In the 2014 season I raced in Formula Ford 1600 class in my MCP run 2000 Van Diemen. Before the season started we sat down and discussed what was the best option for the forthcoming 2014 season, we came to the conclusion that the new Champion of Mondello series would be a great option for us as it had the backing from Mondello Park, Martin Birrane the circuit owner and it was great to have Mondello.tv (seeit live) at the races as it was great for sponsors to get exposure to over 10,000 views throughout the day all over the world.
As we came into the season we did a days testing around the Mondello circuit. We didn’t have a lot of pre season testing, certainly less tham most, so we were on the back foot almost straight away but I was determined to show everyone what I was made of.
In the first weekend of the championship in March, it was a dull wet weekend. Morgan Dempsey Jnr, the team boss was on a plane home from the UK at this point and his brother Wesley and his father Morgan Dempsey were running the car all day Saturday for testing and Sunday and Morgan would be back in time for race one.
During the damp qualifying I was putting in fast times and was on pole with a drying track but just when I was coming around for another fast lap I went off the track at turn four got stuck and Niall Murray took pole and I finished second.
When the race got under way Murray and I got a similar start and I slotted in behind him and stayed with him until he made a mistake going through Irish Ferries corner and I took the lead. I stayed in the lead for a lap or two when Noel Dunne went up the inside into Dunlop corner and I tired to do a double back but I caught his
back wheel and went up and over him, I had to jump out and pull the car off him, that was the end f my first race of 2014. The team boss arrived back on the scene and we got cracking on putting a new wishbone on it and tracked it and it was ready for race two.
I started well from fourth on the grid and was up to second by the first corner behind Stephen Daly but I got caught out off line on a piece of damp track coming through Irish Ferries as did Murray in race one and I dropped back to fourth till the finish.
With the next race in Mondello not for ten weeks and most other teams would be out before it we decided it would be best to venture up to Kirkistown two weeks before the Mondello round.
It was well worth the trip up to Northern Ireland and I had a good two races finishing fifth and sixth respectively
Two weeks later on from Kirkistown we were in Mondello for the Vivian Daly Formula Ford Abrakebabra Festival the first race in a long time in Ireland with prize money in it. I had a good feeling about this weekend my head was in the right place and I was out two weeks previous so I was match fit!
Before the Vivian Daly memorial race on the Sunday we had two Champion of Mondello races to come on the Saturday. Race one got underway and initially I didn’t get a great start but after a stranded car on the circuit the safety car was released but then the race was red flagged and restarted from our original grid position. With the restart underway I got a better start and was now up to 3rd position from 7th and held it till the end with lots of wheel banging in front. (The wheel banging promoted me to 2nd with Niall Murray penalised with a five second penalty.) Race two was a bit of a lonely race for me staying in 6th position for the whole race but I still felt had good pace but just got held up a little at the start of the race.
For Sunday the Abrakebabra Formula Ford Festival on Sunday was going to be interesting with the heats being
pulled from a hat for a random grid position! My name was pulled out in 4th for the first heat which meant I’d be 4th from last for the second heat.
As we left paddock assembly for the first heat the heavens opened and it turned from a dry race to a wet one very quickly! I didn’t get a brilliant start- a bit too much wheelspin- but stayed fourth for the first lap but with cars spinning off the track, and me getting hit on the side by an over enthusiastic move by Daly I still managed to make it to second place and break away from the group behind. I tried to chase down O’Brien in the lead but going into the first corner I locked a wheel and even though I tried my best to try and pump the brake pedal, it was of no use and off I went, sliding into the gravel. Luckily, I managed to get back out and continue unlike some of the other drivers. I had good pace all race but just kept locking a wheel. This meant I slid off the road twice putting me to back of the pack and gave me plenty of work for myself before I finally finished heat one in 6th position.
Heat two saw me fourth from last (13th) and I knew I had lots of work to do. I got the head down from the off and squeezed my way through the traffic at turn one and by the end of the first lap I was up to 7th. By lap two I was battling Rabbitt for 5th and by lap three I was in 3rd place, holding it till the end which wasn’t easy with oil being spread on the track with two laps to go. At that stage, with a big gap behind I knew I just had to bring the MCP Van Diemen home safe in third and I’d be in a good position for the final!
And a good position it was, I was fourth on the grid with Murray third, Kevin O’Hara second and Rob Barrable on pole.
The lights went out Murray and I were neck to neck but when I pulled second gear, I nudged ahead into the first corner and slotted into third position. Murray and I had a good battle for a bit of the race and he got ahead for one lap but I was quick to take it back with some wheel to wheel action. I had the pace of Barrable and O’Hara and I was on it for the whole race, not giving a inch crossing the line in third was a great achievement!
Next after the Formula Ford Festival was the Formula Vee Festival and Motorsport.ie boss Leo Nulty asked if I would be interested in racing his Formula Sheane in which Barry Rabbit won the Leinster Trophy the previous year. I hadn’t raced a Sheane in about two years so it was good to get back into a car built only a few kilometers from my house. It was a bit of a late decision but we were on the grid for the race on Saturday. Dad and myself ran the car our self that weekend so it was a big learning curve. A late call Friday evening to put new tyres on for the two races was made and a little rush on Saturday morning before qualifying and we were back in seventh on the grid which wasn’t particularly fantastic but I was confident I would make a good start and make up some places.
Race one came around and I made a good start and was up to third place but after some contact I didn’t finish the race and neither did the other driver which was unfortunate.
Race two was a little better. I started seventh again but was up to second by the first corner and was putting class regular Kevin Sheane under pressure and by the first flying lap I was up to first at the first corner. I held off Sheane from a full race attack even after a safety car to take the win! It was great to win the race after my Dad and myself ran the car
August 10th was the next FF1600 race meeting for me. I qualified 4th for race one and got a good start fought hard against Jake Byrne into the first corner and managed to move up to third place. I was on Murray’s gearbox but I knew Jake was on a charge from behind so I had to go into defensive mode which dropped me off Murray which led to myself and Byrne having a good battle for ¾ of the race. I managed to hold him off and stay in third till the line.
The rain had arrived after race one and for race two I was fourth on the grid once again and I made a great start and slotted up alongside Murray who started second. I was putting pressure on Stephen Daly on the first lap when both of us dropped a wheel off on the slippy wet line through Irish Ferries corner. I stayed on Daly for three laps when I went off and dropped back into the clutches of Murray. I held Murray off from for nearly the whole race until he went up the inside into Dunlop corner but i still finished third in the race which I was very happy with considering the conditions
Now we’re onto the final round of the Champion Of Mondello series and then the Leinster Trophy on the following day. After qualifying I was in fifth on the grid.
(L-R Niall Murray, Stephen Daly Arón Smith and myself )
Race one I moved into fourth place till the finish and started fifth for race two finish third at the line.
Coming into the Leinster Trophy weekend I was confident with how I could get one with some found pace from some teams out of nowhere it was going to be a challenging weekend.
It was very close all weekend with times and qualifying was very close once again with the top nine driver separated by only nine tenths of a second. I put in a time of 1.49.296 which left me in fifth position on the grid.
As we left the assembly are we exit the track through the side gate at paddock assembly and made our way up to Dunlop corner to sit on the grid for pre race interviews. We got underway quite quickly and re-formed on the grid after our warm up lap. With the light out we all left the grid I got a good start and moved up the pack well and up ahead approaching turn one I could see a stricken car in the gravel and the race was red flagged by the end of the first lap and we had to come back to our original positions. It turned out to be Murray who was in the gravel after coming together with Stephen Daly through the first corner after trying to go around the outside of him. Murray was aloudback on the grid and we got back underwat after sitting on the grid for thirty minutes not knowing what was going on. This time on the restart I go boxed in and couldn’t get up any further. I was stuck behind Jonny McMullan for most of the race until going into Tarzan one I locked up the rear wheels and spun off but rejoined the race not losing my position to finish fifth in the race.
I was a little disappointed with this one as I knew I had the pace to be on the podium but was just unfortunate to get boxed in on the restart.
I’d like to thanks Nissan Ireland for my Nissan Juke and all the support they have given over the past two seasons, BOSS Security for their support this season,WIcklow Tyre Services and Morgan Dempsey and all the MCP team for their help support and knowledge over the season.
I’ll keep everyone posted on my plans for 2015 very shortly and make another blog out of it.