The famous Top Ten. It started off in Michael O’Carroll’s much missed Irish Motorsport Annual and was penned by such luminaries as Robin Rhodes, Tommy Burke and Declan Quigley, before “Mickser” gave me the call back in the day. As I always say, it never fails to cause controversy and discussion, and I have no doubt this year will be no different. One thing is different this year though. The number one spot not only gets the accolade and subsequent bragging rights down the pub, this year, they will receive the new Motorsport.ie Vivian Candy Memorial Trophy.
Vivian Candy was a hugely successful Irish racing driver, winning titles in Formula Ford 1600, Formula Atlantic and Modified Saloons. He also held the Irish Land Speed Record and was one of the first Irishmen to compete in the World Endurance Chamonship, competing at the Le Mans 24 Hour race twice. He also, according to the Irish Independent, “started the Marlboro Team Ireland racing team that brought Eddie Jordan the success he craved. He set up the most famous and enduring disco in Ireland, dated the most beautiful girls and sipped champagne in the top European nightclubs.” Kinda cool, huh?
The trophy is one which “The Candyman” won at Kirkistown in FF1600 back in the 1970s and now, as a perpetual trophy, will be given to the number one driver on this list each year from now on.
1. David Parks.
The younger of the Parks brothers was always quick. Wild. Raw. But quick. In 2017, he appeared far more composed. The Vertical Racing car didn’t always appear to be dancing on the edge, in fact there were days that he could have been described as silky smooth- quite a feat in a Formula Sheane. The result was total domination of the class both North and South of the border- winning both championships and claiming the Holmpatrick Trophy in front of the Irish Motorsport TV cameras to top it all off. His late father Bob would be proud.
As the number 1 in this year’s list Dave becomes the first ever recipient of the Vivian Candy Memorial Trophy.
2. Alan Auerbach
Auerbach was all but unbeatable in Irish Strykers this year, winning every round until the final weekend, when former multiple class champion Alan Watkins took the honours on a wet track at the Leinster Trophy. The Autotester is always right on the edge, as his onboard shows and it would be interesting to see how he would go in another class- perhaps Formula Vee or FF1600. Andy Dalton was his closest challenger but the Civic Media car always got the job done. when the points for all the classes were totted up in Dawson St, he was announced as the winner of the historic Hawthorn Trophy too- not a bad year in anyone’s books!
3. Colm Blackburn
Colm really came to prominence in Formula Vee when he teamed up with former racer and now team owner Stephen Kershaw. The duo gelled immediately and the black Leastone became a front runner almost as quickly. This year, they had one aim- to take the National title. It was never going to be easy though, as reigning champion Dan Polley was equally determined to retain the #1 on his LOH Sheane. The pair battled mightily all season, even coming together once and ending up in the tower- and subsequently in Dawson Street. Their battles during the year were fantastic though and it was great to see them chatting at the Leinster Trophy meeting , after Blackburn clinched his first title. He was focussed and driven all year, and should he decide to defend the title, he won’t be easily beaten. A class act.
4. Shane Rabbitt
The easy route to success in ITCC has traditionally to be to buy or build a Honda. Shane Rabbitt had different ideas though, deciding to convert his Mazda RX-7 road car into a racer! He was actually on the grid for the first season of ITCC racing, having done some Time Attack events first. Since then he has gradually developed the car into a genuine frontrunner, overcoming issues and problems that would have many heading for the grandstand or even the high stool! Early on in 2017, it seemed as if he would dominate, but he had to work hard on occasion, the Leinster Trophy being great to watch as he battled mightily with Jay O’Reilly and Rob Savage. On such occasion, he showed his raceceaft was as impressive as his pace. He returns to ITCC in 2018 as both defending champion and class organiser.
5. Peter Barrable
The clue is in the surname here- there aren’t any slow Barrables (bar Collie!) Peter and the ASK Racing team decided to run a Duratec engine this year and immediately suffered teething problems, with a few non finishes seeming to have ended their title aspirations early on. They kept plugging on though, and by mid season, it was a two horse race between Peter and the hugely experienced Alan Dawson in the SWR Mr Gearbox car. When Barrable won at the Leinster Trophy meeting, he had one hand on the title and with Dawson opting not to travel to Brands Hatch for the series finale, the job was completed.
6. Dave Maguire
For the second year in a row, team tactics appeared to be involved in the Fiesta ST title decider. Maybe that is how motorsport works, but it is not nice to watch. This is to take nothing away from Dave Maguire, who drove superbly all year and stayed out of all the drama to clinch the title in the best way possible- by winning the final round. The former karter is hugely experienced, having raced Unos, Puntos and Abarths, but the Fiesta STs really seem to suit his style and no doubt he, and his familiar grin, will be back in 2018 in search of the hat trick.
7. Mark O’Donoghue
Some of the best battles of the year were in the Mondello Park Fiesta Zetec class. With the arrival of the ST class a couple of years ago, the bigger names, and perhaps budgets, have moved on. Most of the guys in the class now are proper clubmen (and women), racing for fun as much as anything else. Similarly, there are less technical indiscretions (there were over 20 cars found not to comply in year one!). Most of the action this year centred round the incredible battles between O’Donoghue and Owen Purcell, with the pair often swapping the lead on numerous occasions through out a race. Even better- they always gave each other racing room- great to watch. Unfortunately, Purcell was found to have the incorrect gearbox fitted and lost most of his championship points, leaving O’Donoghue to cruise home to the title- albeit a well earned one. (Happily, Purcell returned immediately with the box changed and was right on the pace too.)
8. Luke O Faolain
The 98FM breakfast DJ made his motor racing debut at the Formula Vee Festival in 2016. He was quick and he was hooked. Over the winter, he attracted the support of Dentpro and did a deal with Newsome Racing to drive one of their front running Sheanes. He was immediately favourite for the Finol Star of Tomorrow series and he didn’t disappoint, completely dominating the series. By mid season though, he had bigger fish to fry as he closed the gap to the A race frontrunners. His Vlogs were great after each race too- he is definitely good for Formula Vee and for Irish Motorsport in general. Let’s hope he comes back in 2018 to take on the big boys.
9. Peter Dwyer
Peter deserves his place in this top ten for one race in particular- never mind the fact that he won the BOSS series this year! Having started from the pitlane, he charged up though the pack to reel in the battling pair of Donal Griffin and Fergus Faherty- before slicing by both for a hugely impressive victory. He went well all year in his immaculate Premier Machine Tools Lola-Nissan and was a deserved champion when the points were totted up.
10. Steve Griffin
This man has won races at Mondello Park in the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and now in the “teenies”- that is a pretty impressive record by any standards. Despite having driven and won in a variety of cars, he will always be linked to the famous Smarties Mini- the first Irish race car to carry commercial sponsorship. In recent years, he has campaigned Liam Plower’s famous Modsport Midget to great effect in the HRCA class. Once again this year, he was a joy to watch, flinging the car around as if his life depended on it. He also put many higher powered machines to shame, with even champion Bernard Foley having to keep his socks pulled up in his 4.0 V8 MGB! In 2018, for the Mondello 50th Anniversary meeting, I go head to head with him in the Imp- now where is that gym membership application form?
Honourable Mentions: Patrick Dempsey was impressive in Ginetta Junior en route to the title, but ran with the best team, in a car that had already won four titles. Cameron Fenton, with his dad on the spanners, ran him very close- both will be quick when they graduate in 2018, Dempsey probably to FF1600, Fenton to Global GT Lights. Kev Doran did not do a full season, but as ever was great to watch in Fiesta STs. Dan Byrne, as the TV coverage showed, was spectacular in Future Classics in his Twin Cam Corolla. Gary Corcoran took to Irish Supercars like a duck to water and should be worth keeping an eye on in 2018. Sam Mansfield was super impressive in SEAT Supercup, tackling the regulars like a seasoned campaigner on his debut- definitely one to watch for the future.
So there you have it, my top ten National race drivers of 2017. As a footnote, it has been a hugely successful year for Motorsport.ie, with numerous awards and accolades rolling in. As ever, I would like to thank the entire team for their hard work and dedication, but also a huge thank to you, the readers for your support and encouragement since the start.
Onwards and upwards for 2018, where we have even more exciting plans for both Motorsport.ie and IrishMotorsport.tv
Happy New Year,
All images, unless otherwise stated, from Michael Chester.