Once again, the Siltex Safety Fiesta Zetec class provided the biggest grid of the weekend at the ICCR’s opening meeting of 2023. Happily, this once again included a large amount of novice drivers, with many tackling their first ever motor race!
The big news in the paddock was the late registaation and entry of NI Champion Derek Graham. Derek and his father Aubrey are no strangers to the Mondello Paddock, with Derek having tasted success in Punto 1400s and Abarths in previous years at the Kildare venue.
Derek made his presence known immediately, snatching pole position from Keith Dawson in the dying seconds of qualifying, with another last lap flier giving 2022 Rookie Champion James Byrne P2. Row two was an all Dawson affair with Keith third alongside uncle Alan in fourth. Row three was Ian Fishbourne and the impressive Luke Kilmartin, whose Texaco livery was attracting much admiration in the paddock.
As the cars came to grid for the opening race of the 2023 season, all drivers turned off their engines and all was quiet. We were delighted to be joined by Siobhan, Aimee and Andrew Woods in the paddock and honoured to remember Sean Woods with a minute silence. Drivers and teams in the pitlane were joined by officials and rescue crews in what was a lovely tribute to a great man.
It looked like all cars had made it away from the line safely when the red light went out but unfortunately Chloe Kellett was collected by another car off the line and sustained enough damage to strand the car on the main straight, bringing out the red flags.
When the lights went out for the second time, Graham’s Vehicle Screens car led away, neck and neck with the Dent Magic machine of Byrne. The first four rounded the first corner in grid formation, from Fishbourne and Michael Barrable, keen to move up from a poor (by his lofty standards) qualifying performance. Next up was Mick Kehoe with Sean McGovern, in his newly acquired ex Johnny Whelan machine, already battling hard with Dave Maguire Jnr in the JMC/LOH Motorsport car. Byrne sooon challenged Graham at Campion Corner and eased alongside, taking the lead at Turn Three. Graham then found himself boxed out with reigning champion Keith Dawson following Byrne through. As they came up out of Turn Three, Graham slowed, slowing Alan Dawson to drive by, with Fishbourne and Barrable hounding the polesitter around the Esses. Almost immediately, Byrne came under pressure from Keith Dawson but despite James’ relative inexperience, he refused to be ruffled by the big names around him.. Barrable and the recovering Graham were swapping places frantically for fourth. Fishbourne and Maguire tangled into the Esses, which released McGovern, and he immediately set fastest lap as he tried to chase down the leaders. When Alan Dawson’s effort to displace Keith failed, Barrable pounced into Turn three and as Keith got out of shape mid corner, Barrable sailed by him too, elevating himself to second! The recovering Graham also sliced by Alan Dawson for fourth, with McGovern now part of this pack, demoting the Sheds Direct car even further with a dive into Southside.
Behind this group, Andy Kavanagh was just holding off Richie Byrne, Ian Fishbourne, impressive novice Jason O’Connell and Eduardo Gonzaga.
At the flag, it was an overjoyed Byrne, having eased a few lengths away from the Barrable/Keith Dawson battle. Graham was fourth, an impressive debut in the class, having been away from Mondello for a long time, from Alan Dawson, McGovern and Keogh. O’Connell was tenth and first Rookie home, with Luke Kilmartin second and Lorcan McGivney third.
In race two, McGovern and Alan Dawson made up the front row, courtesy of the top six finishers from race one being reversed. Derek Graham and Keith Dawson were on row two, with Barrable and Byrne fifth and sixth respectively.
Alan Dawson it was who got the jump and despite the best efforts of McGovern for the entire race, eased it home for the win, and with it, the championship lead! In their wake, Graham was under huge pressure from Barrable with Byrne and Keith Dawson right in there too. O’Connell took Rookies honours once again, from Lorcan Mcgivney and Luke Kilmartin.
Images from Marc Quinlivan Photography