It would appear drama and excitement follow Tommy Byrne wherever he goes and today was no different. I was delighted to be able to broker the deal which saw Tommy Byrne return to the circuit where he cut his teeth over 40 years ago- at the wheel of an F1 car!
The book was great. The movie was better. Today though, well, it was pretty impressive too. At the wheel of the Hagan Homes ex-James Hunt Hesketh 308, Tommy had been quick in testing at Mondello Park, despite never having seen the International loop at the Kildare circuit. Michael Lyons is a regular in the Derek Bell series though and also a sometime LMP2 Pilot. The clever money was on him for pole. He sat out testing on Friday but was quickest on the Saturday morning runs. Then, it was time for qualifying. As the rumbling F5000s and screaming Atlantics came down the pitlane, there was no sign of the Hesketh. Then, it eased out of the pitlane garage, urged on by Tommy’s customary legion of faithful followers.
Lyons, as expected, soon grabbed pole, well ahead of the rest. Tommy, once he got some heat in the tyres put in a flier to grab second- to the delight of the crowd. The gap to pole though, was well over two seconds- which seemed insurmountable. He may now be 60 years old, but we were about to be shown that the speed, and guile were still present. The Hesketh headed to the pits and after a quick chat with the team, was raised in the air and fresher rubber was fitted. With just minutes to go, the Crash And Burn star rejoined the track, now having bumped down to third, and subsequently fourth. It seemed like an age before he arrived at Southside Corner to start his flying lap, but the drift and use of kerbs on the exit made it obvious that he was going for it. It was all looking good until the run up to Lola corner when he caught two cars touring behind a slow moving one. The lap was gone, the crowd in the grandstand slumped- it seemed the hopes of Tommy starting on the front row were dashed. The starter began to unfurl the chequered flag but the Hesketh just got there in time.
This was it. A clear lap. Fresher tyres. A chance to grab a spot on the front row. The body language of the car said it all. Beautifully controlled tail out slides, plenty of use of exit kerbs- surely our man would be on the front row? As he arrived back onto the National track, the only car in his path, the Atlantic of John Hayes-Harlow, headed for the pitlane. One corner to go. No obstacles, no excuses. As he piled on the power on the exit, the tail of the Hesketh twitched and then drifted towards the exit kerb. The DFV engine note never wavered though and the big rear slick tyres used every inch of the exit kerb as the car rocketed towards the flag. Lyons had pole at 1:40.157 and Byrne’s quickest lap thus far was 1:42.811. Tommy needed to improve to a 42.5 to get back on the front row. To the vocal delight of the grandstand, he not only did that but he stopped the clocks at 1:39.996- firmly planting the Hesketh on pole position!
It was like an extension of the film, an extra chapter of the book. To add to the excitement, Dan Daly on maximum attack mode as ever, had somehow managed to grab fourth place in his Formula Atlantic Ralt. The paddock was buzzing with excitement and both drivers were delighted.
If you were thinking about coming to Mondello tomorrow, this should make your mind up for you. come and see Tommy Byrne do his thing in the arena where he made his name four decades ago. You could be part of the next chapter of one of the best motor racing stories ever. Do not miss it.
Remember, classic car drivers are free in, as are those who arrive on classic bikes or in period clothing. You have been told!