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Motormouth’s Mutterings- The Mondello Historic Festival

I make no secret of my love of old cars and especially old racing cars. I have always been a fan of the IVVCC sports Section races and subsequently the HRCA- a class I have raced in too.

I was initially saddened when Classic Car Live was removed from the Mondello calendar in 2017 but after two weak years, it was the right thing to so. The Mondello team subsequently decided to replace it with a new Historic Festival which was a race meeting proper, as opposed to a classic car show with demo races at the same time.

The HRCA crew did a great job in raising numbers and produced their biggest grid of the year with 20 beautifully turned out cars. Their pre ’55 section also had an impressive grid and they were joined on the card by Classic Bikes and Classic Superbikes. I was to commentate on the cars, and apparently there was a bike expert handling the mic for the five two wheeled bouts. I did my usual paddock peramble in the morning and as the first bike grid lined up in their assembly area in the pitlane, I continued to chat to the Pre ’55 drivers. A hurried message told me that there was a misunderstanding and there was no bike commentator so I ran to the tower and tackled the steps as best as I could. Thankfully the team from the Dunboyne Motor Club had done their usual superb job and details, entry lists and grids were waiting for me on the desk. I think I made a reasonable fist of it, mainly thanks to the cracking action up front in both races!

Mondello legend Steve Griffin topped the timesheets when the impressive 20 strong HRCA grid took to the track, the equally famous Modsport Midget being driven with the usual gusto as “Stee” dipped into the 63 second bracket- on road tyres! To put that into perspective, even though the track has improved since, that same car held the Modsport lap record at 1:04.4 back in the day- on slicks. Alongside him was sometime FF1600 racer and team owner Tommy Doherty, still developing his 3 litre Capri. next up was Val Thompson in the Zetec engined TMC Costin and Clive Brandon in the immaculate twin cam Lotus 47. Much interest centred on the Corry Motorsport Midget which was running a full race red top Vauxhall powerplant, with a reputed 260bhp…….

Tommy told me beforehand his only chance was to use the power of the Capri to get ahead on the run to turn one. He almost managed this, but the orange Midget went back at him on the brakes. From them on it was a demonstration run from the man who, incredibly, has won at Mondello in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s and now in this decade too. Think about that for a moment…  Oh and the only reason he did not win in the (horrendously named) “noughties”, is that he had retired from racing and was running a successful race team!

Race two was a little more close fought, at least early on, as this time “Tommy Doc” got the jump and pulled the big Capri across the bows of the Midget as they streamed by the packed grandstand. He was challenged at every turn though, by the evergreen (and ever sideways) Griffin and when the pair were joined by the charging Corry, we looked like we were in for a great battle.  Once the two MGs had overhauled the big Capri they circulating line astern, evoking memories (for those of us old enough to remember) of some of the classic Mondello Modsports battles back in the day. Despite the power deficit, Griffin was not giving it up without a struggle but it was disappointing when the Corry machine pulled off in front of the grandstand just before half distance. Doherty’s Capri only lasted a further two laps before retiring leaving Griffin to romp home for the double, Clive Brandon his closest challenger some 30 seconds in arrears. The returning Paul Gray hauled his 911 up to third, having borrowed some better tyres for the second race!

John Keatley’s Healey Silverstone was easily quickest of the Pre 55 grid, managing an impressive 1:17 in qualifying. Once again, the grid was strong and it was great to see rarities such as the Alvis Silver Lady and the original Iona MG Special once again gracing the Mondello tarmac.  Also making his Pre ’55 debut was Formula Sheane racer Kevin Sheane. He had borrowed the famous Frank Nuttall Ford Sidevalve special and it looked like it had been subject to a makeover in his hands in the run up to the event! As ever, most of the field were far quicker in the race than they had qualified, in their efforts to beat the handicapper. Taking some kerb is not a usual tactic in this class but nobody told Sheane and his spectacular efforts were great to watch as he tackled some far more exclusive machinery, despite lacking in straight line speed!

So all in all, a great day’s entertainment and the event is set to become bigger and better in 2018. The same races will be back but they will be joined by some very exciting UK classes, including the Derek Bell Trophy. This caters for Formula 5000 and Formula 2 cars built and raced between 1967 and 1979. This is the series for the more powerful cars with wings and slick racing tyres. It encompasses classes for Formula Atlantic, Classic Clubmans and later Formula Three and Formula Ford 2000 cars. (Yes, that’s right- Formula Atlantic!) This event, set to take place on August 18/19, will also celebrate 50 years since Messrs Cosgrave, Regan and Morrin opened the gates of the Kildare circuit!

As well as my commentary duties, my Imp may be returning to the track that weekend. There is talk of a Modsport/GT race, so the Imp has been taken out of mothballs by the ASK Racing crew, and the engine is off to Dan Rooney for a rebuild. Also, we will be running slicks on the car for the first time, so we will have to lower and stiffen it. Hopefully this will emulate the look of the car in this picture of Vivian Candy at Mondello. The gearing was slightly too high on the high profile rear tyres  too, so hopefully a lower profile, allied to the extra grip, will help this greatly.

Also, as you will probably have read, I have bought the ACJ Austin 7 Special. based on a 1934 Ruby chassis, the single seater machine raced at Mondello in the 70s and 80s- but has been lying up since. The rebuild will start shortly on the car, beginning with a complete strip down to chassis, and this event is the perfect target to have it up and running, so all going well, it will be on the Pre 55 grid that weekend!

It is certainly one I am looking forward to- and could be the start of something big for Irish Motorsport.


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