The first two day meeting of the year takes place at Mondello Park this weekend, with almost all of the Irish racing classes taking to the tarmac on Saturday and Sunday.
Formula Vee returns to the Kildare circuit and we can expect thrilling battles at the front. Perennial pacesetter and
reigning champion Dan Polley has a fight on his hands this year from a determined Colm Blackburn, who leads the title chase after a second win of 2017 at Kirkistown recently. Kevin Grogan all but destroyed his Leastone chassis in a Bishopscourt shunt but showed well in a rented Newsome Racing Sheane at Kirkistown- should he stay in that car, expect to see him at the sharp end too. 98FM DJ Luke O’Faolain heads the Star of Tomorrow series and should be good for the win again- unless Cork Camogie star Ashling Thompson appears on the entry list, the Red Bull athlete having narrowly beaten Luke in a Celebrity Challenge for Pieta House at Mondello’s Party in the Park recently. The banter between the pair has been hilarious since, with Ashling tweeting a clip of her eating her breakfast cereal from the winners trophy the following day!
— Ashling Thompson (@AshlingThompson) May 29, 2017
Formula Sheane also feature with two races on Saturday afternoon. As ever, expect the racing to be fast and close. Frontrunners Brian Hearty and Kevin Sheane have shared the titles in this class in recent years, but David Parks is on form and with a double win in Pembrey under his belt, he will be keen to keep this momentum going as the class returns to its home circuit. Mark Dunleavy is also entered and has shown great pace in the Enda O’Connor owned and run machine. Niall O’Flynn took his maiden with great drive in the reverse grid Bob Parks Memorial Trophy and this will have boosted his confidence too. Richard Kearney and Robbie Allen are two tough competitors too and won’t be too far away from the action!
The Mondello Zetec Fiestas also make their usual appearance, with two races. Darren Lawlor, the original winner of Mondello Park’s Become A Race Driver competition, won the opening round of the series but since then, Mark
O’Donoghue has done all of the winning, and leads the title chase. Former Veester Owen Purcell has pushed him hard though and we can probably expect more of the same when the budget tin tops take to the circuit.
The Patch Tyre Equipment Fiesta ST series are also back, with reigning champion Dave Maguire heading the championship standings, just, from Shane McFadden. Maguire and Murray Motorsport team mate John Denning are on a win apiece, whilst Blackchurch Motors tended McFadden has taken the other two, one by the narrowest of margins over team mate Kev Doran, after a superbly executed run out of the final corner! Doran, as ever, is unsure if he will be on the grid this weekend as his ST is for sale and he has been working on his ITCC Civic, but of he enters, expect entertainment! Michael Cullen is also entered and the SuperValu car will no doubt be in the middle of any on track action when the lights go out! McFadden will also be selling #BillyWhizz stickers over the weekend for just €10 and can be found in the Blackchurch Motors camp if you would like to purchase one!
What ITCC lacks in numbers, it has certainly made up for in excitement so far this year. Shane Rabbitt has been the man of the moment thus far in his spectacular flame throwing Mazda RX-7, but fuel starvation issues hobbled him in Pembrey and this allowed an on form Rob Savage to grab two impressive wins in his trusty “Blue Thunder” Integra. Ulick Burke has suffered some teething problems in his supercharged ex Owain Drought Integra but has shown flashes of race winning pace so watch out for him too. Keith Campbell also returns to the series in his lhd Honda powered Corrado and will be in the mix too. Martin Duffy is also on the entry list in his immaculate Autoremap M3 and Production champion Jay O’Reilly should be right there too, having run strongly in Pembrey in his upgraded Civic. Pa Hudson has been the man to beat in the poorly supported Production class this year and it is hard to see him being beaten again this weekend, especially as Future Classic graduate Adrian Dunne is not entered. Alan Healy joins the class this weekend in his immaculate ex track day Civic. There are, however, plenty of ITCC cars in prep so the grids should swell as the season continues.
The Irish Supercar Championship Powered By Pirelli are also showing on the card with two races for the spaceframe machines. Alan Dawson’s SWR machine took pole and two wins first time out in April but Peter Barrable led race one in a borrowed car before retiring with mechanical issues. This time round, Barrable should be back in his own, newly rebuilt, car and as ever, will be a force to be reckoned with. Barry Hallion is also entered in his immaculate Kellett Motorsport machine and he showed well recently at the Mondello Party in The Park Mini Stages Sprint, being quickest of the Supercars and not too far off Pat McBennett’s Lotus either. Should ASK team boss Alan Kessie jump into one of the cars, he should be right in the mix too. Having purchased a car over the winter, single seater and Future Classic exponent Robbie Parks is entered and it will be interesting to see how he gets on with his new machine.
Micksgarage.com Future Classics are back out and as ever, it is hard to speculate as to who will run at the front. Their recent visit to Kirkistown showed that there are some proper quick machines on this grid and if Tommy Byrne can qualify near the front, he won’t be easily beaten in his Celica. Ger Byrne’s BMW 3 series is worth a punt too, and Aidan and Ken Byrne, also Celica mounted, shouldn’t be too far away either. Should the rain fall though, watch out for David Hammond in the little Uno- he has upset the applecart on occasion before and the wet conditions should suit the underpowered, but nimble, machine. Richie Kearney has also been going well in the beautiful Martini Alfa 155 and a drop of rain might suit the former Punto champion too!
The Stryker class have made an incredible comeback this year. In 2016, with single numbers they looked like they were heading for extinction, but over the winter some incredible work has seen numbers doubled and they expect to have a 20 car grid before the end of the year. Well done to all involved. Multiple Champion Alan Watkins has decided to sit out the year and have a go at Fiestas for a bit of fun and class returnee Alan Auerbach has been the class of the field thus far. Should Dave Griffin enter, and stay in on Friday night (!), he might be the one to challenge Auerbach, but there are also some very promising newbies too- so an upset could be on the cards!
The HRCA Class are also out and it is hard to see Bernard Foley’s MGBGT V8 being beaten. The car has been developed over the last number of years and is now a fast and well sorted machine. The rumbling Tiger of Jackie Cochrane is one of the few machines capable of beating Bernard but he is not a class regular these days. Steve Griffin’s Modsport Midget, Clive Brandon’s Lotus 47 and Val Thompson’s Zetec powered TMC Costin are the closest challengers whilst expect the usual battle of the Sprites and Midgets further down the field as Liam Ruth, Ken McEvoy Wolfgang Schnittger et al do battle. Former Vee racer Ed Rynhart joined the Midget hordes last time out at Mondello and enjoyed some great scraps. Also on the entry list is the Mallock Clubmans car of Colin Grant, form unknown, so he could possibly spring a surprise!
SEAT Supercup Ireland still suffers from poor grids and will share the track with the Supercars once again this weekend, but that is not to say that we won’t get plenty of excitement. Rod McGovern leads the title chase from the hugely experienced Jonathan Fildes (above) but both cannot fail to have been surprised by the pace of the class newbies. Shane Murphy is a former World Hotrod Champion and has been as impressive as you would expect, whilst novice Sam Mansfield has already had podium finishes and led races, his first win surely can’t be far away. Barry English won last time out at Mondello despite huge pressure from McGovern and he will be keen to repeat this, whilst reigning champion Erik Holstein has had an absolute nightmare thus far this year. His borrowed ex David Kidd car has suffered from a myriad of issues but he is confident that Murray Motorsport have sorted it ahead of the weekend. If they have, the others will need to pull their socks up, as he won’t be in a compromising mood!
Unfortunately a severe lack of marshals has seen Mondello Park change format from the International to the National Circuit. Also, as I finish this article, on Friday morning, the sun may be shining, but the forecast is not great for the weekend- in which case- ignore all of the above!!
Best of luck to all racers this weekend,
All Images from Michael Chester.