Colin Dowling, his team and the Mondello Park management crew deserve a collective pat on the back. What they have done with Irish Rallycross in the last 18 months is little more than unbelievable. Entries were so low that meetings had to be cancelled, there were little or no spectators at events, and it seemed the discipline was in danger of dying out completely.
Various new promotions, the brave move to change to an exciting anti-clockwise layout and a huge push from all involved meant that round one was a resounding success. Round two, last weekend at Mondello was, if anything, even better again. Entries comfortably exceeded the 70 mark, the left hand in layout was used again and some new competitors joined the action too.
Zetec Fiestas have to be one of the best additions to motorsport in recent years. The standard 1.25 Zetec machines are fun to drive, reasonable quick and best of all incredibly cheap to buy and run. As Brian “Patch” Matthews has shown, they can be used in Races, Rallycross, Sprints, Trackdays etc- that really is an impressive bang for your buck. The cost? Well Phil Lawless can rent you one for the day for €350 or you can buy them for around the €2k mark. Sean Hession dominated proceedings in the opening round in a Lawless rental machine but he was always going to have his work cut out with Niall Murray and Alistair Kellett joining the class for round two. This pair probably have over 10 titles between them- you won’t find many better drivers anywhere. Hession was up for the challenge though. Murray took heat one after a cracking battle with Kellett, but Hession was glued to Kellett’s bumper at the line, setting us up for cracking battles all day in the budget tin top class. In the final, Kellett made his escape as Murray and Hession tangled, with Hession connecting with the pitwall heavily before reversing out and continuing. Kellett looked comfortable in front whilst Murray, predictably, threw caution to the wind in his efforts to close the gap. At the flag, it was Kellett, winning on his Rallycross debut whilst Murray had brought the gap down to just over 2 seconds, with the first ever 48 second Fiesta lap of the new layout on his final tour. Dennis McCrudden was third with Hession climbing to fifth, behind impressive debutant Daniel Brearton.
Production was always going to be worth watching as double 8v Champion Ciaran Murphy and the rest were going to have to deal with the return of Eoin Murray. In heat one, Murphy was clearly quicker but from then on, it seemed as if Murray was head and shoulders above the rest. A trip to the gravel after a territorial dispute in heat two meant he had to settle for second on the grid but when the lights changed he disappeared up the road, with Murphy a distant second by the end. Damien Farrell continued to impress in the unfashionable 205 8v and was rewarded with another podium in third with Keith Kerrshaawe next up.
Jyles Harding took another win in Juniors but Ben Mullins took the first heat and kept the pressure on all day. The duo had some great races and were separated by less than a second as they took the flag in the final. Karter Aaron Whelan made an impressive debut in the class, taking a podium in his home built Micra despite minimal previous running. Shane Loftus and Shane Brauders (in the Wexford Motor Club Youth Academy 106) were in the mix all day too. It is great to see new drivers coming into this class for a number of drivers. Firstly it is a superb training ground for young talent- just ask Niall Murray, Sean Doyle, Andrew Watson or Jake Byrne, to name but a few. Secondly, it is important for the sport to have a constant influx of young talent to climb the ranks in future years. I have no doubt the current grid contains a future star or two!
Modifieds were as close as we have come to expect with the returning Ian O’Connell topping the timesheets after the heats in the ex Bellerby/Treacy Lotus Exige. Willie Coyne was every bit as quick though and Padraig Leeson was in there too, taking a strong win in heat one. By the final though, O’Connell was getting used to the Lotus again and he eased away from the hard trying Coyne to take the win by almost 4 seconds, with Lloyd Spendlove best of the rest in third.
Martin McAteer was the man for most of the day when the screaming buggys took to the track, but Terry McKay and Padraig McHale were close enough to keep him honest. In the final, as at round one though, it was different as McKay grabbed the lead and hung on to take the win, by the narrowest of margins, from McAteer with round one winner McHale in third. Johno Doogan improved all day and took fourth ahead of Mondello regulars John Ward and Peter McGarry.
Unsurprisingly, with the rise in costs in rallying, the entry had grown in the Rally Car category and at the head of the field it was seasoned Rallycrosser Patrick Donoghue Vs Danny Calnan. They swapped fastest times for most of the day but Calnan hit problems in his semi final and didn’t appear for the final, leaving the way open for Donoghue to take yet another win. Thomas O’Rafferty was second with Jason Keogh in third whilst Mark Hayden entertained in fourth with his beautifully driven 1600 Mk2 Escort.
With just two Supercars out, there was only ever going to be one winner- as reigning Irish and double European Champion Derek Tohill blasted away to take all heats, his final and the Superfinal. Noel Green’s AMF team are still working hard on their new Mitsubishi Mirage though and they certainly have the launch sorted, as the white machine briefly got the nose ahead of Tohill’s Fiesta on more than one occasion as the duo blasted off the line!
Round Three of the 2017 Partsforcars Irish Rallycross Championship is on April 30th at Pallas Karting in Tynagh. If you have not been before, I suggest you make the trip- you won’t regret it!
Until next time,
Images from James Foley.