So last weekend was the third round of the Patch Tyre Equipment Fiesta Zetec Championship. Nothing unusual in that, you may say. It was also the first time Mondello was run in its anti clockwise layout for over 20 years. Okay, a bit more unusual, but still it’s just another track at the end of the day. I’m in the middle of my Leaving Cert and I’m not even supposed to be racing? Now that’s something you don’t hear about every day! Having had a very problematic start to the season and having my championship chances reduced to slim at best, we made the decision after Bishopscourt to skip the next race weekend and focus on exams. However when the timetable was released on the Monday of the race weekend and the Zetecs were only down to race on Saturday an idea began to form. One day of racing means I could possibly split up study with racing and still come out of it in good shape. However I didn’t make a final decision until Friday afternoon and with exams going well it was decided to put the car on the trailer and make a last minute entry.
Unfortunately for me due to having exams on the Friday I’d been forced into missing all of pre event testing. 99% of the time that wouldn’t be a problem for me normally. However since I’d never driven the backwards layout in a Fiesta and the rest of the grid took the chance to test it left me on the back foot heading into qualifying. Having to use qualifying as a sighter session is never a great thing and by the time I’d figured out the quickest lines the tyres had gone off and the times had slowed for most people. I still managed to qualify P6 only two tenths off a front row start so I felt I’d got the best of a bad situation and I could move forward from there.
Post qualifying I was promoted to P5 which ironically would be what would screw me over on the start of race one as Darren Lawlor ahead of me was very slow away and left me boxed in with nowhere to go. By the time I’d got past turn one I was back in 9th thinking what do I have to do to get some luck on lap 1! Overtaking was proving to be very difficult as the track is a lot narrower in reverse layout. By the end of lap one I was back up to 8th and on the back of the lead train. I passed Lloyd Murphy for 6th place which was crucial as whoever finished there started on pole for the second race. I was then fighting for 5th with Denis McCrudden but despite being far quicker through the corners I couldn’t find a way past so I finished 6th and bagged pole for race two.
There was a long gap between races one and two and another unusual problem in Mondello was starting to take its toll. The weather was reaching almost 25 degrees and even just being in the paddock was fairly tiring as the sun made mincemeat of me! After downing half a dozen bottles of water, unfortunately it was time to get back into the race gear and back into the “Cockpit Of Death” as I’d resorted to calling it. Leading the pack on the warm up lap for race two the heat inside the car was becoming almost unbearable, made even worse by a delay on the grid. After what seemed like a lifetime the five second board came out and I knew I had to be leading coming out of turn one. I made a good start but McCrudden made a fractionally better one and my team mate Sean Woods made an even better one and we were almost three wide into turn one. Coming into turn two Denis was fractionally ahead but I dived up the inside and took the lead. I then knew I had to absolutely go for it and make a break while the pack battled behind. Up until now I’d never actually led a race outright so I was into new territory for me. My plan seemed to be working as by the end of lap two I had a two and a half second lead but in the mirrors I could see that race one winner Owen Purcell had got himself to the head of the chasing pack. I kept pushing on but the extreme heat had taken its toll on my tyres and brakes and I was struggling big time mid race. Purcell caught me with seven minutes to go and powered alongside me on the run up to turn one but I managed to hold him off only for him to drive past me on the run to turn two. Now back in second I was able to sit just behind him for a few laps until the tyres really cried enough and I backed off to consolidate 2nd. Such was the pace we were running at I was 14 seconds clear of third place by the end. My best result of the season had come in the most unlikely of circumstances.
For a weekend I wasn’t even supposed to be at and the massive handicaps I faced going into it that was probably as well as it could have possibly gone! Massive thanks to all my sponsors and especially my dad who was able to prepare the car last minute so I could take part. I’m back out again for the Formula Vee Festival in a months time and then my UK adventure in the Citroen C1 Challenge starts soon after!
Until next time
Image with thanks to Michael Chester