I headed into the Leinster Trophy weekend with feelings of optimism and sadness. While I felt good about my chances around the 3.5km International track layout it was also the last round of the season and my last race for this year. My job as an instructor in the Mondello race school means I have a pretty good knowledge of the international loop and having just started into the first week of college I decided to skip testing and jump straight into qualifying. Having just done the 24 Hour C1 race two weeks previously the Zetec suddenly felt amazingly quick in comparison to the C1! Qualifying appeared to be dry however the international loop had damp patches on the apex’s which was giving me understeer problems and costing me time. I still managed to qualify 4th and the times were quite close at the front which meant the races were shaping up to be quite a close exciting contest.
My championship situation looked tough heading into race one. Although I was in a safe enough P3 in the championship I was 14 points off Mark Johnston in second and I needed some luck to outscore him over the two races. I had a good first lap as I jumped Michael Fitzgerald at turn three to grab third and then as Darragh Cormack and Owen Purcell went into Tarzan side by side I dived down the inside of Owen to snatch 2nd place. A lap later heading into Tarzan, Darragh outbraked himself and I was able to grab the lead. I was then faced with the task of holding off a pack of six Fiestas led by the new champion Purcell. I was forced into heavy defensive driving to hold them back and the constant nudges from behind gave me constant reminders that they weren’t going to leave me alone anytime soon! Eventually Purcell got a run on me down the back straight and got down the inside into Tarzan 1 but I’d already thought one corner ahead and cut back underneath to grab the inside line into Tarzan 2. We then ran side by side through Birranes Bends and around the next left hander and then we were heading towards Paddock corner still side by side. Now Paddock corner is flat out in a Zetec and you can’t really fit two cars wide through it. I decided I wasn’t backing out of it and kept it flat around the outside and somehow retook the lead. Coming down the main straight Owen got past me again and chopped across the front of me into turn one. This made me slow out of turn one and Darragh got alongsideme heading into turn two. Unknown to me Lloyd Murphy was also alongside Darragh and as we tried to fit three cars wide through turn two it didn’t work and Darragh ended up off in the barrier on the outside and I was lucky to get away with only the loss of my rear bumper. I finished the race in 2nd and with Johnston only finishing 8th it meant I’d halved the points gap to him heading into the final race on Sunday.
I started 5th for the final race of the year and knew I had a hard task ahead of me to snatch 2nd in the championship right at the death. By the end of lap one I was up to 4th but I could see that Johnston was running in 6th place and I knew that I’d have to win the race to stand any hope of beating him. On lap 3 I took advantage of a battle between Owen, Collie Murray and Andy Kavanagh to move up to 3rd. I then set off after Owen and Michael Fitzgerald who was leading but I had Mark right on my tail. The next lap later coming down the main straight the red flags were flying and with six minutes to go a restart would have been perfect for me as I would have been starting from 3rd and a lot closer to Fitzgerald and Purcell. However when I seen the officials directing us back to Parc Ferme I knew it was all over. To add salt to the wounds on count back I was demoted back to 5th so I lost my podium as well as the chance to challenge for 2nd in the championship.
Despite all this it has been quite a good year for me. Despite having desperate luck at times and having to battle challenges all year ranging from engine issues to racing in the middle of my Leaving Cert to be even in a position to challenge for 2nd in the championship is a great achievement for me. My plans for next year are currently undecided but since I’ve secured myself a nomination for Motorsport Ireland Young Driver of The Year for the third year in a row, the €50,000 prize would certainly help with any 2019 plans!
Massive thanks to all my team, supporters, family and sponsors for making all of this year possible
Dunshaughlin Motor Company
The Tyre Brigade
Mr Gearbox Mr Clutch
Rath Service Station
Thanks for reading all my blogs this season and I’ll definitely be back in 2019 in some form of race car and back writing again
Image from Michael Chester.