March 19th brought with it the return of hugely popular Patch Tyre Equipment Fiesta ST Championship to Mondello Park. Now in its second year, a near capacity grid turned out, with an entry list reading like a ‘who’s who’ of Irish saloon car racing. One thing would be certain- the competition was going to be huge!
While I had initially planned to take a step back from competing heavily in 2017, the draw of competition lured me in. With a last minute deal struck I would once again team up with Fiesta ST specialists Blackchurch Ford to contest the 2017 title with returning sponsors Doran Motors and Drogheda Car Sales also coming on board.
Following on from my initial first full year in Irish motorsport at the helm of the ITCC Civic, the decision was made to move to ‘one make’ to work on progressing my racecraft. The launch of the ST series was just the ticket. The level of competition, pace and experience on the grid meant I had to learn quick! Thankfully, I was producing front running pace from the outset. With the difficulty level turned up a notch on the grid for 2017, it would be a welcome challenge for further development!
March 19th and the class took to the track in torrential rain, with grip and visibility nothing more than wishful thinking. While usually I relish such conditions, in qualifying I was caught napping, qualifying an uncharacteristic 11th. With no blame to be placed anywhere other than myself, I’d have it all to do in the race.
Lights out and we’re racing! Into turn one and the usual madness ensues as every competitor searches for their own piece of opportunistic tar. Searching out the gaps, the opening two laps are vital in making road. Working my way up through the grid I find my way to clear track, one goal in mind ‘get inside the top six’. Next up closing in on the series new ‘young gun’ William Kellet running with impressive debut pace, while young in age coming from a long line of the Kellet Motorsport dynasty he’d still have plenty of tricks to hand. A late move into Mobil 1 corner seals the deal and we’re up one more place. Eyes forward now, pace dialed in, keep moving forward. Closing on the next bunch, the battle between Shane McFadden and Rod McGovern when alas, the safety car boards are out! The field compresses and I start to count back to position, the answer is favourable, 6th place and with it a strong haul of points, but more importantly pole position for the reverse grid second race. The question arises in my mind “do we hold station or push when this goes live again”?! I always want to move forward but thankfully the choice was taken from me, red flag under safety car, it’s all over.
Race two and things are looking more favourable, pole position with team mate (and past mentor) Shane McFadden alongside. Lights go out on the now fast drying track, parked on the shaded inside I struggle to put the power down through the ST’s open differential, neck and neck in first, pulled second, a touch too much wheelspin and Shane grips up and gets across in front of me. Through turn one with mirrors filled with Murray Motorsport STs, we’ve got to make a break for it! Sort it out at the end. Full qualifying line punching laps to a healthy margin, Shane with blistering pace out front. Safety car returns, damn it, margin down to zero, tyres hot, front will wash now, a glance in the mirror to see Dave Maguire had arisen as the pace man from the battling pack. This is going to get tough……
The safety car peels off, green flags and Shane makes a break for it out of the esses, I check the gap to Dave in the mirror, enough of a margin to run a quali line into Southside corner, get the exit. It’s head down now and start to mount a response to Shane’s strong pace out front, I pull the margin back by a couple of tenths the next lap but alas over commit into turn three, the suspension loads up and the dreaded ST bounce shoots me wide of the apex, a lift here is costly to the tune of seven/eight tenths, disaster.
I check the gap to the leader, it’s too big I’m not going to pull that back in the last three laps, I check the mirrors into the Esses, sure enough filled with the sight of the 2016 Champion closing in, my race was for second now. There could be no more mistakes, Dave’s pace is relentless and error free, car placement would be key, get it to the line, bag the points. What ensued was a battle inches apart lap on lap with only the tyre marks on the side of each car to tell tale of the closeness of proximity. I crossed the line holding second place by just over one tenth of a second it mirrored battles throughout the field denoting every place on this grid would be hard earned.
Pulling back a poor start to the weekend with a podium finish and a strong points haul to sit fourth in the championship, a mere five points off the top of the table I have to thank the team at Blackchurch Ford for turning out a faultless car all weekend to put us in contention going into the April rounds.
This weekend sees us back in Mondello Park to contest rounds 3 & 4 of the championship. The brief three week hiatus allowing little time for major developments, I’ll be bringing some subtle upgrades in the form of some geometry work in conduction with Fahy’s Garage Oranmore in a bid to improve high speed stability and a more refined overall package working with the Blackchurch team to ensure the car should have what’s needed to run at the pointy end once more come Sunday.
With temperatures set to rise, things are certain to liven up as teams and drivers work to get the tricky balance into the setup window. With such a high level of teams and driver competing it will be almost impossible to predict an outcome given that past performances carry very little guarantee in this class. It won’t be until the clocks stops on qualifying Sunday morning that we all know, who got it right? Who’s fastest now?
Be sure to get down and check out all the action this Sunday April 9th in Mondello Park.
Until the next time,
Mondello Images from Michael Chester