Left hand in, Anti clockwise, wrong way round- call it what you like, but there was widespread delight when the Mondello Park management announced that they were to run a race meeting in this layout for the first time in over 20 years.
Predictably, the pre race test was extremely busy, as drivers and teams tried to come to terms with what was, to 90% of them, a completely new circuit. Most loved the layout, many even claiming to prefer it to the traditional one. Despite this, there were no real surprises come qualifying, with the same names at the pointy end of the various grids.
Dave Maguire is reigning, and double, Fiesta ST Champion and he snatched pole, but the on form Michael Cullen was just one hundredth behind making it a Murray Motorsport lockout of the front row. in 2018, Cullen is once again showing the form that earned him so many championship wins back in the day, and it was no surprise to see him taking him yet another win to consolidate his championship lead. Darragh McMullen drove well to climb to second, having started fourth, and he piled the pressure on Cullen in the closing stages. Maguire was right with them in third, keeping his hopes of three titles in a row alive.
On the opening lap of race two, Barry John McHenry got out of shape while trying to wrest the lead from Graham McDonnell into the Esses, setting off a chain reaction behind, eliminating Maguire and dropping Cullen well back. McDonnell made no mistakes to take a fine win, with McHenry second and Cullen entertaining with a charge back to fourth!
Sam Mansfield was favourite to take the honours on the Open Endurance Series’ Mondello debut appearance, and he duly snatched pole with a 56.3, some 1.5 seconds clear of Pat McBennett’s Lotus in second. Quickest of the SEATs, (which this year have an extra 50bhp,) was the pairing of Niall and Eoin Murray, but Shane Murphy, Rod McGovern and Barry English, also all SEAT mounted, were within half a second of the Murray Motorsport benchmark. Unfortunately, Mansfield’s gearbox casing had cracked and despite trojan work from the team, managing to get him to the grid, was never really a factor, visiting the pits on numerous occasions. McBennett led the field away and gradually managed to ease away from the chasing SEATs. On lap 13 though, the Lotus pitted and as McBennett walked away, it was clear it was not a planned stop and he was going no further, the gear linkage cable having given up the ghost. This left the SEAT Supercup of Eoin and Niall Murray unchallenged, while Rod McGovern gradually tracked down Shane Murphy, annexing second in the final stages.
Owen Purcell once again dominated proceedings in the Patch Fiesta Zetec opener despite a heroic challenge from newbie Colin Murray in the opening laps. Murray was a distant second by the flag though, with Darren Lawlor in third. In the second race, the top six were reversed but Purcell still fought through for the double, displacing early leader William Kellett (on a break from his Leaving Cert Exams) on the run down to the Esses. Mark Johnston completed the podium, with Murray in fourth.
Gavin Buckley drove well to take the Vee B/C race, Luke O’Faolain having retired with a broken throttle cable. Shane McBride was second with Mark Miller next up. Second time around, a delighted O Faolain dominated, crossing the line almost three seconds ahead of Buckley, who has Ken Browne hot on his heels in third. The Formula Vee A races have been highly entertaining in 2018 and the opener looked like we were to be treated to more of the same as perennial pacesetters Lee Newsome and Colm Blackburn went at it in the first race. Unfortunately, Blackburn dropped out with a gearbox selector issue, leaving Newsome well clear with Jimmy Furlong next up from Anthony Cross.
With Blackburn’s car fixed in time for the second race, it looked like we would see another Vee cracker, but once again, we were to be robbed of this spectacle, as Newsome stalled on the grid, dropping to the back. Blackburn made no mistakes to take the win, with Anthony Cross keeping him honest, as Newsome scythed back through the grid to cross the line in fourth place, taking fastest lap in the process.
Jackie Cochrane has returned to the HRCA grids this year and unsurprisingly, his well prepared and well driven V8 Sunbeam Tiger has been unbeaten this far. This hasn’t stopped Steve Griffin from having a go though, and he is always a joy to watch, as he grabs the lead early on and flings the famous Modsport MG Midget around in the vain hope he can hang on out front. Once again, he nailed the start in race one and led until Cochrane’s rumbling Tiger was up to temperature and he blasted by. In race two, it was much of the same, with class returnee Michael Doyle third in both in his BDG engined Lotus Elan.
Ginetta Junior graduate Cameron Fenton has shown stunning form on his graduation to the Irish Supercars this year and he dominated the first race, crossing the line well ahead of John Cardoo and Alan Watkins. Charlie Linnane had run with the leaders until a massive off as he got out of shape into the first corner- from which he emerged unharmed. In race two, Fenton once again led away, a run around the outside and subsequent contact from Cardoo at turn one sending the unfortunate Linnane onto the grass. At the flag, it was Fenton for a dominant double, with the podium finishers as in race one.
ITCC may be short on numbers but there were quite a few class returnees on the entry list this time round. This, allied to the absence of some of those who races at Bishopscourt, suggests we may have a more healthy grid at the enxt rounds. The Integras were back in force this time round though, as Rob Savage took the first race on his class return, although he had to work for it. Eric Carroll, another name we hadn’t seen in a while, drove superbly to climb from fourth and challenged the leader strongly in the latter stages. In race two, Savage once again came out tops, with fellow returnee Gareth Hayden second and Carroll in third.
Series leader Greg Kelly won the first Stryker race by a significant margin with Andy Dalton second and Bill Griffin third. A gearbox problem in qualifying meant Nicole Drought could not take up her front row spot but with a new box fitted she just made it to the grid for race two. Kelly did the double, making it four in a row and increasing his championship lead with Drought chasing Griffin down in the closing stages to complete the podium.
David Parkes is the reigning champion in Formula Sheane and has continued that vein of form into the 2018 season so it wasn’t surprising to see his Vertical Racing machine on pole once again. The evergreen Brian Hearty was second though and less than a tenth away, so it wasn’t going to be easy. In the event though, a typically polished performance saw Parks ease away gradually, his advantage over the multiple champion approaching three seconds after 16 laps. Former saloon exponent Richie Kearney was third. In race two, Kearney was second, and close enough to keep Parks honest, with Hearty third.
Michael Roche’s OMS claimed BOSS pole with an impressive 53.869, well clear of Dallara mounted Hillclimb duo Sylvie Mullins and Paul O’Connell. Mansfield was next up from class newbie Keith Sheehan, Peter Dwyer and John Stewart. In a race of high attrition, Mullins just pipped O’Connell to the line, with Stewart the only other finisher in third. In race two, despite a mid race safety vehicle intervention, causing a little confusion with the drivers, Mullins once again crossed the line first, once again with O’Connell in close attendance. In their wake, the improving Sheehan was third with Stewart completing the order in fourth.
All in all a great weekend’s racing and Mondello are keen to keep this event in the 2019 calendar, with possibly two meetings running that format, which would be great. Onwards and upwards to the Vee Festival now in two weeks time. Most championships have now passed the half way mark so it is time to add up points, factor in dropped rounds and see who is where in each class!
On the Saturday night of the Vee Festival, we will be holding an auction in the Paddock Bar. As ever, the funds will go to the wonderful Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice. If you can help by donating anything, please get in touch, it would be greatly appreciated and goes to a great cause. Nothing is too small, so please help if you can. Also, if you can make it along, please do- it is always a great night. The slagging is mighty, so apologies in advance, and remember to leave your thin skin at home!
Until the next time,
Images with thanks to Michael Chester