It’s been a hectic few weeks for me since my last blog on the June race weekend. Since then I’ve had to finish my Leaving Cert, go back to my job of instructing down in Mondello and getting back into normal life after losing the last nine months of it to exams! I’m actually typing this while on my way to the Goodwood Festival Of Speed and it’s my first trip back to the UK in some eight months.
Normally our team would have some involvement in racing in the UK but this season it’s been restricted so far and with me juggling exams and racing all year I’ve had no time to head over to any of it. However we do have some big plans for the UK for the coming months all centered around one 68bhp Citroen C1. The UK series has exploded in popularity with over 120 cars built and sat in our garage for the last few months was our example. The Friday test day prior to the Vee Festival was the first time we decided to run the car for a shakedown. With Dad designated to do the testing I was left with nothing more to do than oversee things until our ST was in need of a gearbox transplant and I suddenly found myself strapped into the C1! My immediate impressions of it was that it made my Zetec Fiesta feel like a rocketship in a straightline but because it runs on very small road tyres the handling is especially lively especially the rear end. The car ran perfectly and my 10 or so laps in it gave me a feel of what’ll I’ll be in for the next time I jump in it for the 24 Hours in Rockingham.
Saturday rolled around and it was time to drag the Zetec out and head out for qualifying. With a season best grid of 20 cars, track space was a fear but I found no problems finding clear space. What I did have a problem with was finding the four tenths of a second to get me from 4th to 1st. I knew I was on the limit of the car as I set two absolutely identical laps one after the other which is fairly impossible to do but at the end of the session I was still stuck in P4. Race 1 would turn into the most boring race I’ve had so far in my career as after dealing with some threats from behind on lap one the front runners broke free and I could not catch them and I was left in a lonely 4th place. There was some confusion post race as I was promoted to 3rd post race but then subsequently demoted back to 4th a day later.
However for race two I was counted as finishing 3rd in race one which put me 4th for the reversed grid race two. When I was pushed off at turn one by being forced to the outside and dropping back to 11th, I wasn’t even phased as it’s become second nature this season that I’ll be the major loser of any lap one skirmishes and fightbacks are now second nature to me! A few laps later I was already back up to the crucial 6th place as the top six are reversed for the third race as well. Into turn one Darren Lawler and Mick Fitzgerald collided big time leaving Lawler spun off and Fitzgerald behind me. With a lap to go Fitzgerald caught me and it was tough final lap to hold him off and secure P4.
Race 3 was over 24 hour later than race 2. Due to various incidents it was reduced to a 10 minute race. This would either work for me if I got away with the leaders or against me if the usual happened and I got sucked back into the pack and it would leave me with less time to mount a fightback. Ex karter Darragh Cormack was on pole with Fitzgerald alongside and Fitzgerald predictably shot into the lead off the line. Darragh then led a big train of Fiestas including myself, Mark Johnston and championship leader Owen Purcell. Darragh held me back for a few laps but I noticed he wasn’t defending into the final corner and after waiting two laps I made my move late and dived to the inside. He almost managed to outdrag me down the straight but I completed the move with a dive down the inside of turn one. I spent the rest of the race under heavy pressure from Johnston and Purcell who also passed Darragh and I was quite comfortable around the lap apart from turn one where a few helpful pushes from Mark out of the corner kept me going. I successfully held P2 to the end to get a podium out of what had been a very topsy turvy weekend.
I did receive one other bit of news during the weekend on the Saturday. For the third year in a row I’ve been nominated for the Motorsport Ireland Young Racing Driver of the Year for May. This is a huge boost to my season to have the backing of this nomination so early on. I’ve also been nominated in every season that I’ve been racing cars which is a stat I’m very proud of. The €50,000 prize would be crucial to moving up the ladder and maybe it’ll be third time lucky come December. As for my next race there’s a 7 week break till the big one in Rockingham with 53 C1s 400+ drivers from the UK and Europe and 24 hours of racing.
Images from Michael Chester