I have long given up any motor racing aspirations that I used to hold. I love the fact that I can now commentate on the sport I love without all the ups and downs of racing competitively. Thanks to the likes of Sean Woods, Brendan Travers and Alan Kessie, I managed to run at the front in a variety of classes and as I type this, I can see quite a few winners trophies on the mantlepiece, even though they might be a tad dusty now!
When an email arrived from Oisín O’Briain, the co-ordinator for the new-for-2015 SEAT Supercup Ireland inviting me to come and do a track test in one of the 300bhp machines I had a think about it. My appetite for driving race cars, sadly, is not what it used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I agreed immediately, but 10 years ago I would probably have been asking for a seat fitting and going to the gym for a few weeks beforehand, then waiting for the Mondello gates to open from 7am! I had a chat with a few mates- Barry Rabbitt, Sean Woods and Erik Holstein and they all said the same- “Very taily”… Sean, who always had good car control, said it rotated on his out lap “out in the country” (Turn 3!) and he was just a passenger. Considering the angles Holstein gets cars into, I was definitely going to heed his warning too- even if it did follow it up with “sure it’s grand once the rears warm up”
I arrived at a damp Mondello at 12:30, for my scheduled 1pm run, and was amazed (ok, and excited) to see my name on Niall Murray’s Championship winning machine (A typically professional touch from Oisin). Joe Murray approached me and said “Hi Leo. You want slicks on the front and wets on the back or wets all round?” Ehhhhh, I said, I dunno, what do you think? ” Well the others are on wets all round but you should be able to handle it.” Right so. Off to the truck to don the suit, which I had recovered from the attic the previous evening. Luckily it still fitted, so back to the garage to see what the plan was. Eoin strapped me in and was going through the controls with me when one of the others let the car down off the airjacks and frightened the life out of me!!
Anyway, Eoin ran through all the controls with me- nothing too complicated to be honest. You can’t over-rev the engine on the way up or down, which was nice to know! Just two pedals of course, as the Supercopa uses the DSG box, so press a button on the detachable steering wheel, give the throttle a squeeze and away you go. The car sounded relatively tame on initial start up and thankfully, with a large audience including plenty of quick race drivers, there was no chance of stalling the car. Out the pitlane and up through the gears- the car sounded incredible.
The big kid came out in me before I got to turn one. It was like a video game, all pops and bangs on each upshift and auto blips on the downchange that made it sound like Juan Manuel Fangio himself was heel and toeing on the approach to each corner. For a few minutes I was Fabrizio Giovanardi- a proper touring car driver, thrilling the crowds with my car control. Then I realised Eoin had said to come in after two laps, to make sure everything was ok. I headed for the pitlane where he was waiting. “Everything ok?” Still in dreamland, I had expected him to be Italian or Spanish but I managed a thumbs us before he sent me on my way.
Off I went, down the pitlane, remembering this time that I had a camera and was wired to a microphone. The first thing that struck me about the car was that it felt stiff, much stiffer than most saloon cars I have driven. On a still slightly damp track it took a few laps for the front slicks to come up to temperature and until that, any application of power before the apex sent the nose wide. Turn three, in particular, looked even more daunting than usual, with a liberal application of autumn leaves added to the already greasy surface. I made sure not to try and negotiate Turns 2,3 and the exit of the Esses without the power on. Surely, on an open test day like this, someone would bin one of the cars- I wasn’t going to be “the one”!
Cleverly, Murray Motorsport had taped over the laptimer on the digital display, but three laps in I think I heard a beep and I could just see the display reading *BEST LAP* Hmmmm, best to ignore that one. As I gathered more confidence and got a feel for the balance in the car, I carried more speed through the twiddly bits and used the brake to get to the apex if I needed to. The 2.0 Turbo has plenty of torque but I had expected it to be quicker in a straightline, and certainly it does not have all the urgency at the top end of the ITCC Hondas for example. As I gathered pace, I felt the wets on the rear begin to move around under me. It was probably time for slicks all round- if I was a racing driver of course! I have no doubt that I was a lot slower than the car’s regular occupant but it was great to get a feel for what it is all about. As the *BEST LAP* beeped at me again, Murray Motorsport hung out the IN Pitboard- probably not a moment too soon.
There were a number of interested drivers in attendance on the day and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Jonathan Fildes, Niall Breen and Paddy Hogan on the 2016 grid. They are three proper quick guys and should be competitive immediately. MI Young driver nominee Nicole Drought, GT racer Paul Monaghan, rally champion Kevin O’Connor and a few others all sampled the machines too- and everyone came away impressed. With SEAT Ireland onboard for 2016 and Oisín staying on, it has the makings of a superb race series. Watch this space…
Thanks to Oisín at Supercup Ireland, Murray Motorsport and Michael Chester (for the pictures) for a wonderful experience.
More information on the SuperCup Ireland is available on their Facebook Page HERE.
You can contact Oisín O’Briain, the series manager, HERE.