The name McGimpsey is one that is engrained within clubman motorsport in Northern Ireland, and it looks set to remain at the top end of the time sheets for many years to come as Ryan McGimpsey becomes Northern Ireland Hillclimb Champion for the first time.

The championship didn’t come easy, and heading into the penultimate round, Ryan’s brother, Ricky, had every chance to take the crown from his younger sibling after a tit for tat battle all year on some of our provinces finest closed public roads.

Either way, we knew the trophy was going to end up in Newtownards for the first time since McGimpsey Snr. won the NI Hillclimb championship back in 1986, just a couple of years before our newly crowned champ was born.

This brings me to two very fascinating facts.

Firstly, that in 1986, Robert McGimpsey became the first driver to win both the Irish and Northern Irish championships in the same season, a feat which some research suggests has not since been repeated. And secondly, the Jedi MkI which Ryan drove to overall honours this year, dates from the same decade!

I reported on these pages, within the last year or two, that Ryan was a future champion if he was to commit to a full season. I am delighted that he brought the goods this year to prove himself in a highly competitive championship, at the same time as proving my statement to be correct.

There are clubmen, and then there are the McGimpsey’s.

Robert, who’s in his 70’s and is still a competitive regular, has been around the sport all his life and has never driven anything normal or off-the-shelf in the twenty years that I have been a correspondent. Ricky, who’s a couple of years younger than me, started as a competitor the second he was the age to meet the governing bodies regulations and has, on a few occasions, been the bridesmaid of this championship.

It was no different for 35-year-old Ryan, who started auto testing in an Orange Mini when he was just 14 years of age. Rules at the time, and still to this day state that a responsible adult must accompany young drivers during these events. And with a shortage of responsible adults around the paddock, Robert had to act his age and be a passenger during his son’s early career.

If it can’t be home-built from scratch, heavily modified in-house, or have some sort of obscure – usually forced induction – engine shoehorned into it, then the McGimpsey family simply have zero interest in it!

Arriving at the family home in Newtownards, I was presented with a workshop that was all I hoped it would be. A fully functional, chaotic yet private, light engineering garage that has provided the three R’s with hours of tinkering, cutting, welding, re-wiring, striping, re-building, head-scratching, blood, sweat and no doubt tears for many years.

So how do you become a champion driver in an old car?

“When I was 16, I was then allowed to do the sprints and hills.” explains Ryan. “That was in the Mini that I had been using for auto testing, which was 1293cc. It had a set of cams in it, and it went well.

“Ricky then had the blue one [Mini], the supercharged one, so I got a steer in that and soon after, me and Ricky decided to buy a Dutton kit car with a Rover V8 engine in it. That car was good steam, we ended up doing a few hills in it when I was about 17 or 18 and then I took a step back from motorsport.”

General life and some Rugby got in the way for the next decade, but around six years ago, when Ryan was out for dinner with his dad, Robert mentioned he was thinking about buying a Mygale [SF97T]. This lit the touch paper for Ryan who immediately stated he would go halfer’s on the latest purchase to the McGimpsey stable. And the rest, as they say, is history.

“We ironed out a lot of problems and developed this car until the Jedi appeared as a rolling chassis in Bristol in January 2019. These cars were made for a 600cc bike engine, and there was a lot more work than I naively thought there was going to be to get a proper sized engine fitted.

“The car was built in 1989 so there are a number of things that Jedi have developed over the years, and as this car had sat for maybe 10 or 15 years, it needed a lot of work to bring it up to date making it a better and more reliable chassis.”

As mentioned earlier, shoehorning is the done thing at McGimpsey HQ, and so a Suzuki Hayabusa engine was made to fit in an area built to house an engine less than half its capacity. Croft Hillclimb in April 2019 was the debut for this new package, which is a serious turn around for a rebuild, never mind the vast works that Ryan carried out prior to this event.

“I think I got second in class that day behind George Stevenson in his Jedi. So, it all really started from there. Originally, I fitted a standard 1300cc engine, but two years ago that engine got swapped out for 1363cc autograss engine that’s equipped with 83mm pistons for the extra capacity and bit more go.

“By far the biggest development was the suspension. I was speaking to Patrick at Quantum and he got me sorted with a set of shocks for it and that just transformed the handling. That really has been the biggest step forward as I struggled with spring rates and I was going round the houses trying to get a happy medium between sprints and hills, as obviously the setups are quite different.”

This Jedi MkI runs a standard Suzuki Hayabusa ECU with a power commander, which allows the dialling-in of more fuel which it copes with thanks to the bigger cc. Keeping it simple, Ryan has avoided adding too many electrical gubbins that could essentially go wrong.

With astronomically more power than the car was ever designed to cope with, Ryan upgraded the rear brakes from Minifin drums to Willwood callipers and discs, which involved Ryan modifying the rear uprights himself to make them fit. The original AP Racing front braking system has been retained and overhauled.

Due to the age of the Jedi, crossply tyres are required rather than radial, so Avon has always been the go-to tyre for the job. Ryan treats this little car like Frank Kelly treats his Escort MkII, and thankfully these tyres are forgiving and suit an eleven-tenths, flamboyant driving style.

When it comes to recommissioning the chassis itself, “There’s a lengthy enough list!” states a laughing McGimpsy. “The roll hoop wasn’t right. It was too thin for modern day regulations. So, after getting somebody to bend a new roll hoop, Dad braised it on.

“I then had to cut the side chassis rail; you can see the dogleg in it to come out around the engine because obviously it is a lot bigger. Most people run Suzuki one-litre engine’s, which seem to fit OK, but with me running the bigger engine I had to modify the chassis around it.

“All of the engine mounts and stuff then had to be built from scratch to pick up on the different bolt holes on the engine which was all done by us. We remade the front lower wishbones, putting a dogleg in them to allow for extra steering lock.

“And then, after breaking a few chains, we realised the chassis was bending around the back where the diff is mounted, which was causing the chain to stretch to the point that it broke a few. So, I had to then modify this and add angle iron to stiffen it up and keep the diff in place due to the extra torque.”

Ryan fabricated his own wings for the front of the Jedi, whilst modifying a rear wing to fit that he picked up, meaning the front and rear aero are now all carbon fibre. There is a substantial fibreglass diffuser that Ryan designed and made himself. Extra safety was added by fabricating some side bars that help keep the young driver protected, especially on our closed public roads.

In a car like this, your feet sit forward of the front axle, so a crash box was designed by Ryan and built from aluminium to protect him from frontal impact. Not just brothers and fierce competitors, but Ricky and Ryan are business partners at The Radiator Shop, Newtownards, and it was Ricky’s aluminium welding skills that were called upon during the fabrication of this piece of the puzzle.

Amazed at the level of skill an engineering knowledge required to customise a car like this, a car that is several generations behind many of its rivals within the championship, and to turn it into a giant killing championship winning car with Ryan at the helm, is nothing short of fascinating.

This year’s championship consisted of eight rounds, with two drop scores. And Ryan got off to a good start by picking up maximum points after taking a commanding win at the opening round at Croft. Ryan missed Craigantlet, which was round two, but made the most of bonus points available at Drumhorc by finishing the event third overall and bringing home points for second overall in the championship, behind Ricky.

More bonus points were available at Spamount, and it was a repeat of the previous event with Ricky bringing home maximum championship points and Ryan finishing second. It was then onto Cairncastle, a dauntingly fast stretch of road where Ryan brought home top points on day one by finishing second overall, and yet again maximum points on day two with a third overall finish.

Garron Point came in August and Ryan yet again took maximum points after finishing second overall, which put him one point clear of his brother, Ricky, with one round remaining. Things could have gone either way on the final round, but thankfully for Ryan, Knockagh was cancelled due to a lack of entries and the title was his.

By ONE point!

Having an abundance of Class 14 wins to his name on both the hills and sprints, Ryan drove his 325kg, 200bhp Jedi MkI beyond what the car was designed to be capable of to take this year’s ANICC Motorsport Supplies NI Hillclimb Championship.

“The only thing we can’t do, is, we can’t make tyres and we can’t make shock absorbers. But basically, everything else we can, or we will have a go at it.” a fitting closing line from Robert.

The McGimpsey’s ‘can-do’ attitude being firmly planted not only in their vehicle building, but also their driving, with a McGimpsey on the top two steps of the rostrum after a gruelling season swapping tenths.

Ryan recently purchased a new chassis, an Empire Evo, which is generations ahead of the Jedi, so watch this space next year when he gets to grips with this newer machinery. There could well be a Sprint title coming his way within the next few years.


Graham is a photojournalist and motoring writer with over 20 varied years of coverage from manufacturer press launches to international motorsport and motoring events throughout the world. Graham is a full member of the Guild of Motoring Writers and Ulster Motor Writers Association.