Recently I was approached by Colin Lewis who has been competing in the Mondello Park Fiesta championship this season. Colin asked would I be interested in competing in the Six Hour Fiesta Endurance Race in Mondello Park and I jumped at the opportunity.
Colin had wanted to do this race since this time last year so he was getting his preparation done early. He had the engine rebuilt before his trip to Brands Hatch in late November and with only two races under its belt, it was still fresh for the enduro ahead.
I first met Colin on my travels with Murphy Prototypes as he’s a friend of team owner Greg Murphy and we got to know each other and got on well on our travels. We me onboard I suggested we ask Michael Lyons who drives the Murphy Prototypes LMP2 Oreca if he would have an interest in coming to Ireland and sharing the drive as well. Michael’s father Frank Lyons is a native of Ireland and grew up in Dungarvan Co. Waterford.
We then needed a fourth driver and who better to ask other than Murphy Prototypes team owner Greg Murphy. It would be his first time in a race since the mid 2000’s, when he raced in Asian F3 with the Minardi Junior team so we knew he’d be a good addition to the team. Originally we weren’t going to test before the race on Sunday but we decided it would be good to go out for the afternoon session on Saturday to see were there any last minute changes or adjustments we needed to do. We all did a session each in the daytime and with it being wet we also got to see how far we could push the car in those conditions. We didn’t want to put too much strain on the car so we decided just to complete a few laps each in the daytime and then wait till darkness came. When the sun went down we would all do a few more laps to let adjust to turning into most of the corners blind, because of the lack of light.
For qualifying Colin went out first followed by Greg to get their banker laps in, then Michael and myself went out to put a time in for the race. In the end the track was starting to dry up but cars were starting to cut corners and pull dirt onto the track making it just as greasy but I managed to do a time on the final lap good enough for 7th on the grid.
We went up to scrutiny after qualifying and they held us there to weigh all the cars but there were so many cars that it was like being in a race to try get turned around. On the scales, back to the garage, up to drivers briefing and then some breakfast all before heading on track for 11.30. Being ready on time was the first race of the weekend!
We got everything done in time before heading to the grid. As I set the fastest time in qualifying I had to start the race. I drove the car to the grid had a little bit of a feel for the car to make sure everything was ok before heading to my grid slot for the start, almost a miniature shakedown. I was looking forward to the start of the race, I had never done an endurance race so I had to look at my approach a bit differently than my usual for a fifteen minute sprint race. We started 7th so I was on the inside for the first corner which was probably safe as you couldn’t get pushed wide at the first corner. This however meant I had to hang around the outside at the second corner in order to be on the inside for turn 3, Calor Gas corner. Although I was on the inside I looked in my mirror to see the Naas Court Hotel car on the grass on my inside . It later turned out his throttle had stuck open! On the approach to turn 4 I was getting squeezed towards the grass by Rod McGovern and I knew I couldn’t stay there and ended up dropping in behind him to emerge at back of the leading group.
I didn’t have the same pace as the first five cars so I was happy to sit back and watch the fighting for position going on ahead of me. Eventually I dropped back a couple of hundred meters from the lead pack. At the same time there was a big fight going on behind me for 7th position and cars were all over the place holding each other up, which is silly seeing as it was a six hour race, but this was great for me as it kept me out of trouble for the first fifty minute stint. I kept putting in consistent lap times up until the first pit stop, which went very well with Michael quickly back on track, we didn’t fuel at the first stop as we had loads of fuel left to do another stint. When Michael came in to stop and do a driver change we could hear the car wasn’t running right on low revs. Colin, the car owner got in to do his stint but the lap timer wasn’t working for Michael so we took it out to put it on charge. As Colin didn’t have a timer I was on the pit wall along with Mark, the mechanic from Murray Motorsport, to give Colin his times and position. He didn’t encounter any problems and the car ran fine on track except for some windscreen wiper problems but thankfully it didn’t rain too much while he was out.
Greg got in to do his stint next and took the now charged lap timer into the car with him, now he could keep an eye on his times and was happy. Greg had a good clean race during his first stint and said he thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait to do it again. During Greg’s stint we encountered a one lap penalty which originally started as a three lap penalty for starting the car during the pitstop. Our team manager Ray managed to talk them down to one lap, thankfully, which wasn’t so much of a hit for us as we were lying 3rd now. it was complete accident on Greg’s behalf as he was only trying to check the fuel gauge for the pit crew.
Michael got back in to do his second last stint and he was in a group of three cars having a battle when one of his rivals took us and the other car out. Michael returned to the pits with the front of the car battered, the bumper was tucked in under the front wheel a light was broken. The mechanics quickly diagnosed the problems and got it all back square, but then we discovered a problem and had to get a new bulb. With the new bulb in, the full beam still wasn’t working as a wire had been damaged in the incident. I quickly got ready to go because there wasn’t enough time to warrant Michael going back out as he would just have to pit again in ten minutes. I went out and it was dark at this stage, which didn’t faze me, but then it started to rain and we still didn’t have wipers. It took me a while to adjust and it took a lot more focus to see where we were going, but I got the head down and started driving around the outside of corners in the damp conditions in search of grip. This worked well and I managed to pull off a few cheeky around the outside moves in Calor Gas and Seat corners. I finished my stint with constant lap times and now it was time to hand over to Michael once more for the final stint of the race.
We brought the car home in 18th position twenty nine laps down having been as high as 3rd place, but that’s motor racing and a lot of it is in the luck of the draw. We didn’t have the outright pace to win but we definitely had the consistency to finish on the podium, which would have been great for our first Fiesta six hour race.
I’d like to thank Colin Lewis for the car and what a great experience it was. Stay tuned for more news to come over the winter months on some new and cool ideas. I’ll keep everyone posted with blogs over the chilly months.
Images from Michael Chester.
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