Go racing ,they said.
2021 My latest motorsport journey started off with a not unusual stupid conversation with Leo Nulty on WhatsApp about an old trailer I have lying around. Can’t remember how it came about but it’s a trailer I’ve had for about 20 years that I bought off Eddie Peterson for my Autotest Starlet. Anyway Leo, never one to pass up a bargain, offered in return, a loan of a Zetec class Fiesta. And I’m never one to pass up opportunity to do something exciting in a car so at the young old age of 47, I was finally going to be on the grid waiting for the race start. I picked up the car from John Burke Motors where it had been resting since it last saw some action. Car started on the button but you never know what’s what with a car till you spend some time with it. More on that later.
So what about the expense of going racing? Let’s be honest, there is no real cheap motorsport but the Siltex Safety Fiesta Zetec class is one of the cheapest. Cars can be bought for 3-4k, but that’s only the beginning. I had nothing in the way of gear. So the options here are beg borrow steal, buy secondhand or take a deep breath and buy everything new. For some reason, I decided to buy everything new from LOH Motorsport. Kev in LOH took me through everything with regards what I needed and where to buy cheap and where not to. Buying cheap safety equipment isn’t really where I’m at at 47 with 3 kids etc.
Right, so I have the gear, I’ve done some prep on the car and I’m loaded up heading for Mondello test day on the Friday before my first race day. I head out on track for the first time in the “Orange Blob” and proceed to warm up the car on the first lap then I push on at the start of the second lap. Disaster strikes as the car suffers from fuel starvation. Now, this seems to be a common fault in Fiestas but I knew nothing about them so I’m on the tow rope heading back to the pits courtesy of Mondello recovery. I didn’t actually realise it was a fuel issue at first I suspected an electrical problem so set about checking everything I could in the car. The car seemed fine in the pits, so I went out again for my second test session and got to Turn 2 before the car died again. Out comes the snatch jeep again and I’m heading back to the pits on a rope for the second time. I stick the car on the trailer and head home wondering if this is all worth it.
After the disappointment of Friday’s testing, we figure out that fuel pump is knackered. I get a rebuild kit for the pump and all seems well again. Tank flushed “clean” and the car seems fine. Down to Mondello Sunday morning, full of hope. Now I kept saying to anyone who would listen that I didn’t care how fast or slow I was going to be, this was just about getting race finishes for my license. And it was really but in my head I was going to be on fire from the off. Well, reality can be a bitch sometimes. In qualifying the car was starting to fuel surge again and I never got a lap in. We quickly realised that the pump was failing again. With no real way of fixing it we didn’t start any race that weekend. Got to say I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I’d be. Kind of just chalked it down to “that’s motor racing”
On my second race weekend things are feeling better. We did testing on the Friday before a and the fuel issue was sorted. A new fuel tank and pump. The old tank was rusty and powder fine rust was clogging up the pump. I managed two sessions before the clutch let go. Back to the garage and a new clutch fitted ready for Sunday. On Sunday I qualified 16th on the grid and I was excited just to be there. In my very first race I witnessed two cars on their roofs in front of me and the adrenalin of the experience of being on the grid proper for the first time will never be forgotten. I finished 14th in Race 1 and 15th in Race 2. Boom! Two stamps on my novice license!
To be honest, the rest of 2021 season was much the same. Qualifying near the back, racing with others out the back- but I put it down to the Orange Blob having a tired engine. And I still say it had but what I didn’t realise was I hadn’t a clue how to drive these little cars quickly around Mondello. That became apparent in 2022.
So my entrance to racing wasn’t the amazing success one might dream of, but I’m hooked. That loaned Orange Fiesta had done its job and I wanted more. I suspect Leo Nulty knew exactly what he was doing. Right, I’m going to build a new Fiesta. Wisdom told me that to build a Fiesta to spec will cost about 6-7 thousand Euros. While I’ve no intention detailing the exact amount it cost to build my car (I’m not sure I even know) I’m sure you could pull a car together for that if you wish. But we were still in lockdown and I always wanted to build a race car and decided if we are going to build one it’s going to be done to a high standard. I began searching Donedeal and the local area for Fiestas. I bought about 6 in total. I had a red 3 door shell that seemed like the car for the build. That was until we got into it. The structural rust was terminal. Now you can fix anything but why start with such a compromised structure. I then happened upon a 2002 5 door car with just 30k miles on it. It was 100% rust free. Actually, that’s a lie, the boot lid for some reason was rotten, but that was all. The car was that good that my mother drove it for 3 weeks while her Mini was being fixed.
So, we decided that while a 3 door was what I really wanted, we couldn’t overlook this clean shell. Now, back to building to a high standard- well that takes time so early on I said to Jay (Donegan) that we are sending out the shell to have a cage done and we are then sending it out for paint. Jay wanted to do it all in house and he is a brilliant fabricator, but the reality of the situation is he has a business to run and the time simply wouldn’t have been there to do the job I knew he wanted to do. So the car went to Ryan Morton at Vital Fabrication. Ryan is YouTube “famous” for his work building drift car cages for Drift Games so I had seen plenty of his work and passion. And when Jay declared “That’s some tasty work” I knew we had done the right thing getting Ryan to do the cage. I picked up the car with its new cage and it still isn’t really looking like a race car.
I had always planned a red car but Jay told me it was going to be metallic grey on the inside and white on the outside. Well it is my car but he’s the boss of this project and let’s be honest I can’t do it without him so off the car went to Gary Corcoran in Wicklow to get painted. Now I didn’t know Gary at this point but he came recommended and I spoke to him about the project and he seemed keen. I only asked for race car quality finish but that’s not what I got. We had put a lot of time into having the car ready for painting and to Gary that was a pleasure as it’s not very often he gets a race car in that isn’t in bits, so he really did an amazing job on the car. Again we were delighted with it when it came back.
Then you start the process of putting it back together. Now I’ve built my Autotest cars before and just lashed them together but this build was going to be different. Every nut and bolt was going to be cleaned or replaced. I even spent 3 days painting the underside of the car, joking that if I even end upside down it’ll still look good.
The main point of this approach to the build is that it has a better chance of being reliable and easy to work on when it does go wrong. Jay of course did all the major mechanical bits, I did wiring and the donkey work and Ian Fishbourne put the cherry on top with the graphics.
I’m proud of the car. Yes to some it’s just another fiesta but I know the hours gone into this car. I spent many happy hours not worrying about Covid, drinking copious cups of tea and everyone in the pits knows that a lot of racing is about the building/Fixing/building again that we all do, is a massive part of the enjoyment.
We had a Friday track day booked to shake down the car. The night before, we were doing all the final bits having not even started the engine for the first time. My phone rang with a family emergency and I had to head home, but the car was going to be in Mondello regardless. Just without me in it. Big thanks to Jay and Jack for finishing it off Thursday night and getting miles on the car at the track day that Friday. Jay called me later in the day to say the car was good. That was all I needed to hear.
So now we have a new car, and it’s the first race weekend of 2022. Side note. This is where this story was meant to start as a half year review of the 2022 season. So if you’re still reading, fair play!
Mondello 10th April, unload the car form the trailer and get her into Scrutiny for the first time. We get a pass. Time to get Qualifying. Id be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Now I have a new car, new engine, new everything but still an aging idiot behind the wheel. If the lap times are still not good then I’ll have to accept I’m not very good. I head out having almost forgotten to put the transponder in the car and get a clear track so I’ve no excuse to get a good lap. Well, I qualify 19th. I try console myself with there being 34 cars out but I won’t lie, I’m gutted. Now everyone is telling me what did you expect, The car is new and you have nearly zero experience but I’m my head I know how to get around Mondello. I could make loads of excuses, but the reality is I just wasn’t able to go any faster. And then in the 2 following races I’m at nothing. My head was mush and I proceeded to just stay out of trouble. Was I trying the keep the car clean or was I mentally tired after the few days of family strife, I’m not sure but the one thing I knew for sure was that I was overthinking everything. And the madness is, this shouldn’t matter. It’s my hobby, but I was disappointed in myself and disappointed for all who were there to help me. We loaded up and went home. The following day though, I was focused on the next event and I wanted to make sure the car was 100% so I could focus on myself. As it turned out and to no surprise at all we did find a few issues with the car. We sorted some and looked forward to heading to Bishopscourt.
Bishopscourt 8th May, I had never been on the track in Bishopscourt in any capacity before, except to be a spectator many times sitting on the banks. I headed up Friday afternoon with the jeep and trailer loaded to the roof. I’m on my own as such this weekend as the other lads all had prior engagements. I get to Bishopscort and set up camp for the weekend. Parked alongside my buddies in G-Sport. Peter and the lads welcomed me in to their camp for tea and grub. I’m never one to turn down tea and food either. Bishopscourt runs free practice and qualifying on Saturday and 2 races on Sunday. Put the car through Scrutiny Friday evening and all was well. Free practice on Saturday was my first real laps in a car around Bishopscourt. I had done a few laps in the rain the night before on my push bike simply because I hadn’t a clue of the track. The bike laps did actually help. For free practice the car felt great. I tucked in behind Alan Dawson to learn his lines and was able to keep with him which meant at least the car was doing its job. I did have a little off in turn 3 which, when you get on the grass, you realise it’s not just bumpy but hilly. The car gets launched into the air and lands on its nose. Chucks of grass in the bumper and a broken engine mount bolt. No biggy and fixed before qualifying. Qualifying was kind of without incident and I was 10th on the grid. I was happy and declared to myself that that’s good progress, but was it?? I now think I was better in Bishopscourt because I’d no perceived notion of what a good line was around the track. Not like Mondello that I’d been around many many times before doing trackdays. I’ll get back to that idea in a bit. The following 2 races on the Sunday were great. I was actually in the mix and racing for places. I got a very poor start in race one but it turned out to be lucky because when I got to turn 2 there were cars in the air and all over the track, seeing me back in the top 10. Had some clean dices with others and finished about where I’d started.
Race 2, I got a better start and diced with a few others and had some small bumps, finishing 11th on track. All in all I left Bishopscourt happy on Sunday night. “Much better!”, I thought to myself on the drive home.
Mondello 12th June, Back to Mondello and feeling positive. All the crew are here and most of my extended family. Straight into Qualifying and I’m 19th. “What the hell is going on?” I think. 36 out cars again, but I need to be quicker. I’m confused but starting to realise I don’t actually know how to get one of these little cars around Mondello quickly. I’m a technical person and to every problem there must be a root cause and a fix. I’m trying my hardest, The car is good so what’s going on? Ok maybe I’m not good at Qualifying but maybe I’ll race better I hoped. Well race 1 quickly puts a stop to that nonsense. I’m not doing what I want and I’m getting annoyed. There is a lot of bumping. Then a few good thumps on the car and I’m not all as innocent as Id expect. I really have no intention of bashing to pass. I finish again where I’d started with a good bit of damage on the car. Ok, that happens but If I’m completely honest, some of it could have been avoided. Not that any race driver will ever admit fault, but there you go.
Get the car patched up and go for race 2. It’s much better and I’m holding a good position of a group of about 6 cars in the mid field till I run wide and get punished for about 5 places. Finishing outside the points again I load up and head home. The following day I have a long chat with myself and I am now fully into the “This is my fault” thought process. I need to learn. I need to see where I’m slow on track. It’s me that needs fixing not the car or tyres or anything else. Just me.
As mentioned before, I’ve done many track days so I booked a full day with Trackdays.ie When I got there, John Whelan came over having the chats and offers of advice. He then offered to take my car for a few laps, which I’m delighted to accept, because it will tell me for sure if the car is good. And what do you know the car is good and John was 1.5 seconds quicker than me off the bat. What do they say about experience? Yep John knows how to drive a slow car quickly around Mondello. I grab the footage from the camera and watch it back. Well instantly I see 3 corners where I’m miles away from what I see John doing. Now everyone has different style but how could it hurt if I copy some of what he is doing? I jump back in the car and do 5 or 6 laps trying to remember Johns track lines and I’m half a second quicker than anything I did in the morning before. So delighted with that I head out again but no better. Later that night I re-watch the footage and realise I’m different in nearly all corners not just the 3 I had noticed initially. (I’m a slow learner) So I’ve another track day booked for the Thursday before the July race meeting and I’m full sure I can go quicker. But I’m also prepared to be disappointed…. I can’t expect to watch one lap and fix all my issues. But its progress, and progress I’m ok with. Whatever happens on Sunday 17th July I’ll be there trying my best trying to be quicker and accepting that even at 47 I’ve a lot to learn.
Ill update this at the end of the season, assuming I’ve not completely lost the will to continue.
UPDATE- So before this got published the 17th July happened. I qualified 17th which still is not where I want to be, but it was my quickest ever lap in the car on the National. But fiesta racing is so close. At 17th on the grid I’m 0.999 seconds off Pole. Which I know I can improve on. We fitted new brake pads to the car, and are now running the same pads as most other cars and the difference is huge. So the positives are, I’m still improving. Race one I got off well and with the usual difficulties in turn one by the end of lap one I was up to 12th, deadly I think to myself, now keep cool and try get to the top ten I thought just as the red flags are out. Race stopped due to a nasty crash at turn three. Three badly bent cars but everyone walks away. Back to the grid and reform and wait for the restart. Did anyone notice how hot it was on the 17th of July, well you can double that sitting in a hot tin can on hot tarmac. For the second start, the lights went out almost immediately and caught me on the hop but we are away cleanly. Then stupidly at the start of lap two I go into turn one a bit too quick and touch wheels with Eduardo Gonzaga and I quickly realise I’m out of the race with bent tie rod. Feck- and it’s my own fault. But on the grass inside turn three is a great place to watch the action. Below myself and Ian (Beatty) with the best view of the racing as Ian points out my steering geometry problem!
All I’ve left to do is add a thank you or two.
And the people who gave their time to not just building the car but being in Mondello with me. I’d hate to be doing it on my own.
Jay Donegan (Again) Jack Quinn – Chief tea maker Ben Lamb – Chief detailer
And of course my family. I’m wasting money they could be spending on much more important things like food and schooling. Thanks Lizzy1