The Phoenix Park Motor Races and the Leinster Trophy meeting were always the two “big ones” on any club racer’s calendar. The Phoenix Park, or “The Park” as it was known- they used to say a win there was worth ten at Mondello! The Leinster Trophy though, mainly thanks to the efforts of Michael O’Carroll, was the chance for any club racer to tell his mates, his sponsors and even his ma, that he was going to be on telly that weekend. All races, both days, live on RTE- imagine that?!
There were invariably international classes visiting for the big two day meeting, and they generally competed for the famous trophy, which was first awarded in 1934. This of course is why we we lucky enough to see future F1 world champions like Senna and Hakkinen ply their trade around our local circuit. In recent years though, the profile of the meeting has fallen. There are a myriad of reasons for this, the RTE coverage is long gone, the UK classes stopped visiting during the recession that kicked off over a decade ago and the Irish sea is one of the more expensive stretches of water to cross in the world!
Rather than put the trophy away, the Leinster Club decided to award it to local classes, first FF1600, then Formula Vee and Formula Sheane. In recent years the BOSS Ireland class have had the honour of racing for the trophy with so many famous names on it and Hywel Lloyd and Cian Carey, both F3 mounted have been the latest winners.
Two years ago, my company did some promotion for the BOSS class. This included the application/presentation for the opportunity to race for the trophy and of course, the subsequent PR when we were told our submission was successful. We spoke with Dan Daly, who kindly agreed to run his Jordan F1 car at the event and used that as the main pull for the event. The photoshoot and release worked well and were used by many outlets at the time, causing great anticipation ahead of the event.
Despite no official announcement or communication about which class was racing for the trophy this year, the classes themselves have put a huge effort in and the numbers are well up, which can only be good for the sport. In fact, as I type this, the entries are within a sniff of the 200 mark, which means we will have strong grids and the potential for great racing all weekend.
Stephen Daly and Paul Dagg are probably favourites to take the famous trophy come Sunday afternoon, and both have won it before- Daly twice in fact. It is far from a forgone conclusion though, as there are plenty of others in the field who will be challenging hard. Hillclimber Paul O’Connell currently leads the BOSS Ireland championship and has gone well all year. Fellow F3 mounted hillclimb star Sylvie Mullins has matched O’Connell’s pace all season too and is worth watching. Eamonn Matheson, self built machine is far and away the fastest race car in the country in a straightline. Luckily for the other competitors, it is not too fond of the twiddly bit and probably is not the most reliable machine on the planet either. Eamonn never gives up though, and both of those issues have been vastly improved- so keep an eye on the green machine too! Keith Sheehan has belied his almost complete lack of race experience with impressive pace in his newly acquired Dallara this year and has already taken a handful of podiums. Former class champion Fergus Faherty dusts off his F3 machine too and reigning champion Peter Dywer makes it an impressive 7 F3 machines on the grid. Now a Formula Renault should not be as quick as an F3 car around Mondello, but Barry Rabbitt may not have got that memo, so in case of any extraordinary circumstances, watch out for the Jordan 191 liveried machine. A former BOSS race winner and former Leinster Trophy winner, he will be keep to take at least one or two F3 scalps at the least. His brother Shane, the reigning ITCC Champion makes his single seater debut, also in a Renault and should be good to watch. Sam Mansfield has been hugely impressive in his Radical this year and all going well, he could perhaps spring a surprise come Sunday too. A recent rebuild has apparently pushed his power output north of 400bhp meaning there is a real chance Sam can be the first sportcar mounted winner of the trophy in recent years! John Daly and Colm Hynes are also out in bigger F3000 chassis machines and are joined by class founder Dan Daly in his Cannon Williams liveried Reynard-Holden. As Dan reminded us at the recent Historic Festival- he is still as quick and committed as ever!
PTG ITCC grids have been a little disappointing this year but they have been bolstered this weekend with a number of exciting parachute entries! Philip Burdock and Gareth Jennings go head to head for the title but will have massive competition as Keith Campbell, a double winner in 2018 already, returns in his Honda powered Corrado. Rob Savage will be gunning for another win in his familiar “Blue Thunder” Integra. The real interest in this one though could lie in a battle between Andrew Armstrong in his mighty NI Saloons BMW M3 and former ST and ITCC driver Ulick Burke. A little birdie that recently flew over Athlone tells me that there may have been changes to the supercharger on Burke’s Integra and figures in excess of 400bhp have even been mentioned! Martin Duffy also makes a welcome return to Mondello and he never stops improving his self built M3 so it will be interesting to see how he goes. Series sponsor Jay O’Reilly (above) starred at this meeting last year but is battling mechanical issues this week and may not make the grid unfortunately.
The Stryker class have done a good job increasing numbers this year and were within a sniff of having 20 on the grid earlier this week. Greg Kelly has done most of the winning this year in his G2 Karting machine, but Andy Dalton has taken his fair share too and there is very little to separate the pair in terms of championship points as they approach the championship climax. Des Bruton has also tasted the winner’s champagne this year but is not about this weekend. Nicole Drought has showed winning pace on occasion this year and will be keen to run at the front this weekend, especially under the eye of her corporate Gem Oils guests. Stephen Ross went really well at Kirkistown and will be hoping to repeat that form, whilst Dave Reynolds has improved dramatically all season and will surely be aiming for a podium finish too.
Formula Vee has produced some of the best racing we have seen this year. Blackburn Vs Polley in Bishopscourt for example, was like watching something from the glory days of FF1600- I have no idea how many times the lead changed and both gave each other JUST enough room. Lee Newsome and Anthony Cross are battling for the title, but Dan Polley is rumoured to make a return this weekend. Work commitments have meant that Polley only appeared three times this year and on each occasion, he won. He is also a former winner of the Leinster Trophy, in the same LOH Sheane he still drives so he certainly has all the credentials. Colm Blackburn has turned his attention to FF1600 and will make his debit with Morgan Dempsey in Kirkistown later this month. The lure of TV coverage has apparently tempted him back to his Kershaw Motorsport tended Leastone though- and he will be out to win- no question. There has been great racing in the Finol Star of Tomorrow class this year and a good result could just wrap up the title for longtime leader Max Hart in his Selco backed works Leastone.
David Parks continues to dominate in Formula Sheane, despite the best attempts of Brian Hearty et al. He faces a new challenge this weekend though as former series champion Enda O’Connor makes a return. This should be a battle worth watching! Unfortunately, the class has suffered more than most in terms of shrinking grids and has sunk to single numbers on occasion this year. Regs have not changed though and we know there are over 25 cars in existance, so hopefully they will bolster their ranks over the winter months. The cars are inexpensive ot buy and run, don’t depreciate and have an abundance of power over grip- what more would you want?
The Irish Legends are back at Mondello, with three races on Sunday. Paul O’Brien is usually the man in this class, but it is so close it is hard to call. They tend to run as a screaming group, bump drafting each other as they go by the grandstand as they try to make a break or make up places! Ian Conroy (above) has been superb in the class, the former Punto racer also turning his car out superbly every time. Niki Meredith is always capable of winning as is UK visitor James Holman. Jonny Taylor went well at the last meeting, attributed to a bit of setup change after Johnny Whelan tested the car before the meeting apparently! Richie Kearney is racing his Formula Sheane but will take part in the Legends final starting from the back- the smart money says he won’t stay there for long!
In Zetec Fiestas, Owen Purcell has dominated and has already clinched the title. The Leinster Trophy is the big one though, and he will be be keen to take at least one win. Michael Fitzgerald has been very quick when he appeared though and also will be chasing the top step of the podium. Fresh from a great drive at the Citroen C1 24 Hour race at Rockingham, William Kellett won’t be too far away and if has enough straightline power to challenge the others, will definitely be a factor. Mark Johnston has also shown great pace this year and is not to be discounted. Aimee Woods also returns to the class, having impressed with a top 5 qualifying run on her last visit to Mondello.
MicksGarage.com Future Classics are also on the card, this time with a double header on Sunday. Adrian Dunne has been developing his self built Saxo and is absolutely flying. He may have to peg it back a notch or two this weekend to avoid the dreaded barrier and if he does, he will have a host of competitors to contend with. Timmy Duggan is out in the ex-works SEAT Ibiza and he leads the Super Future Classics title chase from the beautifully prepared Civic of Anthony Kelly. Aidan Byrne and Ken Byrne are next up in their familar Celicas while Fiesta racer Colin Lewis takes over the black Tommy Byrne Celica for the weekend. The Formula Female pairing of Nicci Daly and Emma Dempsey are also back out and will do a race apiece in the Abrakebra Rover 25 GTI. In the slightly slower “Future Classics” class, MJ Farrell just leads from Jimmy Kilbride but Paul Flanigan is in with a shout in third too. The BT Racing duo of Brendan Travers (Abarth) and Barry Travers (1400 Mk1 Punto) are also entered. Barry has not been out for a considerable time but is still the Punto lap record holder and could spring a surprise!
Michael Cullen leads the The Trailer Company Fiesta ST title chase, having returned to form this year after a few lack lustre (by his lofty standards) seasons. Double champion Dave Maguire can still take the title though but needs to beat Cullen in both races and win at least one of them. Don’t expect Murray Motorsport to issue any team orders to that pair! Darragh McMullen and Barry John McHenry are both front runners too and won’t be afraid to tackle the series leaders as they battle over third in the championship!
Irish Supercars Powered By Pirelli also race twice over the weekend. Cameron Fenton has shown superb pace in his debut year in the series but luck has not always gone his way. Alan Watkins leads the title chase purely by virtue of the fact that he is the only one to have finished all rounds. Gary Corcoran is in second with two wins to his name, with Fenton, who has taken the chequered flag on four occasions, in third. Charlie Linnane, driving the ex Peter Barrable 2017 title winning car is the only other to have taken a maximum score.
Jackie Cochrane has been unbeaten in HRCA series so far this year- the rumbling V8 Tiger having taken ten wins. This doesn’t mean the races won’t be worth watching though- not by a long shot. Firstly, Jackie struggles to get the big machine off the line and generally takes a lap or two to get into his stride. This allows the incredible Stevie Griffin to sometimes grab the lead in the Modsport Midget, if he can hold off Tommy Doherty’s three litre Capri down into turn one! Bernard Foley has further developed his MGBGT V8 and is probably closest in terms of ultimate pace to Jackie. There was a big surprise last time out though as young Lewis Dunlop starred in David Kelly’s Gulf Crossle 9S-BMW. As he got used to the car he gradually picked his way up to second and ensured that Cochrane had to open the taps again in the closing stages to hold off the lighter car. Kelly returns to the Crossle this weekend in a attempt to end Cochrane’s unbeaten run. That will be worth watching, as will the progress of Dunlop, this time Lotus Elan mounted.
Sé Óg Martin has dominated the 2018 Ginetta Junior championship, even taking two wins at Mondello having started from the pitlane. Rob Parks is second in the standings having taken three wins with Mathew Nicholl in third. Christopher Grimes has shown good pace too whilst Megan Campbell, also a winner this year is fifth. It never ceases to amaze me that these Ginetta grids are not packed. The class has produced some of the best drivers ever in this country and the cars are far cheaper to run than a top class kart. Maybe a new initiative is needed to stop it fading away altogether, which would be a shame.
Rob King and Damien Smith lead their respective classes in the Open Endurance series, while Shane Murphy holds a slender lead over Eoin Murray in the SEAT Supercup class. Rod McGovern is third but is not out this weekend. There was talk of Michael Leonard entering in a Lamborghini but we will believe that one when we see it!
The headline above is, of course, tongue in cheek. Tell EVERYONE!!!
Images from Michael Chester