Tommy Triumphs at Entertaining IRX Mondello Finale
Local man Tommy Graham drove superbly to take the honours at the Irish Rallycross Championship finale at Mondello Park last weekend. With Derek Tohill having already clinched championship honours, and electing to rebuild his Fiesta ahead of the 2023 season, one might have been forgiven for thinking that Graham was in for a handy win. It’s never easy in Irish Rallycross though and Graham had to deal with a determined charge from UK visitor Roger Thomas, who challenged hard and got faster all day. The Morris pairing of Michael and Darragh Morris also appeared to have squeezed a little more pace from their BMRT Imprezzas and were closer to the Fiesta Supercars than before.
Tommy took heat one but tangled with Thomas exiting Rallycross One in heat two, spinning spectacularly and coming to rest against the barriers. He rejoined though and somehow managed to charge back up to second, with Thomas taking the chequered flag. In heat three, it was Graham once again, making it two of three and ensuring himself of pole for the Supercar final. He duly won from pole with Thomas, who was getting used to the Kildare circuit as the day went on, not too far away. With Thomas, who was competing in the live arena at the Autosport International show the following weekend, electing to skip the Superfinal, Tommy had a new challenge- once again from a UK visitor. Jason Bleasdale was on superb form all day in the Modified class, his Vauxhall VX220 having already dominated the Modified final. In the Superfinal he was flying once again and he kept Tommy Graham’s supercar honest all the way to the flag, the gap just 1.6 seconds when they crossed the line!
They say it only takes two cars to make a race- well Josh Power and Toby Maguire proved this in the Junior Rallycross class. They were, as ever closely matched all day, but it was the final that really impressed. Power led away but Maguire forced him to defend on the main straight and then did the switchback at Rallycross One to grab the lead- briefly as Power out braked him and sat around of the Hole In The Hedge to take it back. This happened, to the vocal delight of the crowd on three occasions and on the final lap, Maguire used his better run out of Southside Motor Factors corner to challenge for the lead on the run to the line. Power hung on, but only just, with less than 2 tenths separating the duo at the line!
Having taken two of the three heats, Bleasdale dominated the Modified final but all eyes were on Willie Coyne and Peter McGarry, who were fighting for the Championship. Coyne took victory in heat one, courtesy of his trademark early joker lap (and plenty of pace!) There was heartbreak in the final though, when McGarry’s Volvo ground to a halt, with a clutch issue. In fairness, new champion Coyne later expressed his disappointment too, having wanted to thrash it out on track, rather than win it that way. Coyne was second across the line, with the spectacularly driven MR2 Turbo of Thomas McManus in third. The meeting also saw a great return to form for former IRX Champion Michael Coyne, who was as fast as anyone all day, before a broken suspension link pitched him into the back on the exit of IRX1.
There was great anticipation of a big battle in Open Clubman between Anthony Kane in the Civic and Nicole Drought in the Clio 172. Kane had the upper hand though early on, taking the lead in Heat One from the back of the grid, courtesy of a ballsy move round the outside of everyone at the first corner! By the third heat though, Nicole’s team had identified and cured a problem with the car and it was game on! Kane held on to take the third head but only just held off an attack from the Clio on the final corner with the two cars crossing the line together (above). Colin Dowling was in fine form all day, mixing it with the two class leaders in the early stages in his Saxo. In the final, Nicole got the jump to head the Civic into Rallycross 1 and eased away, setting fastest lap en route to her first Rallycross win, with plenty of vocal support from the grandstand too. Second was enough for Kane to take the title- making it a hugely impressive debut season for him. He moves to Modified for the 2023 season, and will surely go well there! Michael Connell is also a relative novice and he was delighted to take third in the final in his CLM MINI Cooper S, with Dowling not far behind in the Saxo. Christopher Grimes Jnr took Fiesta Zetec honours, just pipping his season long rival Loughlin Farrell.
As at the previous round, the competition in the Rallycar class was fierce all day, with Thomas O’ Rafferty’s Corsa and Shane Mulligan’s 206 GTI being pretty much inseparable all day. Wayne Keogh was also flying in the diesel Skoda VRS, and was leaving a Dick Dastardly like smoke screen (above)in his wake on the straights! PJ Doyle was also right in the mix in his 206. Mulligan managed to win all three heats but O Rafferty was first across the line in the final, from Mulligan with Doyle taking third from Keogh.
In the Autocross section, Sé Óg Martin topped the screaming buggies, from Mark Kirwan and Scott McGarry, whilst Ian Byrne’s incredible VW Beetle (above) topped the saloons, as well as being a huge favourite with the many children in the grandstand!
All in all, a really good day, with fantastic battles and some brilliant driving across all of the classes. Happily, the event attracted a pretty good crowd, and all will have headed home highly entertained.
For a number of seasons now, IRX has been, to put it mildly, a touch on the wobbly side. Small numbers and small crowds had die hard fans worrying about the future of the sport in Ireland. This season has been wonderful though and Michael Leonard, with his decision to purchase a Fiesta Supercar, has inadvertantly given the discipline the shot in the arm it sorely needed. Leonard was followed by former Rallycross star John McCluskey and Davy Donoghue and others are showing great interest too. With Deco Kelly and Thomas O’Rafferty also set to rejoin the Supercar grids, Pa Ryan bringing back his improving Colt, and Paul Nolan returning in the ex Noel Greene AMF Mitsubishi Mirage, we could be well into double figures when the 2023 IRX kicks off in March- do not miss it!
For final IRX Championship standings, click HERE
Images with thanks to the IRX Media team