The Siltex Safety Fiesta Zetec Championship has been hugely popular at attracting new drivers over the last 12 months or so. The Dublin based safety and branded clothing company was announced as the class sponsor for the second year in a row at a launch night in Naas, ahead of the opening round at Mondello Park.
As well as some of the fastest drivers in the paddock, there are an incredible 14 first time racers amongst the forty registered drivers. Reigning Champion Michael Barrable is back to defend the title, and is accompanied by another hugely experienced driver, Alan Dawson. Race winner from last year Ian Fishbourne is also back on the grid, hungry for more visits to the top step. In what could also be known as the Race Of Champions, double Irish Supercar title winner Johnny Whelan also signed up, as well as reigning ITCC Champion Ulick Burke and former Global Lights Champion Keith Dawson. Add this to a host of former race winners and podium finishers, as well as some surprisingly fast newbies, and there was always going to be plenty of action.
At the first ICCR round, with the track maximum grid having increased from 28 to 34 to cater for the huge number of entrants, the Zetecs were the talk of the paddock. 34 cars entered and despite dropping a handful due to covid and other issues, an incredible 30 cars streamed out of the pitlane to chase the all important pole position. Many had expressed a worry that there would be excessive traffic, and that it would be hard to get a clear lap. There was plenty of room however, mainly thanks to the impressive pace of the newcomers! As the chequered flag fell to signal the end of qualifying, the timesheet has a familiar look about it, with Michael Barrable’s MB Motors car just clinching pole, ahead of the Sheds Direct example of Alan Dawson. Fishbourne was just two hundreths behind and would have Ulick Burke’s Tyre Brigade car for company of the second row of the grid for the opening race. Keith Dawson was on row three, alongside Johnny Whelan, with the MilesPLUS car of Andy Kavanagh and former class Champion Phil Lawless occupying row four. Top 2021 Rookie Lar Whelan and the Drive Virtual Academy backed car of Aimee Woods rounded out the top ten. In the new-for-2022 Rookie Cup, James Byrne’s immaculate Dent Magic machine was fastest, from Brazilian Eduardo Gonzaga’s Leevin Ireland machine and the Elk Recruitment backed car of Kelsey Kirby. Incredibly, the top 16 cars were covered by less than a second.
When the lights went out for the opener, Barrable and Dawson, doorhandle to doorhandle, led the huge pack down into turn one. Wary that Dawson might sit around the outside to get the line for turn two, Barrable went in as late as he dared on the brakes, locking his fronts and sending them both wide. Fishbourne spotted this and pounced, and for a moment it looked like the Fish Graphics machine might take the lead before turn two. Typically though, Barrable gathered it all up and held on in the lead, holding off an immediate challenge from Fishbourne on the way to turn three. In their wake, Ulick Burke was trying to wrest third from Alan Dawson, managing it at turn three, with Johnny Whelan immediately trying to follow him through! Barrable’s lead didn’t last long though, with Fishbourne executing the classic switchback move coming onto the main straight, giving him the inside line in a drag race to turn one. In their wake, Alan Dawson replicated the move on Burke to reclaim third and immediately closed down the two leaders. Dawson repeated the move a lap later to relieve Barrable of second, as Whelan displaced Burke with a late dive into turn one. Despite looking a tad on the smokey side, Fishbourne hung on out front, rebuffing a challenge from Dawson into turn three, which allowed Barrable right back into the lead battle once again. Battling hard, the trio eased away slightly from Whelan, who had the charging pair of Keith Dawson and Andy Kavanagh right on his tail. Fishbourne had looked composed throughout and despite a last corner effort from Dawson, he held on for a hugely impressive win, the trio crossing the line as one.
James Byrne took the Rookie honours, from Eduardo Gonzaga and Chole McLoughlin, all three marking themselves out as names worth watching as the season progresses.
In race two, as ever, the top six were reversed, meaning that Andy Kavanagh’s MilesPLUS car would start from pole position with Keith Dawson alongside. Row two comprised of Whelan and Barrable with Alan Dawson and Fishbourne the occupants of row three. When the lights went out, they headed away pretty much in grid order, save Barrable besting Whelan for third. Barrable then, with a great run out of turn three, got alongside Keith Dawson to subsequently relieve him of the position into the Esses. with Keith wrongfooted as he fought back, Whelan lunged down the inside into Southside Motor Factors corner to grab third- all this inside the first lap! While the shuffling was going on, Kavanagh had made good his escape and Barrable was going to have to go some to catch him. Alan Dawson displaced Whelan to before finding out there were no team orders in his ShedsDirect team. as he had to use all the tricks in the book to displace his nephew Keith! In their wake, Phil Lawless was on a charge, displacing Collie Barrable and then Ulick Burke in quick succession. Out front, Kavanagh was making no mistakes, with the reigning champion only managing to chip a few tenths off the gap each lap. Alan Dawson was also chasing down the pair and as Barrable finally caught the leader, Dawson was just a few lengths back. Keith Dawson was holding fourth, being chased down by the charging Fishbourne, who had finally breached the stout defences of Whelan. Barrable, having sized up Kavanagh for a few laps, managed to snatch the lead with a nice move into turn three. As Dawson began to size up Kavanagh, Fishbourne was on a charge, setting fastest lap as he closed the gap in search of a podium finish. With a lap to run he was right with them while Barrable eased away. Barrable duly took the flag, with a delighted Kavanagh taking second. Dawson only just held off Fishbourne in a drag race to the line, while right behind them the charging Lawless just managed to pip Whelan to the line, taking fifth, having run as low as tenth in the early stages! Just behind them were Collie Barrable, Ulick Burke and Lar Whelan, the trio having Aimee Woods right with them, the Dundalk lady having recovered well from an early off track excursion.
James Byrne was first Rookie, taking his second haul of maximum points, from Paul Whelan, with Chole McLaughlin just about holding off a challenge from Eduardo Gonzaga for third! Kelsey Kirby was next up, from the MSL car of Matthew Crawte and Lorcan McGivney.
All in all a hugely successful season opener for the budget tin tops and signs that the title battle will be closer than ever. Fishbourne showed race winning pace in both races, whilst I suspect Ulick Burke and Johnny Whelan will be working hard on their cars before the next meeting- don’t be surprised to see one, or both, right at the front soon!
The Siltex Safety Fiesta Zetec Championship visits the high speed Bishopscourt circuit in County Down on May 7/8 for rounds 2&3 of the series.
Coverage of both races can be seen below, from 14 minutes in Part 1 and 1:46.15 in Part 2.
For more information on the Siltex Safety Fiesta Zetec Championship and information on how to start racing, click HERE