Mondello Park finally opened their gates to motorsport earlier this month, with the new Irish Championship Circuit Racing (ICCR) promoted and run race meeting being hailed as a huge success.
The Coffee 2 Go Fiesta ST one make saloon class opened their championship accounts at the meeting, with sunshine and close racing being very much the order of the day.
Five time Hewison Autotest Champion Eddie Peterson moved to triple class champions Murray Motorsport over the winter and he made his presence felt when the Coffee 3 Go Fiesta STs took to the track by clocking the fastest time of the qualifying session. Class sponsor Graham McDonnell, already a winner in STs joined him on the front row. Three time class champion Dave Maguire was next up from Kevin Doran, the latter confused about his lack of pace, having topped the timesheets in testing. Michael Cullen and the impressive Max Turley rounded out the top six. Newbies Jack Byrne and Victor Cullen impressed with eighth and tenth respectively, ahead of some far more experienced drivers.
When the lights went out, Peterson made a cracking start to lead the 18 car grid down into turn one. McDonnell was in his wheeltracks though and the duo immediately began to ease away from the pack. That’s the way it stayed to the flag with McDonnell taking fastest lap and Maguire a distant third. Peterson’s car was adjudged to be slightly underweight though and he was subsequently disqualified, handing McDonnell the win, from Maguire and Cullen. Max Turley was fourth with Byrne and Cullen Junior marking themselves out as ones to watch this season by crossing the line in sixth and eight places. Doran didn’t make the finish, as his car overheated, a problem later traced to a faulty water pump, explaining his lack of qualifying pace too.
In race two, with the top six reversed as usual, the reigning Ginetta Junior Champion Jack Byrne started on pole and made no mistakes to lead away. Almost immediately though, he had the hugely experienced Michael Cullen in his mirrors. With Cullen moving around in his mirrors, Byrne made a slight mistake coming into the Esses, this upset the car and compromised his run up to the final corner. Cullen spotted this and pounced, already alongside as they left the Esses and finishing the job off on the brakes into Southside corner. Max Turley was right with the pair and grabbed the opportunity to follow Cullen through, demoting Byrne to third. As Cullen eased clear, McDonnell was charging up from sixth. Having tracked down Turley, he annexed the place with a superb dive into the Esses and took off after Cullen. Setting another fastest lap in the process, he was soon on Cullen’s back bumper but catching, as the saying goes, is one thing, passing is another. Cullen is a Mondello master and he had every angle covered to hang on for the win, with McDonnell almost alongside as they took the flag. Jack Byrne had battled by Turley to claim an impressive podium finish on his first weekend in the highly competitive class. Turley, Ross Barnes and Maguire rounded out the top six with notable mentions going to associate class sponsor Simon Deane. Having never raced before he qualified at the back but forged his way to P12. Having been ousted by experienced racer Gordon Kellett he went uber defensive and crossed the line a delighted P13!
All this means that McDonnell holds the championship lead ahead of rounds three and four, which take place on the Mondello Park International layout on July 17/18.
Michael Cullen, Race Two Winner: “Delira, happy days, that was a good weekend!” was Cullen’s reaction to his ST win having also won both Stryker races on Saturday. Recounting the race he explained, “I made a very good start and jumped ahead of Max (Turley) and Ross and got up behind Jack. He went too quick into the Esses which allowed me to get down his inside for the lead. Max then kept them busy so I could pull away.”
Graham McDonnell, Race One Winner and Championship Leader: “Race two went well. I made a respectable start while a few ahead of me did not have a great start so I got lucky with that. Once I got past Jack and Max I was chasing down Michael. It was very close racing but I didn’t get the opportunity to pass him. Anyway I’m delighted with the weekend overall.”