Two things happened at Mondello Park on Sunday that I’m not sure have ever happened before at the Kildare venue. Firstly, Shane Rabbitt’s spectacular Mazda RX-7 ignited itself on the slow down lap of ITCC qualifying, having taken pole. Having taken a while to extinguish, we didn’t expect the car to make the grid- let alone win the race. It did both!! Secondly, Keith Campbell had a lairy 360 degree spin exiting the Esses, yet went on to win the race.
In the first BOSS Ireland race, Donal Griffin led away in his Holden engined F3000 Reynard. Former class champion Fergus Faherty dived by into Southside corner at the end of lap one though, in his newly acquired Dallara F3 machine. Griffin simply blasted back into the lead on the main straight though and we were set for an intriguing battle at the head of the field. The duo swapped the lead on numerous occasions throughout the race but nobody had budgeted for the incredible pace of Peter Dwyer, who had started from the pitlane after problems in qualifying. Having sliced through the grid, he charged up to the back of the lead pair, before disposing of them both with apparent ease to take the flag for an impressive win! In race two, it looked as if we were set for more of the same, but Griffin’s car coasted to a halt early on and on this occasion, Dywer charged to second but was unable to match his earlier pace, leaving Faherty to take a debut win for his new machine.
Mark O’Donoghue continued his strong run of form in Zetec Fiestas, taking an easy win in race one from former Veester Owen Purcell and multiple Stryker champion Alan Watkins. Watkins had come out tops in a hectic battle with veteran tip top exponent Barry Barrable, Roy Tobin and Darren Lawlor! In race two, a massive slide into turn three slowed O’Donoghoe on the run back up the hill and Purcell didn’t wait for a written invitation, he was alongside and took the lead into the Esses. As you can see from O’Donoghue’s onboard, below, the pair enjoyed a great battle until Purcell put a wheel onto the grass coming into Bridgestone and fell back into the clutches of Lawlor. With O’Donoghue taking the flag for the double, and increasing his series lead into the bargain, the battle for runner up spot was far from decided. As Purcell defended into Southside for the final time, Lawlor got the run on the exit and it was hard to separate them at the line, Purcell getting the official verdict by an official .012!
As ever there was a packed Fiesta ST grid and it was reigning champion Dave Maguire on pole with Shane McFadden alongside. When the lights changed, McFadden nailed a perfect start to slice across the reigning champions’s bows on the run to Mobil Corner. Unfortunately for him though, an accident further back eliminated three cars and brought out the red flags. Maguire wasn’t quite so tardy off the line at the second time of asking and it was he who led the pack down to the first corner. McFadden then came under pressure from the vastly improved Michael Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald snatched the place away but fell foul of the officials for a jump start and was classified well back after the resultant time penalty was applied. This left Michael Cullen second with McFadden in third. As ever, there was a hectic race for sixth- as this position gets pole for race two and it was Galway’s Tom Fahy who led the pack onto the grid for the second race.
Fahy made no mistakes to lead away but was usurped by the charging Kevin Doran at the end of the opening lap. Team mate McFadden also slipped by Fahy but soon came under pressure from Fitzgerald with Maguire right with them too. A failed attempt to wrest second away from McFadden came to naught and allowed Maguire to attack for the final podium position. McFadden, meanwhile, had closed right onto the rear bumper of Doran for the lead and any suggestion of Blackchurch team orders were dispelled as Doran began to go defensive. He seemed to have it all in hand- until the final corner of the final lap. As Doran covered the switchback at Southside, he clipped the inside kerb, causing a touch of the dreaded ST wheelspin. This allied to McFadden’s decision to run right around the outside, meant the pair arrived onto the straight side by side. At the line it was McFadden- by a fraction in the closest finish of the day! Fitzgerald hung on for third, just, from Maguire with Fahy an impressive fifth and Cullen in sixth.
Bernard Foley took HRCA pole, but with Stevie Griffin’s Modsport Midget just a tenth slower, it looked like we would be treated to a cracker of a race. In the event though, Foley nailed the start, not an easy thing to do in his 4.0 V8 machine and pretty much sailed away into the distance. Griffin was equally safe in second with Clive Brandon’s immaculate Lotus 47 completing the podium in third. Most of the interest centred on the usual battle between the steel bodied Midget/Sprite variants of Wolfgang Schnittger and Liam Ruth. Schnittger had this initial advantage but was overhauled by Ruth, with Seamus Hobbs not far behind them in the iconic Morgan Dempsey built MDGT. In race two, Griffin briefly got the nose ahead off the line and although he could not stop Foley from doing the double, stayed far closer than he had done first time round. With Liam Ruth pitting early on and subsequently retiring, Schnittger first of the more standard Midgets home and was also an impressive fourth overall. Former Vee racer Ed Rynhart made his class debut in a Midget and enjoyed a great tussle with Noel Kavanagh’s MGB in both races too.
Shane Rabbitt’s Mazda RX-7 snatched ITCC pole with a lap under the magic minute but unfortunately burst into flames after the chequered flag and blazed merrily at the rear paddock gate before being extinguished by a combination of drivers, marshals and mechanics. Typically though, Shane and his crew got to work on the car and it was wonderful to see it leading the pack down the pitlane a few hours later to take up pole position for the first race! Ulick Burke’s supercharged Integra was alongside but lost out to Rabbitt and Martin Duffy off the line as the rwd cars exercised their advantage from a standing start. Rabbitt’s charred machine might not have looked pretty but there were no problems with pace as he immediately began to ease away. Duffy came under attack from Burke, who annexed the place with what was probably the move of the day- around the outside into the Esses. Burke stabilised the gap to Rabbitt and even closed it slightly before dropping back into the clutched of the Duffy M3 once again, later explaining that the heat of the brakes was burning the CV boots off the car by mid race! With Burke and Duffy both being excluded for being underweight (currently under appeal I understand), there were just two finishers in the Super Touring class as the well driven Honda powered Corrado of Keith Campbell followed Rabbitt home. Predictably, Pa Hudson took Production honours in his well prepared Integra, despite the best efforts of Adrian Dunne’s fast starting Saxo.
Burke took up pole position as a drizzle of rain began to fall but as ever, it was Rabbitt who snatched the lead on the run to turn one. Campbell sliced by Burke for second at Southside but a lap later a lurid 360 degree spin dropped him back to third again. Rabbitt looked set for the double but unfortuantely ground to a halt with electrical issues with a few laps left to run. An incredible comeback drive from Campbell had seen him fight off Duffy, displace Burke, snatch fastest lap and incredibly, despite his spin, take in impressive ITCC victory. Burke was second with Duffy third. Hudson once again drove away from Dunne’s Saxo to take the Production double.
Various issues meant the Irish Supercars had a small grid but no shortage in terms of pace as Alan Dawson snatched pole from former champion Peter Barrable, in a borrowed car for the day, with Bob Cameron next up, ahead of Philip Jones and ITCC regular Rob Savage. Barrable got the jump off the line and despite Dawson’s best efforts, began to ease away. An ominous smoke trail looked worrying though and sure enough, Barrable soon ceded the lead to Dawson and headed towards the pits. This left Dawson unchallenged with Cameron in second and Jones in third. In race two, with Barrable not starting, it was another lights to flag win for Dawson with Jones this time taking second and Cameron in third, just, after a hectic battle with the delighted Savage.
SEAT Supercup Ireland also opened their 2017 Championship at the meeting and despite Rob Butler and Niall Quinn having moved on from the class, World Hotrod Champion Shane Murphy and novice Sam Mansfield were two new additions and both made their mark on their class debuts. Rod McGovern has been runner up twice in the championship and makes no decret that he is gunning to take the title in 2017. He lined up on pole position in his MM Motorsport tended machine with Jonathan Fildes in second and Holstein in third in the the borrowed, and unfancied, ex David Kidd machine. McGovern bogged down when the lights went out and predictably, Holstein aimed his machine for the gap between the poleman and the armco. Rod has been round the block a few times though, and swiftly closed the gap, the slight contact causing the reigning champion to hit the brakes. Fildes, on the far side of the grid was a little slow away too and this allowed the Hotrod man, Shane Murphy, to take a flier and briefly grab the lead of his first ever SEAT race! McGovern had the inside line though and managed to lead the pack out of turn one, going on to take an emphatic win and start his title campaign in the best possible way. Barry English was a strong second with Holstein just holding team mate Fildes off for the final podium spot and Sam Mansfield in fifth. In race two, English grabbed the lead earlier with Holstein, now in trouble with handling issues, holding the rest back. McGovern eventually found a gap in Holstein’s staunch defence though, and set off in pursuit of the leader. Having reached he rear bumper of the Murray Motorsport car, McGovern tried every trick in the book, but English drove superbly to soak up all the pressure and take his debut SEAT Supercup win. Fildes was third but found himself excluded after the race. This elevated an ecstatic Sam Mansfield to a well deserved third, the novice having closed down the leaders when the rain returned in the closing stages.
Ginetta Junior Ireland had started their championship a few weeks previously in Kirkistown and double winner Patrick Dempsey took pole at Mondello at the wheel of the ex Jordan Dempsey/Andy O’Brien title winning machine. He made no mistakes to lead away with Cameron Fenton again his closest challenger. When Dempsey spun mid race, Fenton was close enough to grab the lead and cruise home to a strong victory. In race two, Fenton got the jump on Dempsey off the line and when the Galway driver spun again, he was clear to do the double. Dempsey recovered well in both races, regaining runner up spot and retains the series lead in what should be a very interesting season.
STAR DRIVE- hard one to call, as Peter Dwyer, Shane Rabbitt and Shane McFadden were all impressive, but the man who impressed me most was Sam Mansfield in SEAT Supercup Ireland. To run with drivers of the calibre of McGovern, Fildes and Holstein on your class debut- and with little or no motorsport experience- is pretty incredible. In the closing stages of race two, with the rain beginning to fall, he was fastest man on track….
Until the next time,
Images from Michael Chester