After a two month break since the last round of the BOSS Ireland season which took place at Kirkistown, I was looking forward to getting back to the tight and twisty Mondello National Circuit, a track that suits my car better than the high speed nature of Kirkistown. I’m ashamed to say that due to work and other commitments I didn’t so much as look at my car since depositing it at the workshop the day after the last round. It’s a testament to the quality of these Formula Renault cars that you can literally wipe them down, put fuel in them and go straight into qualifying.
Speaking of qualifying, I was delighted to line the car up on the front row of the grid alongside Cian Carey. I’ve been making good starts in the car lately and was hoping to be able to get to the front off the line as I knew that should Cian get away on the opening lap it would be unlikely that I could catch him. In race one I made an OK start but it wasn’t one of my best and I couldn’t get the jump on Cian. I pushed very hard for the opening lap and was just about able to keep on the rear gearbox of Carey. Behind me the beast that is Eamon Matheson’s green machine was looming large. I knew it was ferociously fast in a straight line but I had no idea just how ludicrous it was. Coming onto the start finish straight to start lap two I had a cursory look in my mirrors and seen that Eamon was probably some 100 metres behind me. Now, just for context, my Formula Renault is about 400bhp per ton, accelerates to 100mph from a standing start in 6 seconds and the Mondello straight is not exactly Mulsanne like in it’s length. So, with 100 metres of fresh air betwen us I turned my attention forward to keeping in touch with Carey. Passing the grandstand at 120mph and hitting the brakes at about 90 metres ahead of turn one and just starting to head for my apex I got the fright of my life when a blob of green appeared pretty much alongside me…..Jesus, how fast IS that thing!? The rest of the race was less eventful, I managed to pull out a safe gap from Matheson and Carey did the same as me. I pushed hard on every lap and pretty much replicated my qualifying pace all in an, ultimately futile, attempt to pressurise Cian into a mistake. A slight wobble on the entry to the Esses aside, Cian drove a faultless race and took the win.
Race two on Sunday saw the same front row line up with Carey alongside me, this time I made a marginally better start which was just enough to get ahead and defend into turn one. The downside to making a great start and knowing you don’t have the absolute speed to control the race is that you know you are going to have a very tough race and there’s only one thing worse than not winning a race and that’s not winning a race that you were leading. So, its lap one and I’m leading, Carey is all over me and I think I can see championship leader Noel Robinson in close attendance too. I say I think only because it’s quite hard to trust a 3 inch reflection at 100mph + while trying not to crash. In this position as a race leader you have a couple of options. One is to put the head down and try build a gap…well qualifying and race one lap times shoots that option down. Another is to accept that you are going to be hassled and just get on with the job in hand. So, no real option then! I had hoped Robinson would stay with us and I could back Carey up into him and give me some reprieve but it wasn’t to be. So a straight fight with my fellow Dunshaughlin native Carey was on! Oh yeah, it was also about now that I realised I had tried getting one race too many from my already second hand Pirellis….marvellous! Cian was quick enough to get alongside me on the sraight every lap so I had to concentrate on making decent exits….not helped by my Pirellis which had fallen off the cliff just lilke their big brothers in F1. Lap after lap Cian was moving around in my mirrors like a demented blue bottle. The only place on the track I could pull any gap was through turn two and it was there on about lap 4 that Cian ran wide and dropped back. He was about 3 seconds back now but I knew that wouldn’t last. I was tempted to push as hard as possible but with my tyres in the state they were the chances of a mistake and throwing it off was high and Carey was going to catch me either way. The inevitable happened with about 6 minutes to go and for those next 360 seconds we had the most incredible dice. I drove pretty much every lap on the inside and to hell with race lines. Carey got a great run out of Southside corner on one lap and got a full car length ahead on the run to turn one but left me just enough room to come back at him on the brakes and keep the inside line. Eager to get on the power I asked too much of the rear tyres and got the most lurid of oversteer slides all the while with Carey to my left. We’re now approaching the fast left hander that is turn two and knowing that if I was cautious here it was all over, so deep intake of breath and I went for it around the outside. Somehow it worked and I maintained the lead…just! (Michael Chester got the most amazing sequence of photos of this action) On the final lap I was happy I could defend everywhere except for one place…. the run for the line. On every other lap Carey got alongside and probably ahead down the straight but I was always on the inside for turn one. On the run to the line it’s just a drag race. Coming out of the last corner I could see Cian coming, he moved to his left and appeared alongside me. It was a pure drag race now and he was pulling me in a little too quick for my liking. All I could do was pull each gear at the ideal moment and hope for the best. The finishing line appeared and I genuinely didn’t know if I had won. Top class photographer Michael Chester jumping around and waving at me like a mad man from the banking of turn one was a good clue though. However, it wasn’t until I got back to the paddock and got cofirmation from brother Shane that I knew for sure!
Within seconds of getting out of the car, Cian appeared to congratulate me which sums up not only him but the ethos of the championship in general. Next up we are back to Kirkistown at the end of August before the chmpionship finale in September where we get to compete for the prestigous Leinster Trophy, I can’t wait! Thanks as always to brothers Shane and Keith, Dave Clarke and my long suffering other half, Andrea for their help and support!
Until the next time,
Images from Michael Chester