Motormouth’s Mutterings- My Future Classic Debut

Troublesome people often start their stories with “There I was, minding my own business….” but that is exactly what I was doing during a break in commentary duties at the Mondello Truck Show last weekend, when Aidan Byrne and Richard Kearney arrived over for a chat.

The Micksgarage.com Future Classics were performing a number of demo races  over the weekend and as ever, they had packed the grids. Aidan had switched from his Chevette to brother Tommy’s Celica and he was keen for me to race the Vauxhall!  When I say keen, I wasn’t given much of a choice- and there was barely 10 minutes to the race! I signed on, borrowed a suit from Mondello, a helmet from Beverly Travers and gloves from John Downey and headed off down the pitlane to have a look at the car.  I had Selfiealways liked the Chevette when Dan Byrne drove it and when Darran O’Hara replicated the works DTV/Castrol graphics it looked amazing. Aidan talked me round the car- 8v on webers, proper diff, 4 speed box etc. Said the brake pedal had gone a bit long and a pump between the corners would not be a bad idea. I had to start last- 24th on the grid and had no idea what to expect of the car at all. I did get one lap before the race and it all felt good so I was confident of making reasonable progress. My buddy Richie Kearney was alongside me in the beautiful David Owens Alfa 155 V6, complete with Martini livery from Darran O’Hara and I knew he was not going to stay at the back for too long either.  I don’t remember ever being that far back on the grid and it was hard to see the lights, or even the start gantry. I saw Phil Lawless holding up the 5 second board and couldn’t help but be impressed by the packed grid ahead of me. I gave it plenty of revs and dropped the clutch, knowing that if I was to have any chance of getting near the front runners I would have to pass as many cars as possible on the opening lap. That plan was firmly binned as an Uno ahead of me appeared to stall or stop. I had no option but to stand on the brakes and do it all again! I managed a handful of cars through turn one and two and another into turn three as I got the hang of the little Chevette. It actually felt good, a lot better than I had expected.  The initial turn in understeer was only cured by planting the right foot and waiting for the diff to do its work, then it was a matter of balancing it to the exit kerb. Not an easy car to drive fast, but a rewarding one when you got it right.

As is always the case, the further up the grid I climbed, the more difficult it became to make up places. This, allied to the long brake pedal and my worry of damaging the car, probably slowed my progress somewhat. I had to get by a hectic battle with the 205 of Vinny O’Rourke and a couple of Puntos mid race and found it easier to make them defend and do the job on the exit, than to try a dive down the inside and hope for the best. Once they were dispatched, I latched onto the back of Jack Byrne’s Punto and together we made progress towards the leaders. Initially out of sight when we exited turn two, a few laps later we could see Ger Byrne, Brendan Travers, Anthony Murtagh and Adrian Dunne clearly ahead of us. From my Punto racing days, I knew the tell tale signs when Jack’s Punto tyres began to go off and when he understeered slightly wide into the Esses I closed right in. he spotted me and went to the right on the exit to cover the inside line into the final corner. I got alongside down the outside on the brakes into Southside, and thought about a switchback, but that initial understeer shot that one down. Jack was thinking the same way though and kept tight on the exit, allowing me a run on the straight. Coming under the bridge, I had just about got by and moved right to close the door- another place gained. After that I just kept the head down and concentrated on catching the leaders. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately!) I ran out of laps and crossed the line in 6th, just a few lengths behind what looked like a titanic lead battle. I was more than a little bit warm when I returned to the pitlane and I appreciated Aidan Byrne giving me a bottle of water nearly as much as I did him loaning me his Chevette!

There has never been a class to spark debate as much as Future Classics in recent years. Obviously there was an appetite for such a class- the size of the grid shows that. Not only has it brought cars back out of garages and onto the track, it has also brought retired drivers back out too. The grids are packed and largely due to the efforts of Darran O’Hara, hugely colourful. They drivers park together and all seem to help each other out, they even have a spare car if anyone hits trouble- that is how club motor racing should be. The barrier time is the only thing that some struggle with. Reduced to 1:09.0 on the National Circuit for 2016, it has been broken on the odd occasion, but the drivers don’t have an issue with the resultant penalty. There are plans to change tyres for 2017 I believe which may slow them down a little and probably reduce costs too and there is even a plan for a faster Super-Future Classics type class at some stage.

Biggest grids out there and close entertaining racing, these guys must be doing something right, barrier time or not. A huge thank you to Aidan Byrne for loaning me the car and to Richie Kearney for “persuading” me to drive it.

Until next time,

Leo

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Image from James Foley