Longtime racer and team owner Sean Woods was recently diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. Immediately there was a wave of shock when news reached the Mondello paddock, but almost as quickly, there were offers of help should there be a fundraiser.
At around the same time, the Formula Vee Association had decided to give their Formula Vee Festival a rest for a year or so. A plan was drawn up to run the event as a Fiestaval, using the template of the Vee Fiestival for fund raising activities for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association. With most Irish classes already down to race at the event, and the CSCC Modified Saloons and Modsports visiting from the UK, it was always going to be a busy two day event.
Legends opened the racing activity and Paul O’Brien was the first winner of the weekend. Geoff Richardson made him work for it though, only losing second at the final corner when an attempt to wrest the lead away came to naught and the opportunistic Ian Conroy nipped thought. He also won the second and third race on the opening day and incredibly, took another three wins on Sunday. Most would be happy with six wins in a season, never mind a weekend- impressive stuff from the series leader!
Alex Denning, eager to bounce back after a controversial weekend at Mondello in June, produced a banzai lap to snatch Dennings Cars Fiesta ST pole early in the session. Alongside him on the front row would be championship leader Erik Holstein, giving the prospect of another battle of titanic proportions. Michael Cullen and a back on form Barry-John McHenry occupied row two ahead of triple class champion Dave Maguire and Brendan Fitzgerald. Unfortunately for the crowd in the grandstand, Denning pulled in at the end of the warm lap, his frustration evident as he walked away. This left Holstein alone on the front row, an opportunity he was not going to miss and once he shook off the tenacious Michael Cullen. He crossed the line well clear with Cullen second and McHenry a delighted third. In race two, as usual, the top six was reversed, meaning Ross Barnes, who starred at the June meeting, and Fitzgerald occupied the front row with Holstein sixth. Adding further spice to proceedings, Murray Motorsport had repaired Denning’s gearbox and he joined at the back of the grid, ensuring proceedings would be anything but processional. Fitzgerald grabbed the lead as the pack headed away with Maguire moving up to second from Barnes, Cullen and Holstein. Having been rebuffed a number of times by Cullen, Holstein grabbed his chance when Cullen and Barnes entered turn three side by side. He emerged in fourth, despatched Barnes and passed Maguire to close down Fitzgerald, who immediately went into defensive mode. Holstein got alongside a few times but was despatched onto the grass and had to back off. Unfortuantely, as this battle was really hotting up, there was drama further back. Denning, as expected, had passed a handful of cars immediately before encountering Gordon Kellett. Gordo was known for his defensive driving back in the day and it soon became clear that the art had not left him as Denning tried one side and then the other. Eventually, a lunge down the inside into turn one went badly wrong and Denning T-boned the unfortunate David Kidd, bringing out the red flags. On countback, Maguire had been ahead of Holstein, who dropped to third, but still moved a step closer to the 2019 title.
The Finnstown Castle BOSS Ireland series provided plenty of noise and drama when they took to the track for qualifying. Most expected Paul O’Connell to take pole in his beautiful Red Bull liveried Dallara World Series machine but Barry Rabbitt had other ideas. He had fitted qualifying tyres to his new Deliver It liveried latest generation Formula Renault and topped the tables with a hugely impressive 51.5 second lap. Fergus Faherty was second, just a couple of tenths off, with O’Connell and Sylvie Mullins on row two. As they lined up, all eyes were on row three though, where welcome NI visitor Eamonn Matheson had qualified his self built machine. True to form, he rocketed off the line and somehow emerged from turn one in the lead. Faherty took chase but Matheson’s latest machine is far more agile on the twisty bits than its predecessor and that, allied to it’s eye opening straightline speed meant it wasn’t going to be easily passed. O’Connell took a lap or two to settle and then blasted by Rabbitt on the straight. Faherty, having eased by Matheson, was visibly pushing and although O’Connell took fastest lap, he didn’t manage to catch the flying F3 car before the red flags stopped play, courtesy of Matheson spinning to a halt at the Esses. Faherty therefore bacame the first driver to beat O’Connell in 2019. In race two, Rabbitt got the jump and, initially at least, drove away from the opposition. Once again though, O’Connell gradually began to push and closed down the Formula Renault. After a few attempts, he managed to get by, and was almost 20 seconds to the good at the end, with Faherty trailing Rabbitt by a similar amount in third.
Karl Leonard brought one of his Porsche Supercup machines over to Ireland for the weekend and any speculation that the SEAT Supercups, which got a 50bhp boost this year, might pip the less nimble machine on the National Circuit, were was soon dispelled as he dipped into the 55 second bracket in qualifying! Cold front tyres meant it understeered like the Titanic at turn one on the opening lap, but that was as close as the SEATs got, as he streaked away for an impressive demonstration. Shane Murphy has been the man on form in the SEAT Supercup this year and he took class pole, from Rod McGovern. It was great to see some more cars joining the grid for this one, with Brian Berry returning to the class and ST regular Graham McDonnell also making his Supercup debut.
Murphy took the win in race one, but couldn’t relax as he had McGovern for company for the duration, less than a second separating the duo at the flag. Barry English was third, from an impressive McDonnell. In race two, Murphy ran out of road at the Esses, the subsequent grasstracking journey on the exit meaning he had ot visit the pits to have some Mondello greenery removed from the intake. He rejoined in the closing stages in the hope of gaining some points. Up front though, it was English who led home, but only just, as McDonnell, revelling in the extra power and grip of the SEAT challenged hard in the closing stages, crossing the line right with the Winthrop machine.
For the past number of seasons, the Fiesta Zetec series has featured some great battles between Owen Purcell and William Kellett. Purcell took the title in 2018 but has suffered a number of mechanical issues this year. This has coincided with a rich vein of form from Kellett and he now looks like a strong bet for the 2019 Keelan Construction title. He grabbed pole position early in the session and sat in the pitlane for the remainder of the session while the others tried unsucessfully to better his time. He then made no mistakes to lead away in the first race, aided by a bad start by fellow front row occupant Purcell. Kellett took the flag just over three seconds ahead of Purcell, who had fought his way back to second but couldn’t close the gap to the flying UL student. As ever in race two, the top six were reversed and this put Aimee Woods on pole, courtesy of a fine drive to sixth in the opener.
To the delight of the massive Dundalk contingent, the Mondello Instructor made a cracking start to lead the pack down into turn one in her Shaky Bills backed machine. Mark Johnston tried everything to get by but Aimee never looked pressurised and it seemed she might be the first woman to take a win in the hugely popular budget class. Collie Barrable had other ideas though and once by Johnston he began to pile on the pressure. He finally found a gap on the exit of turn one and the pair sat it out door to door through turn two. Unfortuantely for Aimee though, she found herself bundled wide at turn three, emerging in seventh as Barrable assumed the lead. Kellett was on a charge though and over the last two laps he shadowed Barrable. The wily ex-FF1600 pilot wasn’t leaving any gaps though and hung on for his second win of 2019, from Kellett and guesting ITCC driver Ulick Burke, all the way from last on the grid!
Stephen Ross was right on the lap record pace as he took pole for the opening Stryker race, from Greg Kelly and the hugely experienced Des Bruton. Rallycrosser Vincent “VW Vinny” has been quick but erratic on his switch to circuit racing and he lined up an impressive fourth ahead of Roger Welaratne and Dave Reynolds. After a titanic battle, Kelly took the flag to keep his title hopes alive, also eclipsing Alan Auerbach’s long standing lap record in his efforts to keep Ross at bay. The pair finished well ahead of Welaratne, with class stalwart Andy Dalton fourth after charging through from the back. In race two, it was Kelly vs Ross again, with the pair really going at it. At the flag it was Ross for the win. Welaratne drove well to take his second podium of the weekend, from Dalton and O’Rourke.
The Techit.ie backed ITCC made their first visit of the year to Mondello and it was great to see a number of NI based drivers on the entry list. In fact, belying his lack of experience, Kirkistown winner Ciaran Denvir pipped Keith Campbell for pole by just 8 thousandths of a second! Stephen Potter was third, from Rob Savage, Stephen Traub and Tony Gallagher in his unconventional, but effective, Castrol liveried Accord. Track knowledge came to the fore as the lights went out though, with Campbell sitting it out around the outside of Denvir to take the lead as Denvir was momentarily baulked by a SEAT Supercup car at turn two. As Campbell eased away, a quick off dropped Denvir down the order. He recovered to take third by the flag, with Potter keeping Campbell honest in second. Campbell was on row two behind the NI visitors for race two, but battled his way to the front to do the double, with Denvir just over a second behind and Potter in third.
Matthew Nicholl’s domination of the 2019 Ginetta Junior series continued as he took a pair of dominant victories, the others simply not being able to match his pace. Maybe this was because they were embroiled in some fantastic scraps though. Race one was akin to a Formula Ford 1600 battle of years gone by as Karl O’Brien, Sean McGovern, Jack Byrne and Christopher Grimes Jnr went at it as if their lives depended on it. Dives down the inside into Southside corner were very much the order of the day, with Grimes finally claiming the runner up spot, having being as low as fifth at one stage! In race two, with Nicholl away down the road again, Grimes, O’Brien, McGovern and Byrne were covered by less than two seconds, in that order, as they crossed the line! Mol an óige!
It was great to see a large Salco.ie Formula Vee grid, with numbers doubled from their last, and only, Mondello appearance earlier in the year. Dan Polley took pole for LOH Motorsport, but with the similar red Sheane of Anthony Cross alongside, it was never going to be a walk in the park for the former Leinster Trophy winner. Row two comprised of two impressive class returnees. Gavin Buckley was third whilst Trevor Delaney, who had been racing FF1600 in recent times, was fourth. Polley led away but Cross was on the attack almost immediately and grabbed the lead with a great move on the exit of turn one, sitting it out through turn two to assume the lead into three. Polley, surprisingly, wasn’t able to match Cross’ pace and gradually dropped back trailing the series leader by just over two seconds when the red flags flew for the second time, courtesy of novice JB Farrell parking his ailing car against the armco on the main straight, with Delaney getting the better of Buckley to complete the podium.
We don’t enjoy as many visiting UK classes these days, so it was great to see that Mondello had added the CSCC Special Saloons and Modsports to the this event. Some beautiful cars arrived at Mondello, evoking memories of days gone by with their wild silhouette shapes, flared arches and screaming engines. Andy Southcott’s 2.3 Midget claimed pole, but only just, from the Darrian of Ian Hall, with Thomas Carey’s Honda CRX in third. Next up was the iconic Anglia 105E of Neil Duke and the Midget of Tim Cairns, with this duo to be inseparable on track for all three races! With Hall nursing brake issues having suffered failure in race ine, Southcott dominated all three races, dipping into the 58 second bracket in the process. Carey took second from Duke in the opener, whilst Hall took runner up in races tow and three. Despite his best efforts, Cairns couldn’t displace Duke’s Anglia, finishing all three races on its rear bumper to the delight of the spectators.
As part of the fun/fund raising element of the Fiestaval weekend, there was a Team Fiesta race, where a Zetec was randomly teamed up with an ST, with the two classes racing together and points being added up afterwards to determine who took the spoils. This proved to be highly entertaining. The STs led away with Brendan Fitzgerald leading and Holstein flghting his way through from the back. Meanwhile, the Zetecs were behind and incredibly Sean Woods, driving daughter Aimee’s car had grabbed the lead. As Holstein sliced his way through the order he eventually took second and closed in on Fitzgerald. Every attempt to pass however, saw the Naas Court Hotel car bundled onto the grass with Fitzgerald eventually being shown the black and white warning flag by the officials for his robust tactics. Undeterred, Holstein found a gap and disappeared down the road for what he later described as “the best fun in ages!” Woods, being massively urged on by his family and many friends form the pitwall was stil hanging on our front, with Alistair Kellett, guesting in Garrett Burke’s car playing rear gunner, whilst coming under attack, quite literally from Michael Fitzgerald! Unfortunately, the dream result everyone wanted wasn’t to be, as Woods headed for the pits with a puncture with just four laps to run. Holstein took the flag, with Kellett first of the Zetecs, but when the points were added up, it was the delighted pair of Barry-John McHenry, in William Kellett’s Zetec, and Brian Flanagan who stood on the top step of the podium, complete with massive trophies and Keelan Construction “Race Winner” Hard Hats!
All in all a wonderful weekend. The paddock was full, there was plenty of hilarity at the auction in the bar on Saturday night, and the band were fantastic. The Fiesta Push at lunch on Sunday was highly entertaining, as was the Fiesta Team race and at the time of writing, the total amount raised was heading for the €10,000 mark. Maybe every race meeting needs a theme?
All images from Michael Chester