One thing I have learned from many years of compiling this list is that the old adage is true; you can please all of the people some of the time, but you definitely can’t please all of the people all the time. As I have said in previous years, it is always controversial and always incites debate. Previous scribes who had the same job tell me t’was always the way- you were likely to be accosted at the next meeting by a disgruntled driver, or worse, a fan of a driver, who either hadn’t made the cut or, according to the fan, should have been higher up!
Parks topped this list last year, making him the first ever winner of the Vivian Candy Memorial Trophy. In 2018, his domination of Formula Sheane continued and he was, if anything, even more impressive. When he was beaten at the Leinster Trophy, after one of the best battles of the year in any class, he was magnanimous in defeat and you got the feeling he prefers a good scrap to total domination. Having done the job twice, he has had enough of Formula Sheane and has sold his car- probably leaving the class in urgent need of a restart once again. For 2019, Parks will move to FF1600 with a 2013 Ray and it will be very interesting to see how he progresses.
2. Anthony Cross
Cross, like Adam Macaulay before him, came to my attention when he arrived in Formula Vee because of his wet weather performances. Whenever the heavens opened, he had the pace of the established class pace setters- always a good sign. Once he upgraded his machinery to a newer Sheane chassis, he arrived at the sharp end. This year, Formula Vee produced single seater action that FF1600 would be proud of, Blackburn Vs Polley in Bishopscourt being a great example of this. Cross matched everyone for pace, led the televised round until the final lap, and then came out tops of a classic Kirkistown slipstreaming battle to take a well deserved National title. A class act.
3. Greg Kelly.
Strykers enjoyed bigger grids once again in 2018 and look like adding to this for the coming 2019 season too. In the absence of multiple champion Alan Watkins and 2017 champion Alan Auerbach, the title was always going to be a battle between Greg Kelly and the spectacular Andy D’Alton. Kelly knew when to push and when to keep his powder dry and was impressive at every round. He may have had to go to the last meeting to clinch the title, but such was his performance all year, it would have been hard to see anyone beating him to his first title. Happily, he has decided to defend it in 2019.
4. Michael Cullen
The man they love to hate. Michael Cullen has motorsport running through his veins. Since his debut, in a Fiesta Supersport back in 1983 (He came fourth, right on father Des’ back bumper!) he has competed, and won, in FF1600, Unos, Peugeot 205 GTIs, the Irish Saloon Car Championship, the European Ferrari Challenge and many many more. After a long sabbatical, he returned a few years ago to contest the SEAT Supercup. Almost as if to announce his presence, he was involved in a number of high profile shunts- but the big surprise was his relative lack of pace. I say relative, because he was rarely beaten in his pre sabbatical Mondello campaigns. This year though, it was different. He was on the pace from the word go, and won the opening race at all the Mondello meetings until the final round. Dave Maguire was the double, and reigning, champion and it seemed he had no answer to his team mate who led the standings into the final weekend. A collapsed wheel bearing in qualifying put Cullen to the back though, and even a charge back up through the grid was not enough to prevent Maguire to take his third class title. One thing is sure though, Cullen is back!
5. Cameron Fenton
Ginetta Junior Ireland has always produced fantastic drivers. The latest to graduate to a senior Mondello based class was Cameron Fenton. He was one of a number of drivers to be supported by Alan Kessie and ASK Racing- and was instantly setting the pace in the Supercar class. For most of the season, he was clearly quicker than the rest and were it not for a broken driveshaft on the line at Bishopscourt and contact sending him into the bank while leading race two, he would have won the title with ease. In the event, he was shoveled off by a SEAT at the Leinster Trophy and even total domination at Brands Hatch, taking both wins by a significant margin, was not enough to avoid him losing the title by a single point. For 2019, he is aiming to race FF1600 in the UK.
6. Paul O’Brien
The reigning Irish Legends Champion got the job done once again in 2018. The class though, is ever improving, and it was definitely a harder job for him this year, as the Irish Motorsport TV coverage showed, with three thrilling races from the Leinster Trophy. The Legends class have done a great job attracting new drivers, with saloon converts Ian Conroy and Richie Kearney both running at the sharp end too.
7. Paul O’Connell
8. Owen Purcell
9. Ian Conroy
Ian was quick and wild in his Fiat Punto days. A few years away, hasn’t changed much, as we saw from the Leinster Trophy TV coverage. As quick as anyone out there, the Carlow man has uncanny car control and is always right on the edge, making him a firm favourite with spectators. should he calm it down a tad, he could probably mount a serious title challenge- but that wouldn’t be as much fun to watch!
10. Philip Burdock
Burdock is one of the trio who initially set up the ITCC back in the day. Coming from a Time Attack background, he competed in the series for many years at the wheel of a rapid Civic before disappearing from the racing scene for a while. Last year he reappeared with a self built VW Golf. There was no shortage of power but the handling needed a bit of work, This year he made no mistakes to score at every round and it must have been hugely satisfying to win the title in the series he was involved in creating- and even more so in a self built car.
If you could win driver of the year in just one race, Colm Blackburn would probably be my number one. The Vee Champion graduated to FF1600 for a few exploratory outings at Kirkistown but was tempted back to the Vee grids at the Leinster Trophy by the lure of the Irish Motorsport TV coverage for his sponsors. He latched onto the lead trio early on, despatched Newsome for third and then, incredibly did both Polley and Cross around the outside at turn three for the lead- and the win. It is one of the best moves I have seen at Mondello, and will remain in the memory of anyone who saw it for many years to come. Similarly, Stephen Daly’s move for the lead of the Leinster Trophy at Paddock corner was a real treat for race fans. Dave Maguire did a great job to take his third Fiesta ST title in succession. Lady luck certainly helped this time though, as longtime series leader Cullen’s mechanical issues all but killed his title aspirations at the final weekend. Jackie Cochrane continues to dominate in the HRCA series but it would appear the car/driver combination are far quicker than anything else out there- so, impressive as it is, a different result would be hard to imagine. Timmy Duggan combined tactics with pace to take the Future Classics title, whilst Alan Watkins’ clinched the Supercar title on his first attempt, in his beautifully presented machine.
Finally, thank you, as ever, to Michael Chester for the images- and two my helpers with the above, who for their own safety will remain nameless!!