It was a cold, dark winter’s night when the idea was first floated. “I’m half thinking of going to the UK for the 50th anniversary festival”, Stephen told me…and of course, it goes without saying that anytime anything is being “half-thought” when it comes to the Vees, in reality there’s a full plan already formed in his head, and he’s just decided it’s a good time to inform the rest of us. While it wasn’t our first time going across the Irish Sea to race, with Stephen having raced Brands Hatch twice previously, it was however SM Racing’s maiden voyage both to Cadwell Park, and to the UK without our trusted fellow race team, Leastone Racing. Normally the Irish and UK Vees don’t get to race each other due to different technical regulations; the UK cars run a highly tuned 1300cc engine, while the Irish cars have a standard 1600cc engine, so this festival-format weekend was a rare opportunity to compete in England.
Fast forward 6 months, and the ferry was booked, the truck was packed, the car was loaded, and SM Racing were ready to hit Cadwell Park. The ferry was due to leave Dublin at 20:45. Based in Kildare, SM HQ is about 45-60 minutes from the port. So of course the logical decision was to leave home at 16:30 – “just in case”. Fast forward 52 minutes to 17:28, and we’re all sitting in the petrol station at the port, 3 hours early. “just in case”, don’t ya know….thank god for a cuppa tea and Netflix! It was all good though – with the mix of excitement and nervous anticipation, the time flew by and the next thing we knew we were sitting on the ferry, having the obligatory we’re-on-our-travels-pint, and trying to cram in any bit of sleep we could – some were more successful than others!
The plan was that we’d roll off the ferry, hit the road for a couple of hours, and pull over for a decent sleep before heading on to Cadwell Park the following morning. We had left Dublin on Wednesday night, and testing in Cadwell wasn’t until Friday morning, so we had loads of time. “Just in case” ;). The plan worked a treat, we got as far as Chester, pulled into services and parked up for the night. I’m often asked how do sleeping arrangements work on race weekends – most commonly asked do we stay in hotels or B&Bs – I suppose it’d be unusual for a girl to stay anywhere else! People are usually surprised when I tell them that we just jump into the back of the truck – a few air beds and sleeping bags, as comfortable as any of us needs. So comfortable, in fact, that I was passed out before my head hit the pillow, and had a better night’s sleep every night in that truck, than I had had in my own bed in the 2 weeks previous!
By Thursday afternoon we had arrived at Cadwell, found our bearings, and we weren’t long setting up camp. Adam Macauley, Gavin Buckley, Jimmy Furlong and Kevin Sheane were also racing for the weekend, and so space was kept for them alongside us, an “Irish camp” set up – we weren’t there to take part, we were there to take over!! Walking the track that evening along with Stephen and Adam, there was no disguising the excitement in both Stephen’s and Adam’s faces when they saw the complex corners and racing lines they’d be battling through on the 2.5 mile track over the course of the weekend. We were all very impressed with the track, but to be honest I was more focused on getting up and down the mountains around the track without losing a lung on the way!
Friday was spent testing, and there was no wiping the smiles off the Irish lads’ faces when they came in from each session – it was clear to both Dad and I that this track was the new favorite! With a great day’s testing under our belts, we had high hopes for the weekend’s prospects.
Saturday morning arrived. Scrutiny had been cleared the previous evening, the paddock was full of Vees, and we were ready for qualifying. The timetable for the weekend meant that every Vee driver did a qualifying race, two out of three heats, and the final. Your fastest lap in qualifying determined your grid position in the heats, and your finishing place in the heats determined your grid position in the final.
Stephen left the camp ready for action, and ended up qualifying in 5th place. The car was going well, Stephen was driving well, the track was mighty. We were all happy and very much looking forward to seeing how our car would perform alongside the UK Vees in heat 1.
For heat 1, myself and Dad had decided to watch the race from the stands. The race started well, but in lap 1, Adam Macauley had an off-track excursion, bringing out the red flags. While waiting for Vees to be re-gridded we noticed a marshal at Stephens car. I pointed it out to Dad, and he thought maybe they were just having a chat. Wishful thinking.
A minute later, the Vee was being pushed off the grid, with Stephen still in it. Shite. Both Dad and I were in the stand at the far side of the track. As the crow flies, it wasn’t a long distance at all, but to get to the pit lane from where we were was a good 1km over hilly terrain. Dad was cursing everything under the sun, thinking that was the end of that race, and we’d be screwed for a decent position in the final too. I decided to start running down towards the pit lane as fast as I could. Now, 1km wouldn’t seem like much to most. However, I had taken the notion of “treating myself” to a new high all summer long, and hadn’t seen the inside of the gym in a very long time, so where I got the notion of running up hills and down vales to try and help, I’ll never know. 2 thoughts going through my mind halfway down to the pit lane; 1- get back to the gym asap. 2- what the hell could I do to fix whatever the problem was, sure I haven’t hands to bless myself! I ran on regardless, and a couple minutes later, with some pleading with a marshal to let me across the track, I got down to the bottom of the hill and onto the pit lane. “There’s a small oil leak” Stephen told me. Small and all as it was, when the cars were sitting on the grid, it had been dripping onto the track, and the car was taken off the grid. The marshals very kindly told me that if I could find a way of cleaning it up, they would turn a blind eye and let Stephen restart the race from the pit lane. Having run from the stands, I had no tools or rags on me – so the scarf was sacrificed. A couple of minutes of mopping and re-mopping later to make sure we were in the clear, and we were good to go again. The marshals were more than surprised that a “young lass” would come running to help with the car, never mind using her scarf to do the job – when needs must! A minute or two later, the race was ready to restart. Stephen restarted from the pit lane, and within a couple of laps, had jumped up to 7th place, where he stayed for the rest of the race. It’s amazing what a bit of stress in a race can do to get the fire going in the belly!
Back to camp as quick as we could, and the camaraderie and willingness to help fellow competitors that is a hallmark of Formula Vee was plain to see. Jimmy Furlong produced a new axle boot for Stephen to permanently fix the oil leak, Stephen loaned an engine to Kevin Sheane who had an issue with his at the start of the race, and Team Cartbrooke Racing gave a steering rack to Adam to get him back out for the second heat. Stephen started in 6th and finished in 4th after a great dice with Ben Miloudi, pipping him to 4th at the penultimate corner.
Saturday night saw the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Formula Vee. There was a BBQ and party set up in one area of the paddock, and all the drivers and crews gathered together for a ‘bit of a do’. Plenty of stories were exchanged, and the craic was had. It was a great example of the friendliness of the Formula Vee class as a whole, and a great reminder as to why we choose to be part of the class.
Sunday afternoon brought the final Formula Vee race of the weekend. Stephen had qualified in 6th place, and we were on a promise of rain during the day. We had been hoping for a shower of rain all weekend, as we knew it would suit our car on that particular track. However, when the rain arrived, it really arrived. As the Vees were sitting on the grid, ready for the off, torrential rain fell, quickly accompanied by thunder and lightning. The drivers exited the cars, we exited the stands, and we all ran for shelter. We had family visiting that day, and young Rhonan summed it up perfectly as he shouted to the skies “Stephen’s got his rain, you can stop now!!” All cars and crews were sent back to their camps to dry out. 20 minutes or so later, the race was ready to restart. Stephen had a fantastic battle for 3rd place, swapping places with Tim Crighton and James Clennell all through the race. The race finished with Stephen in 4th place, and as the 1st non-UK driver home, an extra trophy was awarded to SM Racing. You can watch the final here:
We weren’t long packing up the Irish camp, and hitting the road back home again. Tired, happy heads, the journey back to Holyhead was filled with chats and laughs about all aspects of the weekend, both in the truck, and with Adam and the Sheane family when we stopped for grub halfway to Holyhead. Once we reached the ferry, there was no thirst for the obligatory pints – it’d be fair to say that as soon as our bums hit the couches we all passed out, wrecked from the action all weekend. Before we knew it, we were back home to HQ again, unpacking the truck, and already looking towards our next round in Kirkistown at the end of August. It was a fantastic weekend, both for SM Racing’s results, and for the craic in general. It’s definitely one that’ll be talked about in the SM Racing camp for a long time to come!
Special thanks to Craig Pollard, Ben Miloudi, Tim Probert, Pete Belsey and all at the 750MC for organising a fantastic weekend. Hope to see ye all over in Mondello next year for the Irish Vee Festival.