Derek Tohill has a distinctive and very infectious smile. One that we have not seen so much of in recent times perhaps. The double European Rallycross Champion endured what can only politely be described as a character building year in the World Rallycross Championship last year, and it was enough to make him consider quitting his beloved sport.
Irish Rallycross, on its knees for the last number of years, has enjoyed something of a boost in 2015, with Colin Dowling and his team pushing the sport hard on social media, finally managing organise a meeting at the new track in Tynagh, Co Galway and also introducing the Fiesta class, allowing the Blackchurch race Fiestas to compete, once they had added mudflaps and two high level rear brake lights (priced by one of the drivers at a hefty €24!) The return to Mondello of the British Rallycross Championship was a well timed boost to the sport in Ireland and amongst the initial entries mooted was Tohill in his ERC Touring Class Spec Mk7 Fiesta- probably as much to support the meeting as anything else. Behind the scenes though, a deal was hatching, a late deal, to place the Irish driver into a Supercar at Mondello Park. On the Thursday evening of the race weekend, Derek and Ollie O’Donovan shook on the deal, which meant that Tohill would pilot O’Donovan’s old Focus Super car over the weekend. This immediately hit social media and the excitement was palpable. Along with O’Donovan, the man very much behind the series’ return to the Kildare venue, the Irish fans now had a second competitive car in with a chance of taking the big win.
Lets be honest, it didn’t look great on Saturday. Against world class opposition- Julian Godfrey, Andy Scott, Tony Proctor and more, Tohill struggled for outright pace and despite slight improvement during the day, the major upset many had hoped for looked like a very unlikely bet. I am not sure whether Derek made some changes to the car (fairly likely) or went to bed early (highly unlikely) but when the heats started for BRC round 5 on Sunday morning, the combination looked far more competitive and the others began to sit up and take notice- as did the large crowd around the fringes of the circuit. Having moved steadily closer to the ultimate pace all day, Derek found himself on pole for the all important Supercar Superfinal. This was as much due to problems others had suffered though, as to his new found form, so we knew in the commentary box that something very special would have to happen though if we were to see Derek on the top step of the podium. Indeed, Ollie O’Donovan, starting alongside him on the front row, beat Derek to the first corner but what happened next was unexpected. Tohill fought off the advances of Tony Proctor and Julian Godfrey on the first lap before tracking leader O’Donovan and subsequently assuming the lead when Ollie took his joker lap early on. I will admit there was a bit of excitement in the commentary box when Tohill’s time went purple on the timing screen next time round, denoting the fastest lap. Suddenly we began to think there was a possibility that somehow, he could pull this off. Ultimately, a string of cracking laps from O’Donovan meant he just snatched the lead back when Tohill took the joker lap on the final tour. So an historic 1-2 for the Shannon Group team and for Ireland- predictably the capacity crowd went wild.
Speaking to Derek after the racing was over, he said it was the first time in a long time he had enjoyed competing and I sensed that there may be a pending deal for the Partsforcars.ie driver to take ownership of the O’Donovan Focus. If you haven’t done it yet Derek, get it done and let’s see you and your team do the UK and Ireland championships. You’ve already won Europe a couple of times- it’s time to put the fun back into it!
And yes, the infectious smile was back as he and his team headed to Naas to celebrate last night!
Main image from James Foley.