) that eventually gave way to four-wheel drive Sierra Cosworth (previously driven by the late Enda Nolan and Kanturk’s Liam O’Callaghan) with Clareman David Hogan as his co-driver, that partnership came about as David had co-driven for Carrigtohill’s John McCarthy. Luke subsequently sold that car to Donal O’Donovan.
Although reliability was a commodity that was in scarce supply, Luke never became disillusioned with rallying, at the time and albeit a little less nowadays, that’s the nature of the sport.
The sabbatical and equestrian involvement meant that Luke didn’t really return to rallying until 2012 and while it was in the Historic category, the competitive element remained at the forefront in a splendid looking Porsche 911. His most recent break was from 2016 until early this year and that facilitated the building of an FIA specification Ford Escort RS1800.
Not surprisingly, the great Billy Coleman is one of his idols. “Oh yes, I can remember going to rallies and watching Billy, I also watched Ari Vatanen.
“Around the time of Rally Ireland it was great to see some of the top drivers like Sebastien Loeb, Marcus Gronholm and Dani Sordo coming over here to compete.
“Now, it is also great to see the likes of Craig Breen doing what he is doing at World level and of course one couldn’t forget what the late Frank Meagher did as well.”
Rallying has changed greatly since he started out some 40 years ago and Luke has concerns. “The Modified category is a concern for sure, the speeds need to come down and it must be controlled.
“I really think that, as far as possible, we need to be running homologated cars as approved by the FIA (The World governing body for motorsport) and I would see Motorsport Ireland as the custodians of motorsport here and we (Irish motorsport) shouldn’t be going off doing our own thing.”
While rallying is Luke’s way of chilling out from his position as MD of Biocel, it also profiles the company and has led to securing some work contracts. With an eye on the future, he added. “Someday, I would like to drive an R5 car, as a car I think they are a super package.
“No matter what you have, you go out to be competitive and that is what it’s all about.”
Appears those days on the bike have served him well as the wheels keep turning.