Irish Drivers at home & abroad- all the Easter Weekend Action- with Leo Nulty
What a weekend of motorsport action. Firstly, the Circuit of Ireland. Yes, yes I know, it doesn’t go all the way round Ireland any more- and many of you used to follow the “proper Circuit” etc but still- wasn’t it entertaining? Two Irishmen, at the top of their game, swapping the lead time and time again- in what is now a round of the FIA European Rally Championship. Craig Breen has never made any secret of the fact that he has always wanted to win the circuit, just as his hero Frank Meagher did back in the day. Rob Barrable, similarly,
practically grew up in the service areas and race track paddocks of this country, coming from a family steeped in motorsport. From the start this pair were clearly the class of the field, both wanting to take the big one. Barrable led early on, but Breen gradually overhauled him. Barrable fought back though to snatch the lead back and that was pretty much the storyline until, just three stages from the end Barrable couldn’t stop his rented Fiesta and when the front right went into a ditch, he was stuck and his rally was over. This handed the lead to Breen, with a reasonably comfortable gap back to Kajetan Kajetanowicz, who in fairness, had kept the home pair honest from the start. As happens many times when a battle ends though, Craig appeared slightly unsettled and lost the bulk of his lead with a spin on the next stage, leaving the gap at some 5 seconds
going into the last stage. Imagine Craig’s mindset- this Irish talent who has been through so much- on the verge of achieving a lifetime’s ambition and emulating his hero but having been off on the previous stage. Despite a reported overshoot on the final stage, he held on for a hugely emotional and extremely hard earned victory. As for Rob Barrable, he drives to win and I would imagine he would rather have binned it than to have finished second. For a man out of a rally car for so long, he once again displayed his enormous talent- even Breen said that he was disappointed Rob was out at the end of that stage. You sense a respect between the pair, which is no bad thing. Josh and Sam Moffett both drove well to third and fourth respectively after a cracking battle thoughout. Happily, Breen’s victory now places him at the top of the FIA ERC title chase and surely it is onwards and upwards now as he chases the Championship. Derek McGarrity was first home on the National section of the Circuit, once series leader Derek Boyle’s engine had expired, some two minutes ahead of the legendary Kenny McKinstry with Wesley Patterson upholding Mk2 honours in his 2.5 example.
As I had previously predicted, Aron Smith was well able for his new Team BMR teammates at the opening BTCC meeting of 2015. All the media hype had surrounded Plato and Colin Turkington joining the same team and when Aron had problems and when he only completed 3 laps due to problems on the official test, media reports would lead you to believe it was a two car team. Aron was visibly delighted to put away the other two
in qualifying and carried this forward to the races, finishing second in race one with Plato on his bumper and Turkington in 5th. In race two, Plato was well ahead of the pack and heading for a certain win when a puncture sent him off into the gravel at Paddock. Turkington was first of the BMR Team home in third with Smith back in 12th after contact sent him spinning. In race three however, Smith had the drive of the race, charging up from 12th, on the soft tyre, to an impressive third at the flag and no doubt wishing for another lap or two, as he was bearing down on the leaders as the flag fell. Turkington had a high speed spin, leading the commentators that he is not yet fully at home with FWD and Plato was held up in a shunt at the back of the field early on. All in all though, the scene is set of an incredible BTCC season and you can bet your bottom dollar Colin Turkington will be right on top of that Passat next time we see him to add extra spice to proceedings.
In single seater action, Motorsport Ireland Young Driver winner Jonny McMullan and finalist Jake Byrne both headed to Silverstone to take part in the opening rounds of the BRSCC National FF1600 Championship. Both were pretty much immediately on the pace with Byrne qualifying third, just .002 off the front row. Byrne came away with a pair of third places and a new lap record, but was subsequently deemed to have exceeded track limits during an overtaking move, the resultant two second penalty dropping him to sixth!) whilst McMullan bagged a second and a fourth (which became third after Byrne’s penalty). Impressive results from both. Joey Foster got away early and broke the tow, winning easily in both, but the lap times suggest that the Irish pair could have given him bother had they started alongside him. McMullan and Bernard Dolan went on to Oulton Park on Easter Monday and scored two impressive FF1600 wins in the Cubik Superseries after tough battles in both! Cliff Dempsey Racing’s Patrick Dissault was in the mix at both venues too, finishing 2nd and 8th in Silverstone, whilst in Oulton, he was excluded in race one for an incident battling for the lead (under appeal) and slid off whilst leading race two, but recovered to fourth with fastest lap. It is a while since there has been such a strong Irish challenge in UK Formula Ford and isn’t it great to see?!
Alistair Kellett and Barry Hallion, disillusioned with Irish Fiesta racing, went to the considerable time and expense of building two newer shape Fiestas over the winter with the intention of challenging for Class D of the BRSCC Fiesta series. Hallion didn’t make it to the opening rounds this weekend but Kellett, a former Uno, Punto and Abarth Champion remember, posted notice of his intentions with a pair of class runner up spots straight out of the box. Definitely worth keeping an eye on as the season unfolds.
Karl Leonard returned to the Porsche Carrera Cup UK at Brands Hatch in Kent with Team Parker Racing aiming to win the Pro Am 1 class. A lack of fresh wets stymied his qualifying efforts though and he had to make do with third in class in race one. Race two, however, was a very different affair as Leonard quickly dealt with the class rivals before joining the lead battle and piling pressure on the reigning overall champion for fifth when he was caught up in someone elses spin and ended up off and out of the race. He was clearly disappointed when he stepped out of the Naas Court Hotel backed machine, but he can go home knowing his target next time out is not just to beat his class rivals, but to aim for an overall podium!
Andrew Watson had a bitter-sweet British GT debut in the McLaren 650S GT3 sportscar at Oulton Park, the 20 year old student making a mistake whilst challenging for the lead of the opening race and subsequently crashing. His Von Ryan Racing team managed to repair the car race two, despite the gap between races being just over an hour and Watson and co driver Ross Wylie brought the machine home in 9th place. This, despite a weight penalty being added to the car as both drivers are “Silver Graded” drivers in the series. This meant they were amongst the slowest through the various speed traps round the Cheshire venue over the weekend. Watson took the blame for the race one shunt and said he was glad to be able to repay the team with a top ten finish in the second race of the weekend but echoed the team’s concerns that they may have an uphill battle this season with the 80kg ballast they had to carry.
I will leave you with what has to be the Tweet of the weekend, Craig Breen’s Selfie at the very point where he nearly threw it all away- made everyone smile and shows the measure of the man.