So as you probably know, I’ve changed class this season and jumped into the Mondello Park Fiesta Zetec Championship. My first weekend out rewarded me with two front row starts, two podiums and two fastest laps but I knew I had the pace to get to the top step of the podium- I just needed a bit of luck and a little more pace to achieve it.
Having skipped pre event testing, it was straight into qualifying on the Sunday morning. I was eager to get some quick laps on the board but perhaps I was a little too eager as I spun the car at the first part of turn three on my first flying lap. As the session went on I was struggling to get even near my times from the last day and was sat in P7 for race 1 and P12 for race two- well over a second off pole. The more I saw the pitboard the more I began to overdrive the car. With six minutes left I was waved in and given a well deserved telling off by my dad for this. With the tyre pressures lowered I shot out of the pits with only four minutes left to try and get any improvements. As I came out of the pits I rejoined behind Phil Lawless and decided to try get a sneaky tow off him as an extra help. It worked and next lap round I saw that I’d jumped up to P2 but still had another half a tenth to find to snatch pole. Next lap round the flag was out and as I crossed it the lap timer showed I’d done a 1.11.5 which I knew should have been good enough for pole by a tenth. When I got told the good news in parc ferme, I was delighted with my first ever pole position.
Race one seemed to come along very quickly and soon I was leading the pack out of the pit lane onto the warm up lap. Now to anyone reading this who’s raced for years and done this many times maybe can remember how surreal it is sitting on pole for the first time and waiting for the grid to form behind you as it feels like a lifetime before the five second board is shown. I made a reasonable start but was jumped by fellow front row starter Owen Purcell on the run down to turn one. The two of us managed to get a small gap to the chasing pack but annoyingly for me there were yellow flags down at turn three for a car in the gravel which was the one place I seemed to be able to gain time on Owen. Zetec Fiesta racing is always close and the second you try make a move on someone and slow yourselves up you suddenly find your mirrors full of a pack of Fiestas. Sure enough the second I tried a cutback move at the final corner I soon had both Mark O’Donoghue and Phil Lawless right behind me. It stayed as a four car battle for the lead for a few laps until Phil kindly took the pressure off me by having a serious go at Mark for third place which let me and Owen get away. I threw everything at it but he defended superbly (I think he’s watched too much of Gordon Kellett on the telly!) and I crossed the line right on his back bumper for podium number three in a row.
I knew if I could jump Owen off the line for race two I had a decent chance of a win although I was now starting P2 on the grid. However while I seem to be able to string a lap together in these cars and my race pace is as good as anyone the one thing I’m seeming to struggle with is the starts. Sure enough by the time I pulled second gear I’d Phil on the outside of me and Mark on the inside. By the time we got to turn two I was back in P4 and was thinking “here we go again” going to have to do things the hard way! I was in the middle of a six car train for the lead and while trying to size up Mark for a move I’d to withstand some rather physical attempts from behind at getting past. Eventually I forced Mark into defending into the final corner and got a run down the outside into turn one. I managed to sit round the outside of turn one which gave me the inside for turn two but Mark stuck it round the outside as well which left me on the outside heading into turn three. Anyone who has tried this move knows that this is a risky move at the best of times ( Apparently some lad called Ayrton Senna made this move famous back in the day but back to the story!) I managed to sit around the outside of both the first part and the second part of turn three and finally completed the move down the inside into the Esses. Almost a complete lap side by side with no contact and the room of a Fiesta given but no more- that’s how it should be done! I now set off after reigning champion and Mondello instructor Phil Lawless. If anyone knows these cars and the track the best it’s probably Phil and I now had to try and wrest second place off him. I was carrying more speed than him through the esses and managed to get alongside into the final corner but he pulled the classic Mondello switchback on me and I was back to P3. A lap later it was deja vu as I was again up his inside into Southside corner and made sure this time to park it on the kerb so he couldn’t pull a switchback on me. I thought I’d the move sorted and done but in the braking zone for turn one Mark ran into the back of me and I arrived into turn one like a MK2 Escort sideways in a cloud of tyre smoke! When I got my bearings back I realised Phil had overtaken me again and I was beginning to wonder how many times I’d have to overtake him in this race. The next lap round I got a run on Phil out of turn two and tried to repeat the same move I’d pulled on Mark earlier in the race but just wasn’t able to stick round the outside of the second part of turn two. We were then heading back up to the final corner but this time Phil outbraked himself on the inside and it was a case of third time lucky as I finally completed the move and set off after Owen who had pulled a sizeable margin on us while we battled. I only had three laps left to catch him and despite two fastest laps in a row I ran out of time to catch him so it was a second P2 of the day.
So all in all it was a successful day but I still feel I missed an opportunity for my first win. However there are still two races to go at the Leinster Trophy weekend so hopefully if I can crack these starts that top step of the podium isn’t far away at all
Until next time,
Thanks for reading
Header Image from Michael Chester