Every since I was young I’ve had an interest in motorsport. In our house Formula 1, WRC and Moto GP were always on the TV. My dad, Brendan Mc Bride often took my brother and I to Mondello park to watch the circuit racing. He told us all about how he wanted to buy himself a Formula Vee Racing car before we were born, with huge grids he always thought it was the most exciting clubman racing in Ireland. When I was 16 I had began looking into the regulations, licence process and at classified ads for racing cars for sale, however I didn’t follow my dream through at that stage.
This thought of racing Formula Vee never left my head though and at the end of 2013, I came across an article on the internet promoting “The Finol Star of Tomorrow” which was a competition to bring inexperienced drivers like myself into Irish motorsport and the paddock of Formula Vee- this brought my dream back to life. I called John Downey and asked questions about the prize and how to get started. He then put me on to Ivan Casey about cars for sale and he pointed me in the right direction and told me of numerous cars to suit my budget. I then applied to Motorsport Ireland for my race licence and headed off to Autosport in January 2014 to get myself suited and booted with all the safety gear. I met with John, Paul Heavey and Ken Elliott at the show and began to pick their brains about the sport. The following Sunday I drove to Athlone after seeing a classified ad for a Sheane Formula Vee race ready for sale. Very well presented car that had a huge amount of work put into it by its owner. We did a deal and I bought myself a race car.
The only race experience I ever had was the occasional go karting at stag parties with my mates So testing came up early in February and I was keen to get going so Myself, Brendan and good friend Aidan Norman loaded my van and trailer and headed off for what would be the first ever time I sat in a single seater racing car! The conditions that morning were awful. When I left the house, snow was falling but as I came closer to Mondello it turned to rain. When I arrived I met Christy and Stephen Morrin who kindly gave me advice and offered to let me follow him round to get my bearings for the first few laps. Not the ideal conditions for my first run but I suited up and got into the car and headed out. As the day unfolded track conditions improved and by the end of the day we had a dry track to get some times in.
A couple of weeks later the guys from Formula Vee and Mondello Park hosted a rookie day for all newcomers into the class. Myself and 10 other rookies joined the class and I arrived that morning for an induction into the sport showing us the procedures of race day, advice on racing lines, and also information on the workings of the car itself. We met Championship sponsors and then we had the track to ourselves for 2 hours of testing. Immediately I knew there was a lot of quick drivers running in the Finol Championship.
I had an issue in that afternoon test session and had a lock up in turn 1 which resulted in the wheel not moving and my car had to be dragged back into paddock. With no mechanical experience and not knowing much about the car I was amazed by the amount of guys around the paddock who came to us and tried fixing and sourcing parts for my calliper. Luckily I met a guy called Brendan Travers who had the parts I needed and met him that evening for them.
Being from Dundalk I was privileged enough to be introduced to Brian Hearty- a multiple Formula Vee Champion who offered to put a base setting on my car give me a full run-through on the workings of all components on the car and pointers on racing lines at each track I’d be racing on. Nothing fell on deaf ears that day and I went home with a much better mind set on how to improve my driving.
The first Championship round came up in April and after a very poor qualifying I found myself second last on the grid. In the B/C championship race I got a great start and found myself making up 3 places going into the first corner after that I settled in and began to make up ground. Coming into the final 3 laps of the race I found myself in a great battle with Ger Byrne a very experienced racer and after crossing the line and seeing the timer with only a few seconds left I knew it was the last lap and I needed to try make a move stick, so into turn 1 I decided to take the inside line and out braked Ger. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to keep him behind me but I pushed hard and defended him the whole way to the end. I crossed the line in 6th position and pulled
into Parc Ferme with adrenaline well and truly pumping. I met my dad Brendan and Christy Morrin who informed me that I had finished 3rd in the C ( Star of Tomorrow) Championship. A podium finish in my first race and then awarded fastest lap of the race! Both Brendan and I agreed we’re well and truly in the game! We were delighted with the result on my first ever race. The main Vee race started after lunch that day and again second last on the grid and from the get go I made up ground to 9th position and had a tough race battling the whole way to the last lap battling with Jack Byrne and Morgan Mc Court. We crossed the line 3 abreast. I was the “Highest Grid Mover” in that race and awarded another prize from VW Spares. We packed up and headed home with 3 prizes from my first day racing!
Bishopscourt came up next in May. Another new track but this time with only 30 minutes testing on Saturday morning. Brendan had the car ready to go and out I went, I immediately felt comfortable in the car and on this new circuit. Qualifying went well and I was 12th on the grid. With no B/C race it was to be a full grid, however the weather played an awful part on what was to be my first race in Northern Ireland when the heavens opened and within minutes there was a lot of standing water on the track we sat in the holding area for over 30 minutes when the race was finally about to begin. We lined up and waited for the lights. After the first corner visibility was very poor with the amount of standing water on the track and it wasn’t long before car began to spin out. Coming onto the back straight there was a lot of carnage and I began to weave between it and luckily I came out the other side. Coming onto the main straight I found myself in 4th position but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. The race understandably was red flagged. I then had a lot more confidence in myself in tricky conditions as this was my first wet race. With no experience as to race procedure in this case the drivers agreed to dismiss that race and instead run two races the following day and use the qualifying times from Saturday morning with our fastest lap from race one to be the qualifying time for the second race.
Race conditions improved and we raced on a dry track on what has to be said a very fast flowing track which I must admit I really enjoyed. In race two I had an incident with another car and destroyed my front nose cone which was later delivered back to me from the track team. Not knowing how to repair it I spoke to David
Sheane- the chassis builder who manufactured my car. I had never met David before and found him extremely helpful and he got into his truck and pulled out a new cone. I had told him I hadn’t enough cash to buy it and I’d get him to post it when I sent payment but he insisted I took it with me so I could get it painted and fitted to my car for the next round and pay him at the next meeting. I finished up 3rd in the C championship in both races. This then led us to back to Mondello and yet this time we would be on the full international loop again a new track and experience for me. This event was the Formula Ford festival. Conditions were good and the car was running well. I took advantage of the testing on the Friday and was able to better my times on each session while making minor adjustments t the car which give me more confidence going into qualifying. I qualified 6th in the B/C race and 12th overall. As soon as the B/C race began it started to rain and the track became very greasy. I got a good start and made up a place at turn 1 and there wasn’t half a second between the first 6 cars at the end on the lap. Going into turn 3 on lap two the 2 cars in front of me spun unfortunately taking me with them and I ended up losing the front nosecone and out on the grass. I eventually got back on track and was last. I had a lot of time to make up but it wasn’t long before I caught the pack. I new I had some suspension damage as the car wasn’t handling properly. Lap by lap I picked away at the grid till I came to the last corner. I had a massive oversteer slide but luckily I didn’t lose position and finished in 7th but more importantly, 4th in the all-important C championship. When I got the car back to the paddock I initially saw the front beam was bent and impossible to fix before the next race after lunch. So we got out the tracking bars and lined up the car up as best we could. The A race with the sun shining and a dry track. Not knowing how the car would handle I was a bit cautious going into the first corner so I didn’t cause a crash. After that I got into a rhythm and got used to my new found handling issues which I adapted to very quickly. Throughout the race I had great battles with Anthony Cross, Mark Elliott, Ger Byrne and Morgan McCourt. Myself and Anthony battled to the end and I finished just behind him in 8th position. Another eventful weekends racing but it was back to the workshop with another damaged nose cone and bent front beam. Luckily, my dad Brendan enjoys the whole buzz of racing and shares the same enthusiasm as me so in his spare time he does most of the preparation work on the car and the following evening he had the cone repaired ready for paint and we just had to sort the beam. Luckily for me, my sisters fiancé Frankie is an engineer and was able to cut, straighten and re-weld the beam so it was back to the shed to align it again. This time with the help of my brother David we got it sorted and all back together.
Two weeks later we loaded the van and headed for Kirkistown Race Track in Northern Ireland. Known as being the fastest race track in Ireland with the notorious first corner “Debtors Dip” which we take flat out. Being a rookie and another new track I turned to Brian Hearty for advice on braking points, position and gears for the chicane etc- I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. So myself, Dad and good friend Aidan loaded up the van and with the sun shining, packed BBQ and a few beers for afterwards and we headed testing on the Friday, this would be my first overnighter as racing is on Saturday in Kirkistown. With a full days testing done and plenty of track time I was getting use to the track although we were slightly underpowered for the long straights where the tow was crucial to holding on to position. With testing finished we stoked up the bbq and opened a few beers as usual, while we discussed tactics for the next day! Later that evening we went to the bar were ther was a band playing and the craic was good, meeting loads of the other drivers in all the other classes. Qualifying went well on Saturday morning and I was 8th in the B/C race. I got a good start and the time we got onto the back straight I was 5th and under the gearbox of Anthony Cross. However my lack of experience going into the final corner with tyres not fully up to temperature I ended up on the grass and dropping back to 6th where I stayed and had a lonely race. On the last lap one of the other competitors ran out of fuel which put me in 5th crossing the finish line- and 4th in the C championship. The A race was a lot more exciting and after a good start I got stuck into a battle with James Jones and Mark Elliott were we changed places not only on a lap to lap basis but nearly on every corner. The three of us came down the back straight swapping places and round the last corner with a dash for the flag. We finished with only 0.3 of a second between us good way to finish the day and incident free.
With the car back in the shed we started preparing it for what was the biggest event of the calendar, The Dunlop Formula Vee Festival in Mondello Park. This is where all the drivers of the class worked together to raise funds for the Lara Lynn foundation and have an action packed weekends racing with a championship round, festival heats, semi final, and Festival Final. Again we loaded up the van for another overnight stay and got into the car first thing Saturday morning for qualifying. The track was wet that morning and I managed to qualify 5th for the B/C race and 11th of 26 cars over all. With the sun coming out it didn’t take much to dry the
track and the B/C began had a good race and finished 4th in the C championship. After lunch we noticed some damage on the exhaust of the car and with the help of Stephen and Christy Morrin we got it welded up and back on the car. I made some setting changes to the car and lined up on the grid for the A race. Going into the first corner I passed 2 cars and I began to battle for the next position which I was able to achieve. 3 laps in my luck ran out and going through the S bends at the back of the circuit I heard a noise in the engine and immediately lost a lot of power. My race was over I pulled the car into the pit lane where on a quick listen to the noise it sounded like the big end bearings. We put the car back in the marquee and decided to make the most of what was to be the main event of the year in Formula Vee. Having spoken to Paul Heavey we decided to take the engine out of the car and leave it with him to get repaired. We hadn’t had the joys of removing the engine and to be honest it was a lot easier than we expected- the whole process of stripping down and removing took around an hour 30 minutes, which- giving we weren’t mechanics- went without a problem. That evening in the bar the committee had organised a charity auction and all there was a great atmosphere with so many drivers and teams all in for the night. With the drink flowing I was talking to Paul he told me he may have an engine back at his workshop and he would take it in the following morning for us to use. The following morning Paul arrived at the track with the spare engine and we began putting it into the car. Unfortunately we missed our first heat as we had some clearance issues with the pistons. With the help of so many other drivers we worked and adjusted as best we could but we were down on power , but able to compete in the semi final and final,which was red flagged early due to some incidents on the track.
Paul began repairing the damage and we found that damage was a bit more severe than expected and the car wouldn’t be ready for the following event in Kirkistown. Luckily Paul had a car available and I was able to use it for that race meeting. We arrived at the track on Friday evening and got scrutiny. That evening I was talking to Stephen and Christy they took it to my attention that my borrowed car was considerably lighter than my car giving that it was a Leastone, so first thing the next morning we began fitting lead ballast to increase the overall weight of the car. For qualifying I was in an unfamiliar car and was slow to get to grips with it. I qualified 6th in the B/C race and 10th overall. I had a good B/C race and battled throughout the race to finish 4th in the C race. When the A race started I got straight into a battle with Justin Costello and Brendan O Brien which unfortunately was cut short with a red flag as Brendan and Justin had an incident.
The next round brought us back to Mondello with a rebuilt engine. I was looking forward to being back in my own car. Wet qualifying session that morning but was able to get 5th position for the B/C race and 8th overall. The first race I battled from start to finish with Anthony, Jack and Brendan and finished 4th in the C championship. At the lunch break we noticed a crack in the exhaust of the car, we got a loan of a welder from the Morrins and Damien Farrell, who was on his Formula Vee debut that weekend kindly offered to repair the damage, we fitted it back to the car and got ready for the A race was a wet race just after heavy showers. Even with the sun out the crack was still very wet and tricky to race on. First couple of laps seen some of the front runners spin off and I didn’t have any tight battles with conditions so bad. I crossed the finish line 9th.
After having trouble with the exhaust twice in the season I knew it was time for a replacement. I dropped the car to Trevor Delaney who made a new stainless steel system and had it finished in time for the next meeting in Kirkistown. I headed for the track Friday evening after work and got up first thing the next morning to get to scrutiny as it was a very busy meeting. Managed to qualify 6th for the B/C race and 11th for the A race. I lined up for the first race and got a cracking start and was in 4th going round Fishermans bend on the first lap. Battling with Morgan Mc Court for the following few laps. Stephen Morrin retired early in that race and I found myself in 3rd position. Every lap I tried different passes on Morgan even tried the outside line on Debtors Dip which unfortunately I ran out of track and had to tuck in behind him. On lap 10 I made a move stick and was up to 2nd position. But under serious pressure from Morgan, Ger and Anthony. I made a rookie mistake on the last lap and didn’t break the famous Kirkistown tow on the back straight, where I lost 3 positions going into the last corner. My first B race podium slipped through my fingers that day and needless to say I won’t make that mistake again!
The next race meeting was the Leinster Trophy in Mondello park on the International Track which was the last championship round of the season. It was a double header so qualifying and racing both Saturday and I Sunday. I arrived at the track Friday night to stay in the hotel van for the weekend!
Qualifying each morning left me 5th for the B/C race and 11th for the A race. Great races where I swapped position going wheel to wheel with different drivers throughout all races and finishing 3rd in both C race. With this result, I was delighted to have secured 3rd in the Finol Star of Tomorrow championship behind Anthony Cross and Sean Newsome. Going into the year not knowing anything about motor racing I didn’t know what to expect. Formula Vee really is a very inexpensive way to get started in single seater racing. With grids of 20 plus cars, you’re guaranteed a good battle that will get your adrenalin pumping and a very enjoyable
weekend’s craic. I must thank all the lads in Formula Vee and around the paddock who welcomed us to the sport and helped us along the way. The season officially ended with a fantastic Awards Night in The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk that went on until the early hours of the morning in the residents bar!
I am already looking forward to beginning the 2015 season and its most certainly not going to be my last. The car is ready to go for our first race meeting which is in Mondello Park 15th March.
Bring it on!