What a day, what a weekend. I love motor racing, I really do. I used to sit in the old grandstand at Dunlop (now Southside Motor Factors) corner with my Dad and watch FF1600, Production Saloons, Modsports and all the other classes back in the day. Back then, there wasn’t a shop open in the country on a Sunday though, and only a handful of channels on the TV, so the paddock and grandstands were generally packed.
Yesterday was Dad’s birthday and certainly for me, it was pretty apt that there was a crowd far in excess of anything we have seen at a race meeting in recent times. I would like to think that some of this is due to the half price vouchers that Mondello sent to all competitors and some due to the social media promotion ahead of the event, specifically that of the BOSS Ireland class.
As I previously discussed, Paul O’Connell has done most of the winning in the BOSS Class this year but even he struggled to match the two team run F3 cars of Paul Dagg and Stephen Daly in terms of pace. He certainly starred though by leading Saturday’s race and, despite describing driving his Dallara World Series machine as being “like pushing a hippo up a flight of stairs”, managed to qualify on the front row for the big race. Three time winner Stephen Daly was on pole and had been dominant all weekend in both wet and dry conditions in his bid to become the first ever four time winner of the famous trophy. Row two comprised of Paul Dagg and Sam Mansfield, who was hoping his Radical would be closer to the single seaters in the wet conditions. Typically, Barry Rabbitt had dived into the pits for slicks towards the end of qualifying, just getting out in time for one flying lap before the chequered. He looked as if he might actually grab pole before a spin ruined the lap, leaving him fifth on the grid.
With the crowd in the grandstand on their feet, the starter raised the five second board and the red lights came on. A few seconds later, they went out and almost immediately, the poleman stalled….. As popular and as talented a driver as Stephen Daly is, this was a fairy tale start to the biggest race of the year. O’Connell made no mistakes to lead the pack down to turn one and thankfully, everyone somehow avoided the stationary Dallara at the front of the grid. Like Daly, Rabbitt grabs every chance he is given and, having got a good initial launch he spotted the stalled Dallara. With traffic on the left, he had two choices- stand on the brakes, or aim his Formula Renault into the small gap between Daly, who was furiously trying to restart his car, and the armco barrier. He took option two, somehow made it through and found himself in third on the run to turn one. He sat around the outside of Mansfield at turn one, claimed the line for turn two and set off after O’Connell. On the way into the Esses, or Bridgestone on the International, O’Connell held the inside and Rabbitt aimed the Renault around the outside “initially just so I could see where I was going!” He made it outside and somehow hung on in a drag race up Kennedy’s Rise to annex the lead into Lola. From then on, knowing that the F3s were coming, he got the head down and banged in what he later described as a series of qualifying laps. Dagg was the first to arrive, slicing by O’Connell and chasing down the flying Renault. The gap stabilised though, with Dagg later explaining that his visor had worked loose and was letting in water.
Typically though, Daly was on a charge. For one so soft spoken and mild mannered, Daly, in the manner of his father Dan, has always been one to grab a race car by the scruff of the neck and hussle it around the track. This was exactly what he was doing as he threw caution to the wind. Mindful of the fact that this one is all about the win, he scythed his way through the pack hauling the leaders in. Just as he got to Dagg, the Drogheda man made a rare mistake, missing his braking point and sliding into the gravel at turn one. Using all his experience, he managed to keep the momentum going and drive around the edge of the gravel trap, Schmacher style, and rejoin on the exit. This of course, let Daly off the leash and, pun intended, the dog could now see the rabbit….. Barry responded though and there was very little difference in times for a number of laps. This was until, of course he came across every race leader’s nightmare- traffic. With conditions pretty bad, it was hard for anyone to see anything and having sliced by a few cars, the leader was delayed when a wayward Radical turned in on him on the International loop, allowing Daly right up under his rear wing. It seemed as if the lead would change as the pair came onto the main straight, but an excellent exit from Rabbitt, allied to an impressive turn of pace from the Renault, kept him ahead. On the following lap, a few cars cried enough and pulled up. There were now at least four corners with waved yellows meaning Daly would have to choose his point of attack carefully. Taking into account the speed of the cars and the conditions no doubt, the decision was made y the officials to deploy the safety car while the stranded cars were removed. Upon seeing the boards, and knowing there could not be much time left, Rabbitt immediately dropped the pace and when the BMW M2 Safety car eventually had the pack lined up behind, the time was nearly up. On the following lap, the chequered flag was waved and an ecstatic Barry Rabbitt became a two time winner of one of the most famous trophies in Irish Motorsport.
With support classes also providing wonderful entertainment, it was a great weekend for Motor Racing- I think my Dad would have approved.
Images from Michael Chester