It is that time again, when all the Irish domestic classes pack their bags and head North to Bishopscourt to compete for a championship round or two on the historic high speed circuit.
This year, happily, all the classes have joined in and well done to Mondello Park for allowing their Zetec and ST series’ to travel North for the first time ever too!
Owen Purcell and Mark Johnston are the men to watch in Zetecs but Kellett Motorsport have stripped William Kellett’s engine since the last Mondello round. Issue found, engine built is the message- so that should set us up for some cracking battles in the budget tin tops. Darren Lawlor and class returnee Michael Fitzgerald could also go well here. Roy Tobin also appears on the entry list, while fellow former Veester Lloyd Murphy has also rebuilt his engine recently and shouldn’t be far away- watch out for him if the rain comes! Nicola Watkins and newbie Ruth Nugent will be taking on the boys here- both went well at Mondello last time out and will be looking forward to this one.
Dave Maguire should be the one to watch in Fiesta STs, as he is the reigning (and double) champion but Murray Motorsport team mate Michael Cullen has returned to form lately and having tasted victory at Mondello last month, will doubtless be keen for more. Gordon Kellett has recently joined the fray, having purchased the Hugh Grennan car- his intention won’t be to make up numbers! Cullen’s former Ferrari team mate Paddy Shovelin also makes his class debut, in the Mark Turley car. Anyone who has seen him race a GT car will know he takes no prisoners, so he should be worth keeping an eye on. The Murray squad had two new challengers at the season opener though, as Barry-John McHenry drove superbly in his Kellett Motorsport machine, taking a P2 in the second race. Paul Swords has switched from Superbikes and gave the regulars a shock with his raw pace on his first day out- he will be more familiar with the track than most too, so don’t discount him…
The new Open Endurance Series also kicks off this weekend and the entry includes a mix and match of many familar cars. Four SEAT Supercups from the now defunct Irish series are joined by a quartet of Fiesta STs, a single Global GT Light, Sam Mansfield in a Radical SR8, John Murphy in a very quick Westfield and class co-ordinator Rob King in a Trackdays.ie MX-5. The SEATs have apparently received a 50bhp power boost for this season, but even so, it is hard to see them matching the pace of an SR8, once Mansfield gets used to his new machine. Eoin Murray (above), Rod McGovern and Shane Murphy have all been winners in SEATs though, so the battle between them should be interesting. Neil and Gerard Tohill are former Fiesta 6 Hour winners, and they move up to a Supercup machine too.
ITCC are back in Bishopscourt and although the entry is small, it won’t be an easy win for anyone. Philip Burdock, one of the series’ initial founders, went well in his self built Golf at the end of last year and it should go well at the high speed track. Jay O’Reilly came on in leaps and bounds last year too in his Civic and will be keen to take a win, while class returnees include David Bailey and Anthony Murtagh.
BOSS Ireland has been struggling for numbers of late, but that may be about to change. The numbers are small but the grid includes three new F3 drivers, which can only be good! ELMS team owner Greg Murphy, having tested his own LMP2 Oreca at Mondello last year, returns to his F3 Dallara which he previously campaigned in Asia back in the day. His team mate is Keith Sheehan, also Dallara mounted. Sheehan has relatively little experience, having done some Vee races, but comes from a motorsport background-his father Denis was a renowned single seater racer for many years. Reigning champion Peter Dwyer retired from the lead of the opening round at Mondello with engine failure and with time running out ahead of this weekend, has bought an F3 car to ensure he is on the grid. Former hillclimb star Paul O’Connell was hugely impressive on his F3 debut at Mondello and will doubtless be confident of a strong result here. Whereas one would expect the winner to come from one of the F3 cars, the unknown quantity here is Sam Mansfield, who should be able to challenge for honours in the Radical SR8.
Cameron Fenton was hugely impressive on his Supercar debut last month and the Ginetta Junior graduate will be keen to mount the top step of the podium once again this weekend. Gary Corcoran has been superb since transferring to the class from Formula Sheane and, having also taken a Mondello win, will be keen to keep the young charger in check. Charlie Linnane has apparently taken over the title winning Peter Barrable car for the weekend, having suffered with misfire issues on his own machine last time out. John Cardoo also rejoins the series and multiple Stryker champion Alan Watkins (above) will be keen to claim his first Supercar win in his immaculate self run machine.
Speaking of Strykers, series leader Andy Dalton will be looking to extend his title lead having claimed a win and a second in Mondello at the championship’s opening rounds. With Des Bruton electing not to travel, Greg Kelly is the man to watch, having pushed Dalton hard in the second race last month. Nicole Drought leads the Rookie series having climbed to fourth from a lowly grid position last time out and will be looking to close the gap to the front runners. Conal Shipman also went well at Mondello and with some of the more experienced drivers absent, will no doubt be chasing a podium.
NI Sevens also return to Bishopscourt with Paul Thompson clear favourite having taken a pair of wins already. Trevor Allen and Richard Francis are second and third in the title race respectively, and the Westfield mounted pair will doubtless keen to open their 2018 winning accounts. Brendan Cunning and Richard Munnis are also entered , along with Mark Francis and David Buick.
Global GTs are also on the card and the 600cc screamers should be great to watch up here. Max Drennan is, as ever, the undoubted favourite, but Conor Farrell has been matching him of late and could steal his thunder. Bernie “The Bolt” Braden is also hugely experienced and if he is on form could put both of them away. James Thompson has shown flashes of real pace too, so watch out for him and like Braden, Michael Conway and Ivor “The Driver” Miller have oodles of experience and can run right at the sharp end- if they feel like it!
Having missed the opening two meetings due to work commitments, former Vee champion Dan Polley (above) will be hoping to reignite his title challenge with some strong results in his LOH Sheane. He won’t have it easy though, as the budget single seater class is packed with talent in 2018. Reigning champion Colm Blackburn has had a terrible start to the year and nobody would have bet on either him or Polley not featuring in the championship standings on the approach to round three! (Blackburn’s car has recently been advertised for rental for the remainder of the season, so even though he is on the entry list, there may be a question mark over his appearance.) Lee Newsome tops the Selco title standings on his return to the class, from former Autograss racer Anthony Cross and both will be right at the front this weekend too. 2017 Star of Tomorrow Luke O’Faolain has not had the start to the season he would have wanted but he will doubtless challenge at the very front before long- could this be the weekend? Jack Byrne and Max Hart lead the Probe 2000 B and Finol Star of Tomorrow championships respectively and they will be hoping to keep it that way with strong showings.
2017 Champion David Parks is very much the man to beat in Formula Sheane once again this year. Brian Hearty has won more races than the rest of the grid put together though and for that reason alone, can never be discounted. Richard Kearney has come close on so many occasions and a win can’t be too far away for the former tin top expert though. Chris McCabe has also gone well before and he is entered as is Brendan Carr, who took a year out in order to carry out his duties as Mayor of Dublin- great to see him back behind the wheel! The 160bhp machines are always great to watch in Bishopscourt and I don’t expect that to change this weekend.
Jackie Cochrane has returned to the HRCA series this year and it is hard to see anyone challenging the mighty V8 Tiger on a high speed circuit like this. In fact, his lap times will probably be worth comparing with some of the other classes. Let’s not forget that when the BTCC visited Mondello Park back in 2001, Jackie was 9mph quicker through the speed trap than the quickest of them….. With no sign of Steve Griffin or Bernard Foley on the entry list, best of the rest should be Tommy Doherty in the 3 litre Capri or Clive Brandon in the twin cam Lotus, although Ken McEvoy is giving his Nerus sportscar a rare outing and could spring a surprise.
The MicksGarage Future Classics class has been nothing short of a revelation in Irish Motor racing since its inception a few years ago. As the cars became quicker and more developed though, it became obvious that quite a few were capable of breaking the original barrier time. Over the winter, they made the brave decision to lower this time significantly, with the old one still remaining for a sub class. This turned out to be a fantastic move, and the class produced some of the best action of the weekend at their Mondello series opener. Timmy Duggan got the job done at Mondello, even if he was a bit over defensive at times, but Brian Sexton and Adrian Dunne kept him honest all race long. Stephen Dunne is entered in his ITCC Corolla and should have the quickest car of all so watch out for him! The class has the largest entry of the weekend, with 22 cars, so take a bow, Future Classics!
NI Saloons always entertain. Running alongside the ITCC cars, the class comprises mainly of BMWs, with Andrew Armstrong’s E46 generally the one to watch. ITCC refugee Martin Duffy has joined the series in his self built and developed M3 and should go well too. Others entered include Keith and Greer Wray in a pair of 330i BMWs, while Stephen Traub and Aidan Vance go the Honda route!
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Images from Michael Chester