The Formula Ford Festival is, for many, the highlight of the season. The pilgrimage to Brands Hatch to see the best of Europe and sometimes the world, is always a great trip and the tricolour is always in evidence in the Paddock Hill Grandstand. There was, of course an Irish Formula Ford Festival for many years, held at Mondello Park and it was always hard fought but since the demise of the class south of the border, the Formula Vee Festival has been the only single seater Festival type event at Mondello.
Due mainly to the trojan efforts of the Formula Vee Association, it has been a massive success in recent times and has raised significant funds for the Laura Lynn Foundation. This weekend, almost all of the Irish race classes join the budget single seaters with a packed timetable over two days.
Dan Polley is the reigning Vee champion and has two wins to his name in 2017 so it would be reasonable to assume he is the favourite to take the Festival- but, as ever with Formula Vee, it is never quite that clear cut. Colm Blackburn’s Steven Kershaw tended Leastone has proven a match for Polley’s LOH Sheane thus far in the season and he heads the title standings coming into the weekend. Unfortunately, the pair are not exactly seeing eye to eye after they came together at the last Mondello meeting. In a similar vein to Hamilton and Vettel, and for similar reasons, they probably won’t be seen chatting in the paddock anytime soon! Both though, will be even more keen than normal to climb onto the top step of the podium this weekend. Should they tangle, or falter, there are a host of likely challengers. Justin Costello has been right on the pace this season in his Delaney run Leastone and class returnee Steven Morrin is worth watching in his SM Racing machine, having had a great run at the recent Kirkistown meeting. Kevin Grogan was one of Polley’s closest challengers in 2016 and was in the mix again this year until a massive Bishopscourt shunt all but destroyed his car. He has appeared since in a rented machine since and is entered agian this weekend, but only for the championship rounds. 98FM’s Luke O’Faolain has been a revelation this year and leads the Star of Tomorow title chase with 4 wins to his name. At the last Mondello meeting though, the novice mixed it with the big boys and ran at the sharp end of the A race until contact sent him spinning late on. He will be keen to repeat this performance this weekend and this time round the quick boys will be keeping an eye on him. Two parachute entries might be worth keeping an eye on too- ITCC stalwart Brian Sexton makes his single seater debut in a Leastone. While Sexton has plenty of experience, he is used to having a roof over his head- unlike the second interloper. John O’Hara is a former winner in Formula Vee, Formula Ford, Formula Opel and Formula 3 and, home on holidays, has decided to have a run out in younger brother Kevin’s lap record holding Leastone chassis. There are some issues with his licence apparently, but should these be sorted- that combination is capable of causing a massive upset! Actually as I type this, I have heard that John will not, after all, be on the grid this weekend- but the good news for us, and possibly the bad news for the series regulars is that Kevin O’Hara returns to his LOH modified Leastone chassis for the event. As ever, the former Motorsport Ireland Young Driver of The Year remains tightlipped on his chances for the weekend- but he definitely won’t be there to make up numbers.
ITCC also returns to Mondello this time round and Shane Rabbitt will be keen to score another win in his lurid Mazda RX-7. He won’t have it easy though, as Rob Savage will push as hard as ever in his Integra and Keith Campbell is back in his lhd Honda powered Corrado. Ulick Burke has shown a great turn of pace in his supercharged Integra but has been beset by teething issues. He continues to develop the car though and a shortage of power is definitely not an issue! Former Production frontrunner Ian O’Driscoll is on the entry list too and should go well on his first outing on slicks. Jay O’Reilly has had a few issues in his beautifully presented Civic but these are sorted and he is on the grid too. An exciting addition is that of class organiser Brent Hughes, who debuts his turbocharged Corolla, with a reputed 350bhp!
Pa Hudson has been pretty much unchallenged in the poorly supported Production class- but that may be about to change this weekend. Adrian Dunne has upgraded his Citroen Saxo, which now sports GXSR 1000 throttle bodies and a few other mods. At the last round, Hudson’s engine dropped a valve in qualifying, leaving newbie Alan Healy to take two fine wins. It is worth noting, however, that Healy was on provisional pole before Hudson’s car let go, suggesting we can look forward to some good battles in the class from now on.
SEAT Supercup Ireland is also on the card this weekend and it seems Rod McGovern is headed towards the title despite the best efforts of the rest. Reigning champion Erik Holstein has finally given up the struggle with the ex David Kidd machine and sits this one out. Jonathan Fildes is keen to get back on the top step but he will have to deal with rapid newcomers Sam Mansfield and Shane Murphy as well as feisty team mate Barry English as well. Former Fiesta pilot JJ O’Riordan also joins the class at the wheel of the race winning Niall Quinn machine and no doubt will add spice to the action!
Formula Sheane is always close fought and expect them to be no different this time out. The evergreen Brian Hearty is always a safe bet for a win but Kevin Sheane is every bit as quick and they generally share the wins. Dave Parks shows flashes of race winning pace though and could cause an upset, especially if his brand new car is on the pace- he tests it tomorrow. Richard Kearney and Robbie Allen won’t be far away either and Niall O’Flynn will be keen to add to his recent Pembrey win.
Owen Purcell and Mark O’Donoghue have been the pace of the Fiesta Zetec class so far this season, but both may need to pull their socks up this weekend as teen star William Kellett joins the fray. Having being punted off one too many times, he has parked his damaged Fiesta ST and instead moves to father Alistair’s Rallycross car- expect him to run at the very front. Former Vee and FF1600 driver Lloyd Murphy went well on his Fiesta debut last time out and is entered again this weekend. Others of note include Adam Johnston, Thomas Mulready, Phil Lawless and Roy Tobin, whilst multiple Stryker champion Alan Watkins continues to improve as he gets used to having a roof over his head!
— William Kellett (@wkellettracing) June 27, 2017
Dave Maguire won the inaugural Fiesta ST title and he leads the title chase as they reach the half way point this weekend. Shane McFadden has probably been his closest challenger in terms of pace and needs to win to keep his title chances on the boil, whilst Brendan “Gas Monkey” Fitzgerald, John Denning and Michael Cullen will be in the mix too. As with all one make tin top series, damage has been a major issue and a few drivers are sidelined this weekend because of it. Expect the officials to be keeping a close eye on proceedings when the Patch Tyre Equipment machines take to the track over the weekend.
Irish Supercars Powered By Pirelli are also out and we can expect Peter Barrable, Barry Hallion and Alan Dawson to slug it out up front. Barrable and Dawson are both highly experienced but former Punto champion Hallion appeared to have the legs of both last time out, before a failed alternator caused his Kellett Motorsport machine to head to the pitlane mid race. Former Stryker and Global star Keith Dawson has purchased a Supercar but does not appear on the entry list time just yet- he is another who should be capable of running right at the sharp end when he comes out too. Single seater regulars Robbie Parks and Gary Corcoran are also entered this weekend, having purchased cars over the winter with a few more names to come later in the season too.
Alan Auerbach may as well be in a different class to the rest in Irish Strykers, such is his advantage over the rest. As he dominated last time out, the battle for second was one of the best of the weekend- expect more of the same this time round. Des Bruton, like Brian Hearty in Sheanes, makes no allowances for age and is right on the pace, as is popular class returnee Andy Dalton. Should Dave Griffin and his #TeamDG crew enter, expect him to be in the mix too! Paul Yeomans and Greg Kelly also went well last time out and cannot be discounted.
BOSS Ireland also return to Mondello this weekend and it is unlikely anyone will challenge former class champion Fergus Faherty, who had upgraded to a pukka F3 machine and dominated at Kirkistown recently. Peter O’Dwyer drove superbly at the last Mondello though, to win from the pitlane and will be keen to take another win so that battle should be interesting while class regulars Colm Hynes, John Daly and Donal Griffin should also go well.
With exams done and dusted the Ginetta Junior Ireland series are back on track this weekend and despite small grids expect some great battles. Patrick Dempsey and Cameron Fenton are equal on race wins, but Dempsey holds the series leads, courtesy of extra points for pole position. Dempsey holds a very slight advantage in terms of pace, driving the ex Andy O’Brien/Jordan Dempsey title winning machine but a few spins last time out cost him dearly. Fenton is confident he can close the gap with a few recent improvements to the car- but it won’t be easy! Chris Grimes and Rob Parks have also improved steadily this year and will be aiming to close the gap to the pacesetters this weekend.
Micksgarage Future Classics has been as successfull as ever this year and they should have their usual packed grid for this weekend’s championship round. A Celica seems to be the weapon of choice of late- they may not be great around the twiddly bits but an abundance of power, reputed to be well over 200bhp on a few of them, is more than enough to keep the tiddlers at bay once they reach the main straight. Brothers Tommy, Aidan and Ken Byrne all drive the FWD Japanese machines and they top the title standings in that order. MJ Farrell won in atrocious conditions last time out in his new Toyota Levin, it will be interesting to see how the machin goes in the dry. Richie Kearney is also entered in the beautiful Martini liveried Alfa 155 as is Ger Byrne, who always goes well in his BMW 323i.
Pre 55s also make one of their few Mondello appearances and should as ever, provide great photographic opportunities for the snappers. Expect Ken McEvoy, Tony “ACJ” Dowling, Edmund Cassidy and the guesting Liam Ruth (in Cassidy’s Iona Special MkII”) to enjoy some great battles in their historic machines.
The event raises funds for the Laura Lynn foundation and as ever, there will be an auction in the Mondello Bar on Saturday, hosted by my good self. Always a great laugh and there is something to suit every pocket. If you can donate anything to the auction, no matter how small (or big), please contact me or drop it to the commentary box or Leastone Racing truck on Saturday! The annual Fiesta Push will also take place over the weekend and if you want to enter all you need is a Zetec Fiesta and a few strong helpers. As with all other activities over the weekend- all funds raised go to Laura Lynn! Entry is just €50 and to enter, contact Katie Palmer on 087-6893052
Images from Michael Chester