The Fiesta Zetec Championship will be entering its tenth season in 2023 and in that time there have been many worthy Champions. at the final round of the Digital Motorsports ICCR at Mondello Park in October, Michael Barrable clinched the 2022 Siltex Safety Championship and in doing so, became the first ever back to back championship winner in the series’ history.
Defending his hard won 2021 victory was never going to be easy for the highly experienced North Dublin motor dealer. As registrations opened, it didn’t take long to realise that it was going to be a bumper season for the budget tin tops. An incredible 47 drivers registered for the series in 2022, a figure that became even more impressive when you realise that 17 of these were first time racers- something that can only be good for circuit racing in general, not just the Zetec class. In reaction to this, the series organisers introduced a new for 2022 Rookie Cup, with only first season racers being eligible, and that too, became hugely popular.
At the opening round in April, Barrable gave notice of his intentions, by taking pole position, ahead of a star studded grid which included former ITCC, Global Lights and Irish Strykers champions, amongst others. After a typical Zetec scrap, it was the beautifully reliveried Fish Graphics car of Ian Fishbourne who took the win, with Alan Dawson and Barrable right on his bumper. Typically Barrable was first across the line in the (top 6) reversed grid of race two, meaning he left the race meeting with the championship lead. In the Rookie Cup, James Byrne took two impressive wins in his Dentmaster car, with Brazilian Eduardo Gonzaga (carrying decals celebrating 40 years since Ayrton Senna’s 1982 Mondello Win) and Paul Whelan sharing the runner up spots.
Barrable took the opening win when the class visited the high speed Bishopscourt circuit in Northern Ireland, whilst in race two, Keith Rabbit took a hugely popular win, in a car he had only bought the previous week. In the Rookies, a delighted Gonzaga took his first Rookie win in the opener, with Byrne back on the top step for race two. Kelsey Kirby took her first Rookie podiums with a pair of third places too.
The class returned to Mondello Park on June 11th and 12th for Rounds 5&6 of the series and after a hectic scrap, it was Johnny Whelan who stood on the top step of the podium for race one, with Alan Dawson on his bumper in second. Barrable completed the podium and also claimed the extra point for pole position and another one for fastest lap. In the Rookie Championship, James Byrne was back in top form on home ground and took two wins, with Eduardo right there in second place. Chole McLaughlin and Kelsey Kirby took a third place apiece.
If we thought it was going to settle down for the July meeting, we were swiftly disabused of that notion as Barrable and Whelan came together again in race one, and again in race two- with the stewards eventually excluding Whelan from the entire meeting for his part in proceedings. Dawson avoided all of this to take the honours in race one, with Phil Lawless second and Eoin Murray, guesting in his Murray Motorsport car, in third. Barrable’s title lead had taken a big hit though, having salvaged just 16 points from the two races and Alan Dawson was just 8 points behind with two meetings to run. Byrme, who was by this stage beginning to mix it with the far more experienced drivers, took yet another pair of Rookie wins, from Gonzaga and McLaughlin.
Next up was the September Mondello meeting. Keith Dawson took the wheel of his uncle (Alan)’s car and showed stunning pace. He set pole position for the opening race, and after early pressure from Whelan, eased away to win as he pleased, smashing the long standing class lap record for the International layout into the bargain. Whelan was second with Barrable no doubt delighted to return to the podium, taking a healthy portion of points in third. Andy Kavanagh was next up from Robert Barrable, in a rented Murray Motorsport car.
In race two, Rob Barrable made a great start to lead Kavanagh into Maxus corner with Michael Barrable also managing to get past. Whelan was on a charge though, and having moved up to third, set fastest lap as he tracked down the father and son duo. Tactics soon came into play as Rob eased off slightly to allow his father past before slotting in behind. Whelan had a few goes at Rob before he ran out of laps and that’s the way it ended. Keith Dawson was next up, from Sean McGovern, impressing on his class debut, Andy Kavanagh and Mark O’Donoghue. Gonzaga took his second Rookie win of the year in the first race, with Byrne second, and they swapped positions in race two, with McLoughlin and Kirby taking a third place each once again.
That just left one more meeting- the final two rounds of the Siltex Safety Championship would play out on the weekend of October 1st and 2nd at Mondello Park, with Michael Barrable and James Byrne poised to clinch the main championship and Rookie Cup respectively. Andy Kavanagh has been going well all season and in the closest qualifying session of the season, or indeed in recent seasons, it was he who topped the timesheets, with James Byrne putting it up to the experienced drivers once again by incredibly planting his Dentmaster car on the outside of the front row of the grid. As if that wasn’t enough, he got the jump off the line, and having sat around the outside of Kavanagh at Maxus, and run three abreast with Kavanagh and Phil Lawless on the run to Campion, managed to grab the lead- the first time a Rookie had led a Zetec race outright.
At the end of the opening lap, Barrable managed to get the switchback on Kavanagh, briefly relieving the poleman of second on the exit of Southside. In their wake, Keith Rabbitt and UK MINI Challenge star Jack Byrne, guesting for the weekend, were doorhandle to doorhandle for fourth with class returnee Ulick Burke right in the thick of it too. For four glorious laps, the Rookie headed the pack before running very slightly wide at Maxus, the resultant contact between himself and Kavanagh allowing the wily Barrable to ambush them both and grab the lead. Rabbitt also forging his way by Byrne for second on the way to Turn Three. Things were to go from bad to worse as Kavanagh dived down the inside of Byrne at the second park of Turn Three, sending him wide. They swapped paint again on the way to the Esses with Byrne retaking the position as they turned in. Predictably Barrable began to ease away but Rabbitt was stuck resolutely to his wheeltracks while Byrne had one eye on his mirrors as Kavanagh looked for a way by. Kavanagh launched it down the inside at Southside and once again Byrne found himself driven wide and was powerless to stop the charging Ulick Burke from following Kavanagh through. At the same time, Rabbitt had a big go at Barrable into Maxus, holding onto the big sideways moment. This wrong footed the leader and somehow Keith managed to get around the outside of him at Campion, giving him the inside line into three- and the lead! As if there wasn’t enough drama, Barrable appeared to slow a lap later. He got back up to speed, but found himself smack bang in the middle of a dogfight, with Keith Dawson, Lawless, Rob Barrable, Ian Fishbourne and Gonzaga, who was flying!
For the final race of the season, Ian Fishbourne found himself on pole in a borrowed Murray Motorsport car with Phil Lawless alongside. James Byrne was on row two with Ulick Burke for company whilst Jack Byrne and Keith Rabbitt were on row three. Having had his season ruined with untracable mechanical issues, Ian was hoping to end on a high and a perfect start ensured it was he who led Lawless into Maxus with Keith Rabbitt getting round Burke and Byrne to take third as they headed out of Campion Corner. As they came out of the Esses, Rob Barrable had climbed to fourth. With Lawless glued to his rear bumper, Fishbourne went defensive on the approach to Southside, and Lawless executed the switchback to perfection, the pair arriving onto the main straight side by side, but with Lawless having the inside. With the See It Live onboard camera aboard, viewers got a great view of this from the inside of Lawless’ car. As Rabbitt attacked Fishbourne, an opportunistic Barrable saw the gap and went for it, relieving Rabbitt of third. As the Wrapco car fought back, he lost the rear end at Turn Three. He somehow held onto it, but Byrne had no option but to take to the grass in avoidance, dropping him back. As Michael Barrable closed in on the Fishbourne, Byrne, Rob Barrable battle, Fishbourne found himself despatched off on the approach to Southside. Unsurprisingly, Rob put up little resistance when his father made a move into Maxus, with Michael getting the head down and not only taking fastest lap but breaking the class lap record in the process. While all this was going on, Lawless was away down the road, lapping within a few tenths of Barrable’s new record on the way to an impressive win. It was far from over for the other podium places behind him though. A typically well timed run out of Southside saw Barrable, who didn’t need the place to ensure the title, getting alongside Byrne, finishing the job into Maxus. Byrne fought back immediately, getting alongside on the exit and around the outside of Campion to retake the place on the run to turn three! The recovering Keith Rabbitt was catching them as this went on though, with Rob Barrable, Keith Dawson and Ulick Burke all right in there too. Rabbitt had a stab at Byrne into Maxus a lap later, the ensuing sideways moment giving Michael Barrable the run, the champion elect taking the place at Turn three.
As a delighted Lawless took the chequered flag, Rob Barrable and Keith Rabbitt tangled at Southside, with both falling back. Jack Byrne was impressive on his way to second, with Michael Barrable taking the final step on the podium, and the 2022 Siltex Safety Championship. Eduardo Gonzaga took his third Rookie win of the year, also winning the prize for drive of the day from Clane Motor Factors. Chole McLaughlin was second with James Byrne third- having already clinched the Rookie title in what was a hugely impressive debut season.
Images from Marc Quinlivan Photography.