A couple of years ago, I was asked to create a Shane Lynch interview for one of the Japanese performance magazines. At the time, his big passion was drifting a Nissan Skyline in the British championship. He was also very much in demand for TV work, Boyzone appearances and other professional commitments, so our initial time slot was just a few minutes. However, get him talking about cars, driving and motorsport and he visibly relaxes, enjoying his time away from the cameras. Here’s the full interview based upon our short chat, coupled with a nod and a wink from Shane and we jump into his car for some more time talking cars…
I’ve been listening to Rock Star by Nickelback on my iPod recently, so when I’m asked to meet up with Shane Lynch of Boyzone to talk about his latest motorsport craze of drifting, the lyrics spring to mind “I want a big black jet with a bedroom in it… and a bathroom I can play baseball in…I wanna be a rock star.” So as I head over to the drift track, I’m keen to see what this rock star life is all about.
Shane greets me with a firm handshake and a “Great to meet you, mate” in that cool sounding, soft Irish accent. Combine that with his twinkly blue eyes, square jaw with five o’clock shadow and his height (he’s taller than you think) and you can see why he’s a hit with the ladies and made for the job of boy-band pin up. At eleven PM last night he finished recording a TV show and drove North before grabbing a few hours in a hotel bed and heading to the track.
But there’s no bodyguards, groupies or PR people hustling around him and the champagne is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we’re standing in a cold race track paddock at Teesside Autodrome, Shane’s got a Styrofoam cup of steaming coffee in his hand and his empty stomach is just wondering where the bacon buttie van is. People walk by with a nod and “Mornin’, mate…” There’s no fifty foot long motorhome with peeled grapes to hand, so instead we jump into his Japspeed prepared Nissan R34 Skyline drift car for a chat.
So how did you get into drifting?
“A couple of years ago, I saw it on television, y’know, Fast and Furious, Tokyo Drift and thought it was amazing to watch but didn’t think it was real. Then I was invited to a drift test day and got into a car with a boy and he blew my mind. That was it, I was instantly grabbed.”
But you’re not new to motorsport though, are you?
“No, I’ve been racing since 1998 and I’ve done British GT’s, Porsche cup, all sorts. Pretty much everything from a Fiesta to a Porsche 997 GT3-RS, but drifting is a totally different thing. When I was around 17, one of my first cars was a Toyota AE86 Corolla, so they have a lot of nostagia for me. I had a go in one of those and while I could drift a car in a turn, I couldn’t ‘transfer’ and change direction without spinning out, so I knew I had a lot to learn. I had the bug and wouldn’t leave it alone, so when Paul from Japspeed said ‘I’ve got a car for you, come and drift the Japspeed Skyline’ last year, I was very grateful. We’ve developed the car a lot from last year and it’s feeling good now”
Just to bring you up to speed if you’re not familiar, ‘drifting’ is a form of motorsport not judged against the stopwatch, instead competitors display their skills and car control in front of a large crowd and panel of judges, being awarded points for style, the size of the oversteer slide, the ability of formate on another car and hold station and a host of other factors.
So if they don’t race against each other, how do you develop a drift car?
“We’ve got more power this year and a lot less weight. We’ve got the steering arms lengthened now too. Paul has been really kind to me sorting out the car. One thing about drift cars that I was wrong about is they they actually need a lot of grip. I thought it was all about sliding. But when you get in amongst the faster cars, they’re pulling away and you wonder why. It’s because they had less pressure in the tyres and have grip. But of course to have grip, you also need a lot of horsepower to break traction and spin the wheels up when you need to….”
[quote]I don’t have the time to commit to a full race programme and I needed to have fun in my driving, drifting has given me that back[/quote]
Why the Nissan Skyline?
“It’s not the easiest car to drift. It’s a bit long and heavy and they don’t change direction too quickly. You’ve kind of waiting for it to come round sometimes. It means you have to learn the car a little bit more, but when you get it right, it’s great and of course it gives really good power.”
What do you think of going out in front of judges instead of against the clock?
“I love the thrill of it. Compared to racing, it can be anyone’s game. Let’s face it, it’s a show off’s sport and an entertainment sport. If you’re that way inclined, you can go out there and perform. At the end, you don’t know if you’ve done enough. You cross the line and think ‘Have I done it…..?’ You’re waiting on the crowd and the judges to see if you’re heading back to the pits, or round again to line up for the top eight…. I’ve only made the top eight once, but regardless, after the whole day, I go home smiling”
So you’re enjoying it?
“I’ve had a new lease of life in motorsport. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t getting bored with it, but I thought it was getting too serious. I don’t have the time to commit to a full race programme and I needed to have fun in my driving, drifting has given me that back”
Second practice is about to start, so it’s time for Shane to make a move. I go to jump out of the Skyline, but he says, “Would you like to have a run in the car?” Shame not to.. I reach outside to where my Canon 1DS was resting on the ground and grab a Speedlight. Shane’s hit the start button, so no time for Pocket Wizard triggers, I clip it to the hotshoe and wait for the Ready LED.
A helmet is found and we head out into the line. Flag waved, the Skyline’s burbling exhaust turns to a wooosh and the turbo boost builds. The practise / qualifying track at Teesside Autodrome is very tight and the Skyline feels big and wide, but Shane’s precise inputs show his racing history. No big dramatics, just sharp, precise inputs with hands and feet, choosing the moment to transfer from lock to lock as we spend most of the lap looking out of the side windows, the Nissan Skyline revs soaring, tyres smoking all around the lap, before queueing up to go again with a haze of whiffy tyre smoke filling the cabin.
Shane’s much more relaxed now, we chat about all sorts. Cars, motorsport, his life in the public eye and his hopes for this coming season as we queue in between runs before he drops the clutch for another run, the big Skyline surging forward with a great spread of torque, more side window gazing as Shane keeps the thing sliding spectacularly sideways, turbo on-boost with a constant compromise between steering lock, throttle and the rev limiter insisting on a grab for third gear to keep both the wheels and turbo spinning. After a few more runs, we pull off, Turbo burbling as it cools on that typical urgent idle of a remapped turbo engine.
“I’m really looking forward to today, it’s going to be great.” Another big smile from Shane and a firm shake of the hand before he strides off to find that bacon buttie he needed.
So that’s Shane Lynch for you. Rock star? To many people, yes. But to me, not a star with a big black jet, just a great bloke looking for the brown sauce and enjoying his motorsport. Top bloke.