Despite horrendous conditions, excellent pre event promotion ensured healthy grids and a relatively good crowd turned up at Mondello Park for the opening round of the partsforcars Irish Rallycross Championship on Sunday last.
As ever, I chatted with a few drivers on arrival and to a man, they all reckoned that the track was slippier than it had ever been, with even the 80bhp Zetec Fiestas struggling for traction! It had been raining non stop since lunchtime the previous day, and the resultant standing water accumulating at Rallycross one and two certainly didn’t help. Noel Greene led the Supercars away for the opening heat and impressively, managed to fend off the advances of Derek Tohill until the reigning champion used the Joker lap to snatch the lead. Tellingly though, Greene’s AMF tended machine was still well in touch at the chequered flag. Others to impress were Thomas McManus, who had his orange turbocharged Mk1 MR2 at some impossible angles as he grabbed an impressive Modified heat win, and Loughlin Farrell, who, proudly wearing Dad Damien’s 839 number on his Fiesta, challenged for wins in the Junior class on his first day out! Jack Byrne was on form too, winning all three of his heats. Martin McAteer has always been the master of the standing start in the RX Buggies and on numerous occasions, he demonstrated that this was still the case- generally leading into Rallycross 1 regardless of grid position. Michael Barrable looked like a threat in the Zetecs too. Reigning Champion David Maher took all three heats, but Barrable led his heat away before joining the long list of people who couldn’t get stopped at the Hole in The Hedge and rejoining at the back. In the second heat, the 1995 Dunlop Sexton Champion was far more reserved, but posted notice of his intentions with fastest lap en route to second.
So as you can see, it was shaping up to be a fantastic day of close and exciting Rallycross action. Unfortunately though, it was not to be. Firstly, Noel Greene’s AMF team detected a rattle from the Mirage’s engine and immediately withdrew from the event. Derek Tohill’s power steering maladies were enough to prevent him finishing heat two, and Fiesta Stalwart Brian “Patch” Matthews was despatched to Naas Hospital after a nasty off on Rallycross three while leading his Fiesta Zetec heat. At lunchtime, many noticed that there had been a sharp drop in temperature and as the cars got going again, rain turned into sleet, and then snow. It could hardly stick though, could it? After all that rain? It turned out that could and it did and after a Fiesta Junior Semi Final, the decision was taken to carry out a track inspection. in the event, there was no need, as the snow was hammering down, making vision extremely difficult for officials and drivers alike.
Despite this setback, it bodes well for IRX 2019. Having held a successful launch pre season, the promotion continued up to, and indeed during, the event on Sunday. Thanks to this, as I said, the grid numbers were well up, but almost as importantly, the car parks were packed and the grandstand housed a crowd larger than I have seen on far warmer and drier Rallycross events. Fair play to the died in the wool fans, who stayed to the end too- it was noted and appreciated. Carrying on from that, what about the outdoor officials, the marshals and starter etc. They braved that horrendous weather all day long and stayed at their posts until the very end. I have said it before, the #OrangeArmy are amongst the best you would find anywhere and they proved it once again last weekend- thanks guys and girls!
Images from Barry Cregg