Last Sunday, the 2017 Motor Racing season kicked off at Mondello Park- with a host of new drivers and cars making their debuts. Despite the atrocious conditions, the racing was fantastic all day.
The Fiesta ST series is hugely well supported this year and many new cars have been built over the winter, ensuring the grids will be packed all year. In wet qualifying, it seemed Murray Motorsport had nailed the best setup, with an incredible five of the top six coming from the Walkinstown stable, including polesitter John Denning. The interloper was Rod McGovern, out for a bit of fun in the ex Barry Barrable machine, while 16 year old William Kellett was ahead of some big names in eighth on his class debut. With the rain still falling, Denning led away as team mate Michael Cullen got by fellow front row starter Mark Turley. when Turley appeared to miss his braking point mid race, he shovelled Cullen off. Turley was out on the spot, Cullen recovering to thirteeth at the flag. Dave Maguire closed down Denning towards the end and the pair crossed the line as one, with Hugh Grennan making it a Murray Motorsport podium in third. McGovern was fourth with Kevin Doran annexing the all important sixth, and pole for race two, with an impressive last minute lunge past Kellett at Mobil Corner.
Doran’s Blackchurch teammate Shane McFadden started alongside him on the front row for race two and it was he who grabbed the lead on the run to the first corner. He was unchallenged from there on and managed a late race safety car and restart superbly to put the result out of date. Doran came under huge pressure from Maguire in the closing stages but hung on by the tiny margin of 0.165 at the line. Steven Kirwan drove well to fourth from Rod McGovern.
2016 Finol Star of Tomorrow Champion Joe Power won the Vee qualifier after a mid race stoppage when Paula Moore and Tadgh Sharkey made contact. 98FM’s Luke O’Faolain impressed to take runner spot and maximum Star of Tomorrow points to open his title campaign. In the final, Colm Blackburn eased away from the battling duo of Ray Moore and polesitter Dan Polley. Their battle ended abruptly when Polley suffered brake failure and bundled Moore into the gravel with him at Mobil 1 corner. Kevin Grogan, in his newly liveried Lucanlaw Leastone was second, right with Blackburn, with Justin Costello in third despite the best efforts of Anthony Cross.
Tommy Byrne’s Total liveried Celica was first across the line in Future Classics, despite the best efforts of the hugely experienced Richie Kearney in the stunning Martini Alfa 155. Ken Byrne, also Celica mounted, was third but a little back with Dan Byrne debuting his Corolla in fourth. Darryl Scully also debuted a new car, an unusual mid engined Honda CRX and brought it home sixth, with a fastest lasp time less than a second off Byrne’s winning Celica!
Niki Meredith dominated the opening Irish Legend race, his Walker backed machine easing away from reigning champion Paul O’Brien, with Ian Conroy further back in third. In race two, Meredith repeated the performance with the ever improving Conroy taking second with O’Brien relegated to third. In the final race, O’Brien struck back with Meredith right with him at the flag and, you’ve guessed it, Conroy in third. An accident in the opening stages eliminated saloon star Kevin Doran, Gary Humphries and rallycrosser Vinny O’Rouke- but all were unhurt in the incident.
Darren Lawlor took pole for the Zetec Fiestas by the narrowest of margins from former Veester Owen Purcell with 2016 Champion Phil Lawless back in sixth. Lawlor, a former winner of the Mondello Park “Become A Racing Driver” competition, held on for the win, but only just, with Mark O’Donoghue alongside as they crossed the line. A resurgent Barry Barrable was a delighted third, in a car he took as a trade in during the week, with Lawless climbing to fourth. In the second, drier race, O’Donoghue eased away for the win, with Lawless taking second from Purcell. Adam Johnston was fourth ahead of multiple Stryker champion Alan Watkins.
Alan Auerbach took a pair of strong wins on his return to the resurgent Stryker class, the evergreen Des Bruton his closest challenger on both occasions. Andy Dalton completed the podium in race one whilst Dave Griffin occupied the final step in the second outing. After worrying times for this class in 2016, the organisers should be applauded for attracting such a good entry. Long may it last.
It may have been a long wait for motor racing fans for the season to restart, but it is quickfire from now as the Northern Ireland season kicks off on Saturday with plenty of interest in FF1600 as apparently Niall Murray and Jake Byrne return and possibly Kevin O’Hara too. James Roe Junior will pilot the all conquering ex Niall Murray Van Diemen in the UK this year too, with Bernard Dolan on the spanners, so don’t be surprised if he makes an appearance up there on Saturday too. The winner of the newly named Dawson-WAM NI FF1600 Championship for 2017 will, if he or she is under 26 years of age on 30th September 2017, qualify for the shootout for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires event. The actual Shootout for the Mazda Road to Indy gives one of twenty drivers a $200,000 prize to be used to fund a drive in the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship. This is a wonderful opportunity for a young driver to get a foothold on the ladder that leads right to the top of US motor racing.
In other FF1600 news, a little birdie that recently flew over Cliff Dempsey’s workshop told me Stephen Daly has signed with the Irish squad for the UK season in FF1600- that should be a formidable combination. Just two weeks after Kirkistown it is Mondello time again, with ITCC and SEAT Supercup making their 2017 openers, as well as the ASK Pirelli Supercar series and the HRCA Historics too!
Until the next time,
All Images from Michael Chester