November 15th, 2020 will mark the 18th anniversary of the passing of Vivion Daly, undoubtedly one of the most accomplished drivers of his generation to compete on the Irish and international scene. Twice winner of the Sexton Trophy, winner of the 1999 Formula Opel Lotus Ireland championship, and winner of the 1994 Leinster Trophy, Vivion ushered in a new era of professionalism that, when coupled with his undoubted talent, would take him to multiple championships and victories across a wide range of motorsports disciplines.
Vivion was born one week shy of a year after his famous brother Derek Daly. One of five children, he was born into a middle-class family in the south Dublin suburb of Dundrum on March 4th, 1954 and was educated at Terenure College. His parents Jim and Nellie ran a grocer’s shop and were not a motorsports family in the traditional sense. They were friends with Sidney Taylor, winner of the 1963 Leinster Trophy, which served as an introduction to motor racing for both Daly boys in the mid-1960s at Dunboyne.
Derek Daly recalled growing up in a crowded suburban house where he shared a bedroom with Vivion:
“There were seven of us in the house. Our parents, the three girls Lisa, Bernie, and Valerie, and Vivion and me. We would stay up to all hours in bed talking about race cars, car parts, motorbikes and anything related to racing much to the annoyance of our parents and sisters!”
Derek began racing stock cars when still a teenager and by the mid-1970s, he had established himself in Formula Ford 1600 and was soon to make the move to England to pursue motorsports as a fulltime career that would ultimately take him to the pinnacle of Formula One. However, Vivion at age 16 suffered a serious accident that cost him the sight in one eye, requiring many surgeries that somewhat delayed his education, career, and his own initiation into motorsport. During his long years of recovery and rehabilitation Vivion was hospitalised frequently for bleeding from his injured eye, and it was thought that he would never be able to get behind the wheel of a race car. Thankfully, help came from an unlikely source: his future father-in-law, as Derek explained:
“I believe he re-developed his depth perception by playing snooker with his girlfriend Carmel’s Dad, Pascal Burke. Pascal was a high-level snooker player and Vivion learned how to adapt and understand one-eyed depth perception, which then helped him in a racing car.”
Vivion’s start in motorsport came first in karting in the late 1970s where he became National Champion and competed in the World Championship representing Ireland. Keen to advance into circuit racing, Vivion convinced his then girlfriend, and future bride Carmel to buy a Fiat 128-3P car as a “run-about” for her, but he soon began racing it at Mondello Park. Vivion learned quickly and made the switch to single seaters in 1981. His close friend from the Dundrum/Churchtown area of Dublin, and future teammate in Formula Opel Lotus, Denis Sheehan said that Vivion’s drive and ambition was apparent from early on in his career:
“It was early in 1983 and the Reynard SF83 that Vivion had ordered hadn’t arrived, so he borrowed my old PRS and won in it. This made people take notice.”
He quickly became a serious competitor, in the latest machinery (first the Reynard SF83 and later several Mondiale FF1600s) and developed an enviable reputation for impeccably prepared cars adorned with multiple sponsors that would remain loyal throughout his career. Instantly recognizable due to his use of one of Derek’s old helmets (and race-suits) with the familiar solid yellow arrow, Vivion later modified his helmet to a black arrow pinstriped with yellow along with the same Pisces symbols on the sides indicative of their shared birth month.
By the mid-1980s Vivion Daly had won the Sexton Trophy on two occasions in 1984 and 1986, along with multiple Formula Ford 1600 titles, and had acquired the moniker “Daly Express”. He had become the foremost professional driver in Ireland at the time and made frequent excursions to the United Kingdom. In 1988, he reached the semi-finals of the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, making a name for himself in the process on the other side of the pond.
One of Vivion’s closest friends and long-time rivals was PJ Fallon who first met Vivion after he had won a great karting race through the streets of Malahide in 1981. PJ takes up the story:
“I had known Derek well and played squash with him during his home visits. Vivion then took up racing a Fiat 3P before turning to a Formula Ford in an old chassis. Did his learning bit, and he gradually moved up to newer machinery immediately showing winning form. But it was his move to Mondiale that the championship contender emerged. Vivion was fast and tough on track with a great attention to detail. He was also helpful to the younger emerging drivers especially a 17-year-old Fran Reilly whom he took under his wing with advice and chassis set up on Fran’s similar Mondiale. That lasted until Fran beat him in the Irish Formula Ford Festival with Vivion a close second in 1987. He also took in many UK events, and was always fast if a little accident prone.
A switch to the Reynard chassis in 1988 was a move engineered by him as he always wanted the manufacturer support. The next major talent to emerge and challenge his supremacy was young Fionn Murray a fearless competitor from a big motorsport family. Their battles for every inch of racetrack were epic with many incidents played out on live RTE TV especially an amazing duel at the 1989 Leinster Trophy meeting. Fionn won that battle for championship honours, and in fairness to Vivion they became good friends.
In 1988 Vivion also made his debut into the larger and faster “wings & slicks” world of Formula Opel Lotus, finishing 4th his first time out in the new class. He would do “double-duty”, running in Formula Opel Lotus and Formula Ford 1600, when the new EFDA series made its first visit to Mondello Park that September in 1988, going up against future double F1 World Champion Mika Häkkinen in the Leinster Trophy, and doubled up again in 1989 before switching to Formula Opel Lotus full time in 1990.
Vivion Daly was a critical part of Ireland’s full adoption of the EFDA family of spec. racing when in 1991 Dan Partel’s General Motors-backed series spread its wings to launch a new national series in Ireland, Bridgestone Formula Opel Lotus, to sit alongside EFDA’s other national championships across Europe. Dan Partel, the Managing Director of the European Formula Drivers Association had been pushing for the adoption of Formula Opel Lotus while Martin Birrane who owned Mondello Park preferred Formula Renault to be the new flagship series in Ireland. Dan explains what happened:
“I had tremendous respect for Vivion, and his influence in the paddock with the other drivers, and with Opel Ireland was pivotal in Formula Opel Lotus winning out over Formula Renault. Vivion realized early that with the Formula Opel cars being cheaper (around £16,000 for a chassis) it would guarantee bigger grids and make the series more sustainable long term.”
Vivion then remained at the vanguard of the series for the next 10 years. He formed the 2FM/Abrakebabra team with his friend Denis Sheehan who recalls the early days of the new series:
“I had previously introduced Xtravision to Vivion when he was in FF1600 and had contacts with 2FM and Abrakebabra, and they agreed to support us in our first season in Formula Opel Lotus. From then on it was all Vivion. He poured all his energy into the new formula and the sponsors remained loyal to him throughout the full history of the series. Vivion had an incredible reputation for nurturing and developing sponsors and for impeccably turned out cars, and it was well earned.”
Ireland’s new premier single seater racing series debuted at Mondello Park on April 14th, 1991 and Vivion was the man etching his name in the history books as the inaugural race winner ahead of Sam Thompson and Chris Murphy. Championship Coordinator of the new Bridgestone Formula Opel Lotus Ireland series was Carol Cuffe. She described Vivion’s impact on making it an early success:
“I would say that he was a tremendous negotiator particularly where sponsorship was concerned. I had very little experience of working with sponsors, doing deals etc. so without his knowledge and experience it would have been extremely difficult to secure local sponsors e.g. Bridgestone and Opel Ireland which was required in order to get support from GM Europe. This ability to keep sponsors on side was a particular strength of his, which was also evident from his own personal sponsors over the years.”
Formula Open Lotus had become the feature series for the Leinster Trophy since 1988 and continued until 2001, mixing in the UK Formula Vauxhall Lotus runners from 1988-’91, and the EFDA GM Opel Lotus series in 1995 and 1997-’99. After a third placed finish in 1993, Vivion’s one and only victory in the Leinster Trophy took place in 1994 at Mondello Park when he was victorious over Donal Loughrey and Sam Thompson. Seven years later at the same venue, Vivion scored a narrow victory over John O’Hara in the penultimate race of the series, which since 1999 was now known as Formula Europa, before finishing runner-up to O’Hara in the very last race for the long-running series on September 16th, 2001 in the 58th Leinster Trophy event. Tragically, Vivion, who had been diagnosed with cancer a year earlier, was to lose his courageous battle with the disease just over one year later aged 48.
During the 11-year span, and 105 races of the Formula Opel Lotus Ireland series, Vivion was the stalwart ironman who believed in the series from the start and showed unwavering loyalty throughout. Vivion was also the Irish representative for Reynard Motorsport, through his own car repair business, indirectly supporting all his fellow competitors. The Abrakebabra/2FM-liveried machine was always the most recognizable car on the grid. Vivion Daly started more races than anyone else and, as the shutters came down on the series at the end of 2001, he stood alone at the top of the wins column, notching up 17 victories covering Mondello Park (9), Kirkistown (6) and Phoenix Park (2). Indeed, Vivion was a winner in eight of the series’ 11 seasons. A surprising statistic is that Vivion Daly only captured one championship crown, this coming in 1999, following an agonizing defeat to Donal Loughrey by three points in 1997.
Formula Vauxhall/Opel Lotus historian Mark Reeves described Vivion’s impact on the series at home and in the UK:
“The beauty of Partel’s GM-powered spec. series was that the cars could be raced in any EFDA championship or event. Even before the launch of the Irish series, Daly had gained experience in the cars, racing as a local “ringer” when the British Formula Vauxhall Lotus visited Mondello Park for the September Leinster Trophy races. In three British series races, Daly picked up two top-10 finishes including the P4 result behind Häkkinen in 1988. Later, when Partel brought his Euroseries to Ireland, Daly was in there mixing it with the top European runners, scoring top-10 results in both 1997 and 1998. And, in the end of season, World Cup-style, EFDA Nations Cup events, Vivion represented Ireland on four occasions, taking on, and holding his own against the very best up and coming racers at Zandvoort (1991), Estoril (1992 and 1993) and Donington Park (1997).”
Vivion Daly’s achievements should be seen against the context of the rich vein of Irish talent that raced in Formula Opel Lotus through the 1990s and into the early 2000s. From battling the likes of Morgan Dempsey Jr, Sam Thompson, Michael Edgar and David Wright in the first couple of seasons, to locking horns with Wayne Douglas, Jason Pollock, Donal Loughrey, the Duke brothers and Derek Cunneely in the following few years, and then going toe to toe with Ken Grandon, Philip Kehoe, Keith Dempsey, Paul Dagg and John O’Hara in latter times, the one constant was Daly. Another long-time competitor during this era was Dundalk racer Noel Roddy. Noel recalls their rivalry that was always fierce:
“Sport is always made up of rivalries, and when I raced Formula Ford 1600 and Formula Opel Lotus, mine was Vivion Daly. Vivion was a hard charger and we had many battles, probably too many to tell that sometimes did not end too well, but that’s racing. Because we were rivals, we were not friends, but I feel we had a mutual respect for one another as hard racers. He was a professional and I was always so envious of how he could attract major sponsorship, and sadly he was lost to our sport too soon.”
PJ Fallon was also a contemporary in Formula Opel Lotus and remembers how close the racing was in the long running series:
“Vivion’s next move was to Formula Opel Lotus, where I was competing. This was a very professionally run series with sponsorship from Opel Ireland and Bridgestone. This slicks and wings formula suited his style and he performed well against some of the young superstars. All of us tested regularly but he was out at every opportunity improving on every element of performance. Vivion was a fair driver to race with and took every opportunity open to him. In our years competing together little contact was made between us and we both helped each other out on numerous occasions. I would describe him as a very professional dedicated competitor who also represented Ireland in the Nations Cup on several occasions.”
In his home life, Vivion and his wife Carmel raised four children, Barry, Nicci, Naoise and Ellen in Edmonstown in south Dublin. His family were his most loyal and dedicated supporters throughout his long career across Ireland and beyond. PJ Fallon again recalls how much family meant to Vivion:
“His illness was a terrible devastation to himself, Carmel, and his young family. He would now be so proud of his children Barry, Nicci an Olympian and silver medalist at the World Championships with the Irish hockey team and his younger girls. Nicci, a driving force behind Formula Female, ( below) does everything to keep her Dad’s memory very much alive, and she has taken in some Tillotson T4 karting events showing a great turn of speed.
Vivion was such a great guy. He was dedicated to Carmel and his beautiful family and missed their growing up to the great people they are today. To us he was a great competitor who really enjoyed a few after event beers and everyone was subjected to lots of banter and fun.”
Vivion was his brother Derek Daly’s number one supporter, regularly traveling to England during Derek’s formative years in lower formulae, and beyond to F1 and the USA. But that was not to be Vivion’s path. Vivion was always a homebody and saw great potential in the Irish racing scene, doing everything he could to foster and develop the domestic championships in Ireland, to which he contributed to so handsomely. Derek reflected on the divergent paths of himself and Vivion born less than a year apart and what distinguished him as a competitor:
“I never actually saw Vivion race. Ever. I was always gone but we would talk on the phone after his races, and most of the talk was about how to engineer his car to be faster. He spent a lot of time making sure that his car was as fast if not faster than anybody else. It was a bit like the Mario Andretti situation as he got older in his career, Mario wasn’t as fast as the young bucks, but he could always engineer his car to be faster from start to finish.
I’m sure Vivion knew that he missed the magical window of the early 20’s in those days, where you had to be well on your way by age 20-24. Therefore, he concentrated on being successful in Ireland. Vivion did things in Ireland that nobody had seen before. He was able to secure legitimate commercial sponsorship when very few could do anything like that. Although I did not see any of it, he’s probably the only driver in Ireland who ever helicoptered in sponsors for a race weekend.”
Up and coming drivers now compete for the Vivion Daly Trophy awarded annually to the winner of the Irish Formula Ford Festival. Regardless of the year, the track, or the level of competition, Vivion was the constant, the racer who any competitor with ideas of winning a race or a championship would have to beat. Better still, he was that person right through to the very end of his fine career.
For the last word on Vivion, his sponsor since the beginning of his career, J. Brendan O’Reilly of Sales Placement Group offered the following:
“I began sponsoring Vivion at the very start of his career. My most salient memory of Vivion was his “driving” ambition and need to win. He would have been an F1 driver had the circumstances been right. He was a Champion in every sense of the word. He inspired me.”
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this article, especially Nicci Daly, Derek Daly and the Daly family. Thanks also to PJ Fallon, Denis Sheehan, Noel Roddy, Carol Cuffe, Dan Partel, Leo Nulty, J. Brendan O’Reilly, and Garry Manning. Special thanks to Formula Vauxhall/Opel Lotus historian Mark Reeves.