The annual Fiesta 6 Hour Endurance Race at Mondello Park always attracts a healthy entry, from across many motorsport disciplines. 2018 was no different with 32 teams comprising of over 100 drivers lining up for the race where strategy is as important as ultimate pace.
First blood went to local team MTR, who claimed pole position. They had gone well in the race in 2017 and Lloyd Murphy, brother Damien and former Fiat racer Brendan Travers posted notice of their intentions by holding pole for most of the drying qualifying session, as the times gradually tumbled. Unfortunately for them though, they were slightly late leaving the pitlane garage en route to the grid and the pitlane was closed. This meant that they, along with the Mr Gearbox Mr Clutch team and RK racing, would have no choice but to start from the pitlane.
After a minute silence on the grid, to honour Ken Fildes and Jeff Wright, who had passed away the previous week, the 32 car grid made their way around the National Circuit for their warm up lap.
The grid changes left 2017 winners LOH Motorsport all alone on the front row and Dan Polley immediately adjusted the angle of his car to make sure he got to the all important inside line on the run down to the first corner. He duly led away and held on in the early stages before succumbing to an attack from series regular William Kellett, who took the aptly named Performance Ford car to the front and began to ease away.
As gear selection issues began to plague Dan Polley for LOH, he gradually dropped a couple of places. First to follow Kellett through was Mark O’Donohoe in the SPCF car with Alan Watkins’ Mulready Motorsport car next up, followed by Karl Leonard in the Naas Court Hotel car. One hour in and that was how it stayed, with Keith Dawson charging up the field for Mr Gearbox/Mr Clutch to seventh- from a pitlane start!
At the halfway mark, with the Performance Ford car having retired with a blown engine, the Murray Motorsport team of Michael Cullen, Dave Maguire, John Denning and Rod McGovern had hit the front, with Team Barrable (Rob, Peter and Michael Barrable) right on their bumper. The three Amigos (Johnny Whelan, Rob Whelan and Jonny Taylor) were third, with original polesitters MTR having climbed all the way to fourth.
With an hour to run, Team Barrable had taken the lead, followed by Murray Motorsport and MTR. SPCF were next up from the Naas Court Hotel Team, whilst McCloughrey racing were holding off Mr Gearbox Mr Clutch for 6th. LOH Motorsport were still running in eighth, despite having now lost both first and second gears with the Team Bristol Mallory team of Tommy Byrne, David Kennedy, Kevin McGarrity and Niall McFadden having entered the top ten in ninth.
The race really came alive inside the final hour, as Rob Barrable took over the lead car and Michael Cullen the Murray Motorsport machine. in pitch darkness, with the rain falling, it seemed as is Murrays had pulled a master stroke by fitting a new front left tyre at the final stop. With 20 mins to go, the gap was just 20 seconds and for a few laps, Cullen reduced the gap by a second a lap before Barrable responded.
That it seemed, would be that…. Or perhaps not, as both teams encountered late race drama. Barrable had no choice but to go off in avoidance as a back marker got a massive tank slapper at turn three- just managing to avoid the gravel and rejoin. It was worse again for Cullen who tangled with a car whilst lapping it into turn one and was dispatched into the gravel, unable to rejoin.
As the safety car was scrambled (for the umpteenth time!), teams ran to the pitwall and to the garage monitors, eager to see who was off. The chequered flag fell at 6pm with the cars still behind the safety car and it was the jubilant family team of Barrables who took their first win at the event. MTR were seconds, just three laps down, with SPCF completing the podium in third. Naas Court Hotel, with Holstein at the wheel had actually caught and passed Brendan Travers in the MTR car for what would have been second but were called to the pits for a penalty, dropping them to an eventual fourth. McCloughrey racing went well to claim fifth, only 9 seconds ahead of the Bristol Mallory Racing car, with Mr Gearbox/Mr Clutch next up ahead of LOH Motorsport. The Dara Fay led Hillclimbers team were ninth, with Patch Tyre Equipment team of Nicole Drought, Rob King and Colin Lewis rounding out the top ten. The WiM Team of Emma Dempsey, Nicola Watkins, Ruth Nugent and Aimee Woods had run well, but stopped to replace a headlight and the new one triggered electricial issues, dropping them to the back.
It was a race of attrition, especially in the final two hours and when the results were posted, it showed that only 22 of the original 32 starters made the finish.
“I’ve always wanted to win this one” said Peter Barrable, who has also just wrapped up the Endurance Trial Championship “The car is actually a little bit overweight, but we all drove well and stayed out of trouble- and that’s what it is all about.”
Irish Motorsport TV covered the event, in association with the Naas Court Hotel and Mondello Park and a highlights programme will be aired on Eir Sport in the coming weeks, with a preview event in the Hotel beforehand.
Images from Michael Chester