Day one of the Leinster Trophy meeting provided more excitement than most two day race meetings normally do.
There was huge speculation about qualifying for the BOSS Ireland race for one reason only- all of the Leinster Trophy hopefuls had opted to do this race too. Dagg grabbed pole early on and typically, Barry Rabbitt was boxing well above his weight and showing P2. It took 4 or 5 laps before Stephen Daly appeared on the timesheets and he immediately grabbed P2. A red flag stopped play for a while and when they got running again Daly was running behind Dagg on track and the pair gradually got the times down with Daly just managing to snatch pole on the final lap with a stunning lap. Dagg, still getting used to his newer car, was second with Rabbitt somehow third in the Formula Renault. O’Connell was fourth, an unexpected 4 seconds off pole, but having set his time on lap three, he hadn’t improved when the oil went down so expected to go far better in the race. Sam Mansfield and Eamonn Matheson shared row three with Fergus Faherty just ahead of the Leastone duo of Max Hart and Mark Reade. With Reade returning to the car after a long absence, Hart was slightly ahead, no doubt leading to many Ferrari-like puns in the Leastone awning.
The excitement increased as the cars formed up on the grid and when the lights when out, the front row pair appeared to hesitate. Predictably Rabbitt made a lunge but he had to change direction as the gap closed and got slightly sideways. O’Connell meanwhile, had nailed a cracker and was aiming for the outside. He eased by both F3 cars and somehow got across their bows to take the lead at turn one- impressive stuff from the newly crowned champion! In the early stages he looked to be in control and certainly wasn’t holding them up but as soon as the tyres came up to temperature, Daly began to attack. Having weighed it all up for a lap, Daly made his move on the exit of the left hander before paddock. Superior traction allowed him alongside, but O’Connell refused to yield. The pair all but touched before Daly took the lead at Paddock, with O’Connell being subsequently slowed enough for Dagg to slip past as well. The F3 cars immediately showed their pace and made good their escape as Rabbitt tried to track down O’Connell. Daly eased away from Dagg to take an impressive win with O’Connell in third. That should make Daly the favourite to take the big one tomorrow and become the first person ever to win it four times, but Dagg is confident that he has now shaken off the rust and can find the missing few tenths overnight. Should either of them falter though, O’Connell and Rabbitt will be right there too!
Brian Hearty won the opening Formula Sheane race with Richie Kearney’s recovery to second after a tardy start being enough for him to clinch the championship. In race two, the pair were joined by the charging Sean Hynes, whose slight straightline advantage was negated by his incredible ability to drive around the outside of anybody- making it one of the most entertaining races this season. Hearty was under massive pressure from the pair and needed to use all of his tact and guile to hold them back. He seemed to have it under control until Hynes ran right around the outside of the final corner. Hearty wasn’t too generous with the tarmac on the exit and Kearney, having predicted the outcome, effected the switchback to perfection, grabbing the lead as they got themselves together. The new champion then got the head down and eased away to take a popular win. Hynes, having entertained for the duration, was second, with Paul McLaughlin, who had been in the mix throughout, completing the podium in third. Hearty appeared to lost some pace, possibly as a result of the contact and was an unaccustomed fourth.
As ever, Dan Polley and Anthony Cross shared the Formula Vee front row and this time poleman Polley rocketed off the line in his LOH Sheane. Cross seemed undettled in the early laps and was displaced by the impressive Tim Murray and Jack Byrne. Once composed though, the champion sliced back by both and closed in on Polley at a rate of over a second a lap. As they started the final tour he was under Polley’s gearbox and looked set for a last corner lunge. The pair briefly touched at the apex but stayed apart on the exit with Polley hanging on for a thrilling win.
Matthew Nicholl took yet another Ginetta Junior win in race one but in race two he was tracked down by the charging Karl O’Brien. Just as they were about to go at it though, Nicoll pulled off with mechanical issues giving O’Brien his second win of the season. Jackie Cochrane took his usual two HRCA wins despite the valiant efforts of the fast starting Brendan Keane, the Mallock having to give way to the charging Tiger inside a couple of laps. This race included a cracking battle between Wolfgang Schnittger’s MG Midget and John Farrell’s Mk1 RS2000- the pair lifting wheels everywhere as they fired their respective machines around the International circuit! Michael Cullen, guesting in Niall McFadden’s car took Stryker pole and led away when the lights went out. Greg Kelly was slow away and swamped by the entire grid leaving Stephen Ross as Cullen’s closest challeger. Having opened a gap of 1.5 seconds on the opening tour, Cullen must have been gutted to have to retire with a broken throttle cable just a few corners later. This should have left Ross well clear but Kelly was on a massive charge and scythed up throught the grid to challenge Ross hard in the closing staged. Ross hung on for a fine win, but only just!
The combined closed Wheel Libre grid made for great viewing as they lined up on the grid. Pat McBennett took the win from pole in his Lotus Exige, whilst in his wake Shane Murphy looked set for another SEAT Supercup win before a last lap retirement. This gave the win to Barry English was second, from the vastly improved Darragh McMullen with Graham McDonnell third. Ciaran Denvir took another ITCC win, from Keith Campbell and Rob Savage, whilst first Supercar home was Alan Watkins from Charlie Linnane and Paul Parr, early leader Alan Dawson having retired.
Plenty more action to look forward to tomorrow too!
Images from Cregor Elliott