I usually start these pieces by saying it seems like yesterday that last year’s season ended and already we are ready to start a brand new season. This time though, the anticipation must have the better of me- it has taken an age to come around! This Sunday though, the national racing season kicks off at Mondello Park with, as ever, a host of new drivers and cars triggering plenty of speculation as to who will top the timesheets in each respective class.
The class everyone is talking about for 2017 is the Patch Tyre Equipment Fiesta ST series- it would seem there has been a big influx of new competitors over the winter and grids are expected to be packed, if not oversubscribed. Kevin Doran, John Denning and Dave Maguire were pacesetters in 2016 and all three stay on. Ulick Burke has stepped up the ITCC in a supercharged ex-Owain Drought Integra. Michael Cullen returns for a full time championship campaign in a newly built Murray Motorsport machine. David Kidd also returns with a three car team, run by former 205 GTI expert Ciaran Murphy. The latest generation of the Kellett dynasty, 16 year old William, also moves up to the 150bhp machines, having raced and won in Future Classics last year. Shane McFadden has been quick on sporadic Zetec and ITCC appearances and should be right on the pace too. The evergreen Fitzgerald brothers Brendan and Michael will also be back for more- and probably have more experience than most in the field, with the possible exception of Michael Cullen!
The introduction of the ST machines, moved many of the big names out of the Zetec Class and perhaps it is a slightly more relaxed place to be as a result. It suits the role as a clubmans class prefectly and is probably the most accessible class to the “man in the grandstand”. That is not to say it’s easy to win though, as some great battles last year showed us. Phil Lawless dominated early on in 2016 but mechanical issues slowed him from mid season onwards and it took him until the penultimate round to take his first title. He is back to defend his title but having sold his own car to LOH Motorsport over the winter, will “probably jump into one of the rental cars”- there is confidence for you! Veteran tin top exponent Barry Barrable will compete in both Zetec and ST races on Sunday- having built a new ST over the winter and subsequently taken a trade in of a Zetec against his old ST! an interesting addition to the class this year is multiple Stryker Champion Alan Watkins. He is not hugely experienced in front wheel drive machines but he definitely won’t be there for the good of his health!
The Strykers, renamed Irish Sportscars in 2016, have done superb work over the winter and from single numbers have climbed to high teens and possible even 20 cars on the grid. This is their 20th season competing in Ireland and the cars are as fast and spectacular as ever. As you may have read HERE Sonia Fildes and Damian Roddy return to the class to take on the regulars and they are joined by 6 novice drivers, which can only be good for the long term health of the class too. With Watkins gone, there is a gaping hole at the front of the grid- and the class will get its first new champion in almost ten years!
The Irish Legends put on a superb show in 2016 and are back on sunday to kick off their 2017 Championship. Expect plenty of sideways action and place swapping as Niki Meredith, Ian Conroy et al go at it- with three races during the day. Numbers are slightly down for their opener for a variety of reasons, but they are confident they will have good grids this season. Rallycrosser Vincent “VW Vinny” O’Rourke makes his Legend debut on Sunday, diving in at the deep end, never haven driven one before! A little birdie also told me that Kevin Doran may have done a last minute deal to join the grid- which should be entertaining!
Formula Vee always entertains and with some new additions to the grid this year, I don’t expect this to change. Firstly multiple champion Ray Moore returns to the grid to try and wrest his title back from arch rival Dan Polley. Polley however, pretty much dominated last year and his confidence is high- theirs will be a battle worth watching. A little birdie which recently flew over Donedea tells me that Jack Byrne’s Sheane has been rebuilt by LOH Motorsport- if they are also running the car, he could be a real challenger too!
Brandon Polley, running with LOH in the ex Macauley title winning car and 98FM’s Luke O’Faolain, running with Newsome Motorsport in the ex Dave O’Brien Sheane, both enter the Finol Star Of Tomorrow series and are probably the best prepared novices in recent times. We have not seen Polley’s (nephew of ’16 Champion Dan,) form but the effervescent DJ, who has attracted backing from Dentpro, showed strong form on his debut at the Vee Festival last year. Both Paula Moore and Aimee Woods showed well last year, and both compete for the B title this year- expect them to show well. Gavin Buckley is also in the B category and should be right there too. Formula Vee is the most accessible single seater class and starter cars are sometimes available from as little as €3,000. From this you can upgrade to a more competitive engine and box and run right at the sharp end- the chassis designs have been the same for many years now.
The hugely popular Micksgarage.com Future Classics also open their champion account on Sunday with a single race. Expect hordes of new cars, and of course, new liveries too. Darren O’Hara has no doubt been burning the midnight oil replicating the colour scheme of classis works cars- the Martini Alfa 155 and BTCC style Vectra both great examples of these. Expect the Byrnes to be back in their Celicas- not the most nimble machines but plenty of straightline speed, making it hard for the smaller cars to find a way by. Timmy Duggan’s SEAT took the title in 2016 and will doubtless be back for more this year too. Adrian Dunne has upgraded his Saxo for ITCC Production but the smaller cars will still challenge- watch out for Dave Hammond in his 1300cc Uno, he is capable of running at the very front on occasion. Former Veester John Downey also returns in his 205, complete with aforementioned new livery too!
Until next time,
All Images from Michael Chester