Hard to believe that we have already reached the halfway point of the season, but then I always think that at this time of the year. Fear not though, there is plenty of action left to enjoy before the race cars are tucked away for the winter.
The Formula Vee Association have done a wonderful job on their Festival event over the last number of years. As well as raising huge funds for the wonderful Laura Lynn charity, they have added a fun element and plenty for the whole family such as bouncy castles, face painting etc. This year, there is all that and more. They have persuaded the UK Vees to come and join in the fun- making the Sunday of the event into a proper Festival style event! UK Vees have been here before and generally, their smaller, but highly tuned engines were far quicker in a straightline but the Irish cars were slightly quicker through the twisty bits. Both series have moved forward significantly though, since they last met, UK Vee now being extremely competitive and the Irish lap record now standing at just under the magic minute- so place your bets!
Lee Newsome has a strong lead in the Vee title chase from Anthony Cross. Reigning champion Colm Blackburn has had a torrid start to his title defence but still has load of pace and will be aiming to win both the championship round and the Festival no doubt. Dan Polley has not been around much in 2018, due to worth work commitments and the odd LMP3 race- but he is on the entry list and as, ever, won’t be there to make up the numbers. Kevin O’Hara makes his annual appearance in his LOH modified Leastone- he has won the last two Festivals and will be keen to make it a hat trick. Formula Vee has produced battles this year that would remind you of the heady days of FF1600, with drivers and cars so closely matched and the lead swapping a number of times per lap. Bishopscourt was a prime example of this as Polley and Blackburn went at at it in what was probably the race of the weekend! O’Hara has to be favourite, but the prospect of him going head to head with an on form Blackburn, Polley and Newsome is exciting!
Owen Purcell appears to have the legs of the rest of the Patch Tyre Equipment Fiesta Zetec grid, even managing the double last time out, with the top six reversed for race two. Leaving Cert out of the way, Mondello Instructor William Kellett will be keen to redress the balance, while Mark Johnston is worth watching too. Lloyd Murphy has rebuilt his engine since the last meeting and should go well, while Dennis McCrudden and Darren Lawlor won’t be far away either. Watch out too, for Colin Murray, who impressed last time out as he challenged Purcell in race one! Watch out too for ace karter Darragh Cormack who went well in Bishopscourt and could spring a surprise on his Mondello debut! Former Champion Phil Lawless had a nightmare last time out at Mondello and will be keen to make amends this time round, whilst his team mate Ruth Nugent continues to impress, with great support from her fellow #OrangeArmy marshals on the banks!
Multiple saloon car champion Michael Cullen has returned to form in 2018 and leads the Fiesta ST series but as ever, it is close at the front. Darragh McMullen is right in the mix too, as is former Punto Abarth racer Barry John McHenry. Superbike racer Paul Swords has been both fast and controversial on his four wheeled debut this season and could be a factor as the series returns to the “normal” Mondello National clockwise layout this weekend. Trevor Farrar has shown great form lately, while Graham McDonnell drove superbly to hold Cullen at bay for the win a few weeks back.
Irish Legends are back at Mondello and the regulars have a new challenge as the hugely experienced TCR driver Davit Kajaia joins their ranks for their #Mondello500 dash for cash! Paul O’Brien is a double champion in the class and is keen to do the hat trick but as ever in Legends, it is bound to be close. Niki Meredith is always right there while former Punto racer Ian Conroy has been very impressive since moving to the class too. Formula Sheane racer Richard Kearney liked the Legends so much when he tried them that he bought one! Former RT2000 racer Jonny Taylor is worth watching with Johnny Whelan having tested his car earlier today- and making some pretty radical changes to the setup. Robert Woodside also joins the class this weekend, as he gathers licence signature for an international event. The #DashForCash of course, refers to the €500 which the overall winner will take home when the points are added up- that should add even more spice to proceedings.
Greg Kelly has been dominant in Irish Strykers lately and has a strong series lead, having won four in a row at Bishopscourt and Mondello anticlockwise. He hasn’t won on the National circuit this year though, as class stalwarts Des Bruton and Andy D’Alton took a win each at the opener in changeable conditions. Both will be keen to repeat this. Ex FF1600 star Bill Griffin has been going well lately too, as has Nicole Drought and both have the pace to upset the applecart too. Paul Yeomans went well at the last meeting, battling mightily with D’Alton in both races, while Steven Ross and Des Meehan both return to the class this weekend and won’t be far away either.
Ginetta Junior Ireland always takes a break at exam time but the Zetec powered sportscars are back this weekend with series leader Rob Parks looking to increase his championship lead in his Vertical Racing machine. Megan Campbell got the jump on all the boys last time out at Mondello though, grabbing pole position and holding Parks at bay for her maiden win in the opener. Christopher Grimes Jnr has been going well too, in the ex James Roe car and should be in the mix too, while ex karter Sé Óg Martin showed good pace in the multiple championship winning Morgan Dempsey run car too so keep an eye on him.
Timmy Duggan seems to have mastered the Micksgarage Future Classics this year in his ex works SEAT Ibiza. The lowered barrier time for the “Super Future Classics” has provided some cracking racing. Adrian Dunne’s beautifully prepared Saxo has the pace to challenge, but misjudged the barrier time on occasion last time out in Kirkistown, dropping him well back. Of the slightly slower Future Classic class, Jimmy Kilbride’s Peugeot will again be fighting off the Puntos and MJ Farrell’s Levin for the class win.
ITCC would appear to have small grids thus far in 2018 but the competitors who were out last time round included hardly any of the ones who raced at Bishopscourt, so if they can be all persuaded to come out together, it should make for some great racing. Class returnees Rob Savage and Gar Hayden provided great entertainment and should Jay O’Reilly, Keith Campbell and Alan Healy join in, there could be a cracking battle. Philip Burdock continues to develop his self built Golf and showed notice of his intentions by beating all the Hondas to pole last time out- so don’t discount him!
The Open Endurance series are out again and most interest will centre on the SEAT battle in this one. Sam Mansfield showed blinding pace but had a myriad of teething issues with his newly acquired Radical last time out and is missing this time round as they await a new gearbox casing. Expect these to be sorted this time and Sam to be right at the sharp end. Pat McBennett led last time out in his self built and developed Lotus, and gradually eased away from the SEATs behind before retiring with a gear cable issue at half distance. Eoin and Niall Murray eventually took a strong win with Rod McGovern taking the fast starting Shane Murphy for second in the latter stages. The SEATs should battle for overall honours this weekend but a number of newbies will go at it for honours in the 2.0 class, including Colin Lewis in the Trackdays.ie MX-5 and series organiser Rob King teaming up with Formula Female’s Emma Dempsey in the ex Mondello School Rover 25 GTI.
Formula Sheane are also on the card and reigning champion Dave Parks is the man to beat this year. Brian Hearty and Richard Kearney have given valiant chase but the Vertical Racing machine is usually first across the line. For some reason, the class is lacking in numbers this year and sadly, they have fallen into single figures. Formula Sheane has risen from the ashes before though, and there are plenty of cars out there- so hopefully the grids will grow again. After all,it is not that long since almost 25 of them competed for the Leinster Trophy. The cars are inexpensive, quick and easy to run- and best of all Irish built!
All in all, plenty of entertainment for all the family and the prospect of some rally close racing. Here is the latest timetable- amended Friday afternoon (!) Oh, and if you fancy a bargain, get yourself to MOndello Bar circa 7pm on Saturday night. The annual auction, which I host, is always great craic and there literally is something for everyone, from various books to an Ayrton Senna replica helmet- with a whole lot of banter thrown in!
Images from Michael Chester