It’s Thursday night, or should I say Friday morning, 2.30am. I’ve just finished a two week Patch Tyre Equipment Fiesta ST150 build, brand new from scratch, built only in the early hours. Sleep, a term that I used to know…..
But all that is forgotten now, we’re ready to go testing. Early morning and into the afternoon is spent sorting out those new car gremlins, then for the final two runs we give it tyres and it gives up it’s lap times. Confidence is good, we’re ready for battle and what Sunday morning might bring.
It’s race day, Sunday 17th at Mondello Park. But not just any race day, the biggest meeting of the year, the Leinster Trophy meeting and with it the Patch Tyre Equipment Championship finale. Today, if ever, was the day you needed to bring your A game.
As we ready for qualifying the conditions were damp, a greasy track but drying fast. I keep a close eye on the ITCC qualifying times, the lap times are improving lap on lap, it’s going to be full dry! So that’s what I set up for.
Our session goes live and the field is split, some hit the track and press on, others wait it out in the pits. Me, somewhere in between, I circulate off pace building just enough temp for a push and feeling out corner grip. I pit briefly, returning to the track for three flyers. Lap one puts the Doran Motors sponsored car right at the sharp end, lap two wasn’t without its errors but an improvement none the less, as I enter the main straight for one last big push I see the thing I least wanted, the chequered flag! Arriving into Parc Ferme to the sign of only three/four cars ahead of me confirms it, I’ve missed ‘the’ lap. I hope not to drop too far, luckily it was enough to hold P5.
Race one and we’re off, a solid start sees me draw alongside P3 Hugh Grennan with Michael Cullen to my outside, three wide into the first corner. Alas entering turn one and there’s been an incident, eyes open, search for the gap and grab it. On the run down to turn three and it’s time for a position count, but it’s an easy one, we’re P2!
Safety car is scrambled to clear up the turn one incident, ahead is Darragh McMullen, a former Fiesta Zetec front runner, to my rear Shane McFadden, both will have pace once these lights go out! Lights out and we’re racing, Darragh nails the restart edging out a gap, I pull margin over McFadden who has his mirrors full of Hugh Grennan and we’re off. Head down all three pulling away from the pack, lap times well into the 2.04s straight off, over a second faster than last years pole time- such has been the progression this year! Within two laps I’m closed on the leader, lining up some moves but with every failed attempt McFadden draws closer. Then comes the run, I carry big speed through paddock corner as we rejoin the National section, run the kerb and it’s bumper to bumper, a switch left into a right just as we reach the braking point and we enter alongside, but alas as Darragh closes the door to carry his line our wheels touch, an issue however, my tyre pressures were low, dropped once more by the safety car, this debeads the tyre from the rim, I pull the car immediate right hand down and to the side out of the way of McFadden. I consider briefly a Gilles Villeneuve moment, pressing on with three good tyres, but that was short lived and I retire the car as McFadden and McMullen ensue a close fought battle to the line with Darragh taking his first ST win. Back in paddock assembly it’s deflated tyres and deflated hopes as I watched on, but on the positive not much had changed in the few months I had spent away from STs, we were back once more right where we had left off, battling for the lead. Ever up for a challenge, the puncture meant one more thing was to play out… a race two start from the back of the grid!
Race two, P17. An angry grid ahead, a championship to be settled…. One thing was for sure, this wasn’t going to be easy! Lights out and I hook it up, juking left and right through the field on the run to turn one, side by side with a familiar livery but that of a different colour, entering turn one side by side with another McMullen brother, this time class newcomer Neil- and he had thankfully given me road. I’m late as I dare around the outside into one, among the chaos I see the line, and it’s head down making places as the opening lap ensues. Somewhere inside the top ten I come across my team mate Tom Fahy battling away, now the problem with team mates is after you teach them how you attack and defend it’s like racing yourself! After a few brief attempts I notice we’re dropping back and the pack behind is catching fast. The colour in the mirror changes corner by corner but the level of experience is equally high as Michael Fitzgerald and Robert Barrable juke it out behind me, time to give the attack a rest. I drop back slightly from Fahy to allow him full qualifying line, head down and make pace, catching now the front pack.
As we get there what came next was madness even by regular ST standards. The front train slowed, sped up, was two wide, three wide, cars diving everywhere, flashbacks of the season finale 2016 all over again! Ground is hard to make but a few places are made, avoiding contact the key. Then into Tarzan One the group once more dives everywhere and I see it, the freshly collected car of the ever cleanly raced Shane McFadden, the current championship leader lay stricken……. ‘Not like that’, I think to myself as I avoid joining him on the side corner kerbing. The pace once more picks up and it’s on again, this is the battle for the remaining podium now! It’s Denning, Grennan, Hourigan, Fahy, Dorantrading positions as Maguire leads clear. My mirrors are filled with David Kidd and Darragh McMullen at different intervals, and neither appear to want to stay there, I’ve got to go forward. I carry out a switchback on Fahy out of Devany’s as I draw right along side giving me the inside into Paddock Corner a 90 degree sharp left with a tyre bail on the apex. Ahead it’s Hourigan on Denning, Denning lifts, this is a one car corner at full commitment, no room for two! Nobody told Fahy this however, as he makes the dive up the middle to make it three wide, I lift out of it completely! It’s that or I send the two boys to somewhere between Paddock Assembly and the Mondello Bar!
The lift ruins me for the run to Dunlop, I get swallowed by the pack, back to P8, rounding Southside corner with thoughts of all the work I’d have to do on the next lap I’m relieved of the duty, the checkered flag is called early and that’s a wrap folks. Crossing the line at thoughts of all this mayhem, I survived, somehow, others unfortunately weren’t so lucky.
That’s your 2017 ST season folks. As I signed off on the day I considered the events, this little car fresh off the axle stands had seen and done it all from the front to the back, and back again. I would have taken that if it was offered to me last Friday morning at 2.30am.
A special thanks as ever to my sponsors Doran Motors, Drogheda Car Sales-Hyundai, Graphic Detail, Blackchurch Ford and PTG.
Until the next time,
Thanks for reading
Images from Michael Chester
All of the coverage from the Sunday of the Leinster trophy meeting will be broadcast by Irish Motorsport TV in the coming weeks.