The Irish Stryker championship travelled to the high speed Bishopscourt circuit in County Down for rounds 3 and 4 of their 2018 series earlier this month.
With many opting to stay at the track, there was a real party atmosphere as the competitors set up camp on Friday evening- with the weather playing ball and the suncream very much in evidence. After a 20 minute practise session to acclimatise the drivers to the circuit on Saturday morning, it was back to the paddock for some refettling and then time for the all important qualifying. There was much talk in the paddock of needing to pick up a “tow” to get a good lap time and while some tried this tactic, others opted to find some clear space and get the head down. When the chequered flag fell, it was Greg Kelly who took pole in his G2 Adventure Centre car, from late entry Dave Griffin, with Rookie Championship leader Nicole Drought just a tenth off in third. Next up was Des Meehan, with Conal Shipman in fifth, showing he is quick in the dry as well as the wet. The big surprise was championship leader Andy Dalton back in sixth, but as he showed last time out in Mondello, he generally appears at the front in the race, regardless of qualifying position. Paul Yeomans, Pat Bergin, David Reynolds and Colin Deering were separated by fractions in that order with Mike Ward and Dominic Ryan just behind. With qualifying over, it was time to kick back and enjoy the sunshine and some food and perhaps even a cold beverage or two!
Come Sunday morning everyone was up bright and cheerful and it was time to go racing! When the flag dropped for race one, it was Des Meehan who shot off the second row to grab the lead on the run to turn one. Dalton, predictably though, had rocketed off the third row and down the outside of everyone to come into turn one right on Meehan’s tail. Greg Kelly recovered to third with the slow starting Dave Griffin being the last of the late brakers into turn two, immediately recovering to fourth and then third before setting about the leaders. Another with a cracking opening lap was Dominic Ryan who drove round the outside of everybody to emerge on to the back straight in fifth- from the back of the grid! As Griffin snatched the lead from Meehan, a big lock up saw Andy Dalton go wide at the last corner, emerging side by side with Ryan- all this inside the first lap!
Dalton outdragged Ryan on the long main straight as Kelly did the same to Meehan, to move to second. Drought, having been bundled down the order on the opening lap, had regrouped and closed on the lead pack, displacing Ryan on the brakes into turn two to bring her back to fifth. Next to fall to the charging Dalton was Des Meehan, Andy towing by on the main straight- only for Des to snatch the place back into turn two with a last minute dive. This allowed Drought to close right up on the pair. As they started lap three, Dalton repeated his move on the main straight, this time keeping the door firmly closed on Meehan on the approach to turn two! As Griffin and Kelly battled, Griffin’s car emitted a tell tale puff of white smoke, almost immediately grenading in the most spectacular fashion, leaving a conrod and assorted various parts trackside, as well as a large stripe of oil on the main straight.
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This left Kelly leading from Dalton, with Drought now back up to third, having displaced Meehan into the final chicane earlier that lap. The first four had gradually eased away and at the flag it was Kelly, from Dalton, with a delighted Drought first Rookie and third overall, with Meehan fourth. Paul Yeomans came out tops of a great battle for fifth, just easing by rookie David Reynolds on the final tour, the pair almost alongside as they crossed the line! Conal Shipman and Pat Bergin were just behind and separated by less than half as second at the line in another good scrap.
In race two, Greg Kelly lined up all on his own on the front row of the grid, as Griffin was spectating after his spectacular engine blow earlier. Nicole was P3 with Des Meehan alongside. As the flag dropped, it was Meehan once again who rocketed away, with Dalton replicating his earlier start to grab second as Kelly briefly slowed off the line. Drought was fourth with Bergin right there too in fifth. Dalton immediately grabbed the lead, passing Meehan on the back straight as Drought got alongside Kelly right behind. As they crossed the line to start the second lap, Kelly relieved Meehan of second, with Drought further demoting him with a late dive into turn three. As Kelly attacked Dalton for the lead, Drought closed the gap to both and for a lap or so, the three leaders were as one. Kelly grabbed the lead with a run down the outside into the third chicane. A lap later, Nicole used her now patented move down the inside of erstwhile series leader Dalton to set off what many spectators described as the battle of the day. From here to the flag the pair swapped places at least once a lap, often running side by side through the ultra fast first corner. As they began the final lap, with Kelly having made good his escape, it was Drought in second but as ever, the experienced Andy Dalton was right in her wheeltracks. Drawing alongside on the back straight, he made it stick into the final chicane. A big lock up from Andy into the final corner had the crowd on their toes but sent them both wide and Nicole spun. A quick recovery and sprint to the line meant she held onto third place and took another Rookie win in the process. With Des Meehan having spun out, Paul Yeomans was fourth having closed the gap to the battling duo in front towards the end. Shipman and Ryan were next up, taking second and third in the Rookie section respectively, with Mike Ward next up.
With all the calculations done, Greg Kelly’s double has vaulted him to the top of the title standings, just two points ahead of Andy Dalton with Nicole Drought climbing to third overall. Des Bruton remains fourth despite not travelling to Bishopscourt with Dominic Ryan, Conal Shipman and Mike Ward next up. In the Rookie championship, Drought leads, from Ryan and Shipman.
Irish Strykers return to Mondello Park for rounds 5 & 6 of their championship on June 9/10.
Image from Michael Chester.
Onboard coverage from Motorsport.ie and David Reynolds