INSIDE LINE- From 1967 to 2018, Mondello Park & Formula Vee – A personal View, with Christy Morrin.
Mondello Park is synonymous with all things motorsport in Ireland. It is the only FIA Licenced Motor Racing circuit in Ireland, has been in business since 1968 and celebrates its 50th birthday this year. I remember Mondello Park being built in 1967. I remember playing with my cousins on the track foundations at Dunlop corner and pretending that we were racing champions.
Mondello Park was built by my Uncle Jim (Morrin), along with his brother-in-law, Eddie Regan, and Eddie’s solicitor friend, Stuart Cosgrove. I grew up in Donore, where Mondello Park is located, and my family still farm lands in that area. I will never forget the amazement and sense of incredulity felt by us younger members of the Morrin family when we heard that a motor racing circuit was going to be built beside where we lived and, even more so, when it became known that one of our own family was directly involved. In 1960s rural Ireland this was about as exciting as it got.
The day the circuit opened in May, 1968 was magical. All the talk, anticipation, stories for and against the ‘track’ (as it was known locally at the time) disappeared and we all witnessed our first motor races. I saw some great racing performances in those early years in Mondello between Brian Nelson, Jay Pollock and Ken Fildes. I remember the excitement of the 1972 Rothmans Dublin Grand Prix (European Formula 5000 Championship) when crowd favourite, Gijs van Lennep went to battle with British driver Brian Redman, only to be beaten by Redman on the day. Gijs van Lennep went on to win the championship that year and both he and Redman raced in Formula One. The speed and sound of those monster cars in full battle on the track was awesome to a young teenager like me and also to the huge crowd of spectators at the event. The buzz from those early years sparked a flame of interest in motorsport that still burns brightly today.
During my early years I had many careers in Mondello Park, selling apples for 6d each (3 cents today) at the age of 10 and graduating to become a programme seller, ticket checker, and finally running a gate at one of the main entrances. My interest in Mondello Park drifted away when I started serving my time as a mechanic in the 1970s and other interests, such as rallying, took hold. Throughout the eighties, nineties and noughties, my life went in different directions and I only visited Mondello Park a handful of times, usually to watch friends competing in Rallycross. The financial cost of being involved in motorsport was beyond the reach of me with a young family and mortgage, so my interest in motorsport was sated by following the travails of Eddie Jordan and other teams competing in Formula 1. However, my interest in racing at Mondello Park was rekindled when I was given two free corporate passes for the Formula Palmer-Audi race weekend in July, 2001. I brought my teenage son, Stephen, to that meeting and we both came home buzzing.
Throughout his secondary education, Stephen was good friends with Dave Heavey (Paul Heavey’s son) and he became more and more interested in racing during these school years. As he neared the end of his college education, a chance chat with local rallycross driver, Ciaran Murphy, led to him buying a stock hatch rallycross car in 2010. SM Racing was born. It was a family team from the very start with everybody helping out. We competed in Rallycross in 2010, 2011 and 2012. In those years, Rallycross was mainly a winter sport and in the early part of 2012 our car was clearly less competitive than the others. We had to consider whether-or-not to invest in the car and stay at Rallycross or transfer to some other form of motorsport. This was further complicated by the fact that there was always great craic amongst the Rallycross community in Mondello and we weren’t sure if we wanted to leave this behind. However, Stephen always had an interest in Formula Vee and we decided to explore this further. So, off we went to visit Paul Heavey for a chat and ended up coming home four hours later, with Stephen as the proud owner of a JH004 Leastone Formula Vee Race Car. I don’t know who wore who down that night but a price was agreed and the car was bought! We took delivery of the car the following Saturday and I remember we sat looking at it for several hours that night, finding it hard to believe that we had a proper race car in our workshop. During that weekend all the neighbours came in to see the car and have a go sitting in it – huge pride, good wishes and a little envy all round.
We had a lot to learn about Formula Vee racing and still do! We learned quickly that it was poles apart from Rallycross. The base level we were at in Rallycross (8 valve Peugeot 205 GTI) meant that there was very little setting up on the car and it was all about having a quick reliable car, the driver being quick on the circuit and not getting hit! In Formula Vee, almost everything on the car was adjustable and I had to call on the memory banks from when I served my time as a mechanic in the 1970s to keep the car running and to look for anything that might give you an edge over your competitors, while still remaining compliant with the technical regulations. However, we found a great source of knowledge, friendship and good craic in Paul Heavey and Leastone Racing. He is the go-to man in Irish Formula Vee. It never ceases to amaze me how helpful Paul and all the Formula Vee community are. They would give you any help you might need, loan you spare parts, provide helpful advice, etc. to help get you out on the race track. Of course, that camaraderie all ends once the red lights go out and the race is on, but when the race is over, and everything and everyone has cooled off, the craic and camaraderie resumes again. Whether it’s in Mondello Park, Kirkistown, Bishopscourt or a track in the UK, there is always a great buzz at a Formula Vee race weekend and they are not to be missed.
I would have to say that Irish Formula Vee is a well-run organisation with very good, clean and honest racing. It is very well scrutineered by Gerry Kehoe and his team and this is clear to see in the racing. There is usually very close racing at the front, middle and back of the grid. It is unusual for anyone to regularly drive off into the distance leaving everyone else behind. If this does happen it is usually because a competitor has made a mistake or had an issue with their car. The main differentiation is driving skill, followed by quality of preparation and mechanical power. Cars are checked regularly for compliance with technical regs and this helps keep everything fair.
Formula Vee is a great class with great people in it. It is going from strength to strength and the grids are starting to recover now that the recession is ebbing away. The Formula Vee Festival weekend is the highlight of the motorsport calendar and is full of good craic and fun while at the same time raising much-needed funds for childrens’ cancer charities. This year our friends and comrades from the UK are coming over to race at our festival and everyone is looking forward to a really enjoyable weekend. I wish everyone the best of luck at the weekend and, win, lose or draw, there is sure to be plenty of good fun and craic both on and off the track.
Life can be like a merri-go-round – moving all the time, but travelling in circles. In my case I started of in Mondello at the age of eight and was at every meeting for the following nine years, many of which I was there as a casual employee. Over the following forty years or so, my life went in many different circles – all positive, and it continues to keep me busy. Despite this, I like being back in Mondello, involved in motorsport and fixing race cars (most of the time). I have enjoyed the buzz of racing for the last eight years and I hope to stay with it for many years to come. I have been blessed with the family I have, and their ongoing love and support has been important to me.