Well, we are finally going racing. It won’t be the same, numbers are limited and there will be no spectators, but at least the drivers will finally get to race. September 2019 is a long time ago.
As expected in the current environment, numbers are down but two classes appear to have bucked that trend. Last year there were just 10 Vees on the grid at the season opener. This was a far cry from the heyday of the class in the mid 1990s where over 50 of the 1600cc air cooled machined used to compete, with three races, A, B and C, on one day. (If you ever have an hour to spare, ask Leastone Boss Paul Heavey about the day he won all three!) The class have worked hard though, and numbers steadily improved during 2019. At the original pre lockdown test, there were a host of Vee newbies, with 10 new drivers ready to tackle the Star of Tomorrow Series. The Vee entry list currently shows an impressive 20 entries, headed by reigning Champion Anthony Cross. As ever in Formula Vee though, he won’t have it easy, as his perennial rival Dan Polley is also entered, in his LOH Sheane. Others to watch out for at the sharp end are Jack Byrne and Philip Sheane, who was very impressive in 2019. Expect great battles down the field too as the newcomers get their first taste of single seater racing!
Formula BOSS Ireland have been the talk of the virtual paddock during the enforced off season with their wonderful “Who’s The BOSS?” live vodcast. It got many action starved petrolheads through the weeks and happily, the show will continue despite on track action beginning again. Paul O’Connell has rebuilt his beautiful World Series Dallara and also reliveried it as he prepares to defend his title. There are many changes and additions though and should they all come to fruition, he will have to work hard. Barry Rabbit, who was as impressive as we have come to expect last year, has sourced a turbo for his Formula Renault in an attempt to close the power gap to some of the faster cars. If, and as he says it’s a big if, it doesn’t affect the driveability too much, Barry could cause one of the major upsets he has become famous for in recent times. Cian Carey (above), having won the UK F3 Cup series twice, returns to Irish motor racing with a recent model F3 car and unsurprisingly was very quick at the recent Mondello test. Cian will have learnt a lot in terms of setup and data in the last two years, and he is probably the fittest driver on the grid too, so expect to see him at the front. Fergus Faherty has also upgraded his F3 car to a more recent example and the former class champion was apparently flying in testing too. Peter Dwyer changed from his title winning Lola to a smaller F3 car and really didn’t like so for 2020 he has purchased an ex Ron Cumming Lola, returning to the large class for another title challenge. His old T96 Lola has been sold to Jonathan Fildes and is up and running. Fildes does not show on the entry list but when he does, don’t bet against him. He was blindingly quick in his late Dad’s Ralt RT4, so just imagine what he can do in a far more modern machines. Sam Mansfield has also upgraded over the winter, with the Radical being replaced with a beautiful Jordan F1 liveried Lola T96/70. Despite his relative lack of experience, Sam is fast and spectacular and if the car is quick, he could also challenge at the front.
Happily Eamonn Matheson is also on the entry list. He is a great guy and a very welcome visitor from the North and of course, the cartoon like straightline speed of his car adds huge entertainment to any boss race. It is unlikely that Eamonn has not been working on improvements over the break and as I always say, if he improves handling and reliability, the rest will be in big trouble!
Next up in terms of numbers is the Coffee2Go backed Fiesta ST series. There is no sign on the entry list of 2019 champion Erik Holstein and a little bird that flew over Carbury recently tells me the Naas Court Hotel car hasn’t moved since winning the title at the Leinster Trophy, so if he does appear, it will definitely be a last minute job. Alex Denning has changed car and was apparently quickest at both Mondello tests this year but there has been a massive influx of talent to the class this year, so the class will definitely be worth watching. Kevin Doran flew on his few appearances in the class last year and is far more prepared this time round, as he prepares for a full on title challenge.
Ross Barnes (above) has been out of the traps early in his newly reliveried Coffee2Go Barnes Autohouse car,with a few test days and track days already done. Multiple Hewison Autotest Champion Eddie Peterson has also thrown his hat in the ring and should go well. He was extremely quick in Stock Hatch Rallycross for a number of years, but few will remember his one off race in a Punto 1400 a few years back, when he stunned all the class regulars by snatching class pole! Formula Sheane Champion Richard Kearney actually cut his teeth in tin top racing, tasting success in Punto 1400 and Abarths and he is delighted to once again have a roof over his head as he joins the class. Richie is fast and spectacular and won’t be happy unless he is at the front. Junior Rallycross exponent Christopher Grimes Junior also joins the fray- watch out for him if the rain comes!
Ginetta Junior Champion Matthew Nicoll moves to Fiesta Zetecs and if his 2019 form is anything to go by, he will be right on the pace straight away. The series regulars though will have to look over their shoulders though, as Ulick Burke returns to the class after a few years racing far faster machines. Mark Johnston, Phil Lawless and Andy Kavanagh are all class pacesetters and all three are back for more. Aimee Woods is also entered and she showed strong pace last year in her SWR car. Amongst the newcomers are former Punto Abarth racer Darragh Brennan in his newly built machine. Former FF1600 star and rally champion Michael Barrable comes out of retirement to tackle the full series in his Michael Barrable Motors car. Testing form would suggest that the former Uno Cup and Dunlop Sexton Champion, has lost little of his pace during his long sabbatical so keep an eye out for number 22!
Irish Strykers appeared to struggle for numbers when chatting to them earlier this year but they have done good job and the numbers are well into the teens too. Michael Cullen took this win at the Leinster Trophy last year in a borrowed car and now makes a full time move to the team. His testing pace has been little short of stunning with talk of eclipsed lap records already doing the rounds. 2019 title contenders Greg Kelly and Stephen Ross are not entered, but Cullen’s Murray Motorsport team mate Niall McFadden is, and apparently he too, showed well in recent testing. Former rally co driver Adrian Deasy impressed on his transition to Strykers and is back for more in 2020, while Rallycrosser Vincent “VW Vinny” O’Rourke is also on the entry list in his Naas Oil machine. O’Rourke can be wild but is as quick as anyone on his day, as shown on a number of sporadic appearances in the class last year. Andy Dalton, who is heavily involved in the running of the class , and has raced them since the inception over 20 years ago, is not on the entry list but I would be surprised if he is not on the grid next weekend! Expect him to qualify mid grid, and join the leaders a few laps in- that is his usual modus operandi!
Stephen Kelly and John Burke are both well known in Mondello circles, but more foe their car preparation work than their driving. This changes this weekend as both swap the spanners for the nomex and line up in the Zetec powered sportscars.
With Paul O’Brien running Legend cars as opposed to driving them this year, it seems the others now have chance to take a win! I jest, but such was the extent of O’Brien’s domination of the class, he took 6 wins in one weekend last year- that is more than most of us manage in an entire career! Peter Barrable is a newcomer to the class and like his brother Rob, is one of the best all rounders in the business. Peter has won in Zetecs, FF1600 and Irish Supercars, so I don’t expect his form to change when he moves to the spectacular bike engined machines. Both Richardson brothers, Geoff and Greg are quick and experiences and both appear on the entry list, as do Gordon Brown and former karter and Zetec racer David Yamamoto. Ivor Greenwood is also back on the grid. In the absence of O’Brien, Niki Meredith and James Holman, this one is wide open and should certainly be worth watching!
Unusally Future Classics, usually one of the biggest and most colourful grids is showing a small entry but I expect this to grow before race day as that class always enjoys strong numbers. Ginetta Junior, SEATs and ITCCs unfortunately have very low numbers but hopefully more will sign up before the weekend.
Images from Michael Chester