Where is the emergence of new Irish circuit racing talent- with John Kenny
While rallying continues to see an expansion of our drivers competing abroad, there is plenty for Motorsport Ireland to be concerned about regarding the lack of Irish circuit racing drivers competing on the international scene.
While the likes of Kris Meeke and Craig Breen are hovering near the top of both the world rally (WRC) and European Rally championships (ERC), there are no Irish competitors anywhere near working their way up the circuit racing stepladder.
The likes of Derek Daly and Eddie Irvine made it as far as Formula One while Adam Carroll won the A1 Grand Prix series for Team Ireland back in 2009. But since then and outside of the likes of Peter Dempsey, Damien Faulkner and Matt Griffin, Irish drivers who have raced successfully outside of Ireland in recent years are thin on the ground. Dempsey made it as far as Indy Lights, but a proposed move to the US Indycar series, their equivalent of F1, fell through. Griffin won the European Sportscar series and has raced in the Le Man 24 hour while Faulkner has made a decent living competing in Porsche car series across the world and now races in the USA.
Motorsport Ireland have tried , getting their Young Racing Driver of the Year into a Formula Ford programme, but one by one the likes of Niall Quinn, Michael Devaney Kevin O’Hara and Eoin Murray all former recipients, have faded away disillusioned by the lack of opportunities to race at the highest level. Devaney for example who raced in A1 Grand Prix for Team Ireland, at one stage battled Nico Rosberg for the German BMW title at the turn of the century. Rosberg is now plying his trade in F1 as team-mate to world champion Lewis Hamilton, whilst Devaney has retired from motorsport.
Jonny McMullan, the current Young Racing Driver of the Year, has made a decent fist of things in 2015 and won the British Formula Ford 1600 championship. McMullan contested the end of season trophy meetings as well including the Leinster Trophy in Mondello and both the Festival at Brands Hatch in Kent plus the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone in November.
The problem for McMullan will be 2016. Does he continue with Formula Ford or does he make the move to the many International junior Formula which are cost heavy, in order to keep his career intact. McMullan is backed by Dunlop, the Irish Sports Council and Motorsport Ireland this year, but that sponsorship will cease come seasons end. The 23 year old from Newtownabbey, struggled to race in single seaters in the past relying on his family as he scraped around for drives. It will be interesting to see if he can keep his career alive after this season when the 2015 sponsorship dries up as there seems to be very little appetite these days for teams to take on young drivers who don’t have decent financial backing
Murphy Prototypes, owned by Dubliner Greg Murphy, are competing in the LMP2 class in the European Le Mans series, and to their credit, have taken a young Irish driver, Wicklow’s Sean Doyle under their wings with a view to his driver development.
Status Grand Prix ran the A1 Team Ireland outfit and raced under the tricolour when they made the switch to GP3, a series which is part of the F1 support race package. However as the team is part owned by Teddy Yip Junior, a Canadian, Status switched to racing under the Maple Leaf when they took the leap to GP2, just one step down from F1.
There is plenty of Irish involvement in the backroom team at Status which is co-owned by Mark Gallagher, the former sponsorship manager at Jordan Grand Prix and David Kennedy, a director at Mondello Park The pair had the likes of Carroll, Devaney, Quinn and Ralph Firman in their driver line up at A1 as the protocol was that an Irish driver had to be part of an Irish team. However since the demise of A1 and Status move to both GP3 and GP2, no Irish driver has been involved and is unlikely to in the near future unless substantial funding can be found.
Status have made the move to GP2 this season and have had a decent first season in the series, with their New Zealand driver Richie Stanaway winning the Sprint race in Monaco and Russia. Gallagher and Kennedy would be more than aware of the talent that exists in Irish circuit racing, Whether they would be prepared to take a risk at Status Grand Prix, is another matter.
John writes a weekly Motorsport column for the Irish Daily Star and is one of Ireland’s premier sports journalists.