Introduced in 2022 as a new Junior class to introduce drivers aged 14-17 to Motor Racing, the Patch Tyre Equipment Junior MINI Challenge continues to grow. For 2023, a number of new incentives have been announced to encourage drivers to join the series. Suppport from Kildare based garage suppliers Patch Tyre Equipment and from Mondello Park have allowed organisers to offer free registration for competitors. As well as this, registered drivers will enjoy selected MINI exclusive test days at no charge and subsidised entry fees to all Mondello Park ICCR race meetings and test days.
The above attracted plenty of interest and there was a large entry for the Mondello Park Scholarship competition. All the young hopefuls arrived at Mondello Park for a full day of ascessment both on and off the track. At the end of the day, highly rated karter Bobby Joe McFall was adjudged to be the winner, with a near perfect score in all aspects of the day. His prize is the use of the 2022 Championship winning car, as well as his tyres, entry fees and testing fees for the season.
Also moving up from karting was Holly Dunnion (above), who had showed well in a one off appearance in the series in 2022. The Duleek teen had acquired the ex Cody Keogh O’Brien Motorsport car and attracted sponsorship from Energia for the 2023 season. Holly is a third generation racer and was joined in the paddock for the opening round by her Grandad Mike, a former Dealer Opel Team Ireland driver, and her dad Mick, who is a top 125cc kart racer.
Northern Ireland karter Reuben Kernohan ia already a World Champion, having taking the title in Junior Tillotson, to add to his TKC Championship, Ulster Championship, Celtic Cup victory and Irish Grand Prix karting title. For 2023 he also made the move to the new Junior series, and having showed well in testing, was keen to run at the front straight away.
Ben O’Malley and Adam McNamara in his JTM Power car also joined the series with the final entrant being Darcey Kilfeather in her immaculate Jonathan Fildes built, O’Brien Motorsport tended machine. A number of other machines are currently in build and we can expect the grid to swell even further as the season progresses.
Kernohan it was who headed the timesheets in the all important first qualifying session of the year, stopping the clocks at 1:09.547, just four tenths off the lap record, set by 2022 Champion David Travers. McFall was second fastest and would join Kernohan on the front row, with Dunnion third, just a couple of tenths off. Of the less experienced drivers, O’Malley was just a tenth off McNamara, with Kilfeather next up, the new Mondello Park Timing.ie speed trap showing her car to be slightly slower than the rest on the main straight.
When the lights went out Kernohan made a cracking start but was matched inch for inch by McFall, the duo approaching Turn One door to door. Holly Dunnion made a bad start and fell back but immediately began to charge back towards the front. The leading duo immediately began to pull away, with Dunnion soon recovering to third. At the flag, it was Kernohan who took the win on his car racing debut, but McFall was just over a second behind. Holly completed the podium, from McNamara and O’Malley, with Darcey Kilfeather (below) next up improving her times every lap.
In race two, it was once again the distinctive yellow car of Kernohan who led the field away, with McFall shadowing him once again. This time though, they had company as a determined Holly Dunnion nailed the start and tacked onto the back of the leading duo. A safety car intervened late in the race when Ben O’Malley retired and by the time the car was cleared, there was barely a lap to run. The flashing lights went off on the BMW Ireland Safety Car signalling to the drivers that they would be going back racing- but already the chequered flag was prepared at the start finish line. Leader Kernohan slowed the pack right down at Southside Corner, and nailed it on the exit to win the sprint to the line, just from McFall. Holly Dunnion though, using her karting experience, had timed it to perfection, getting on the power early and closing down the two leaders on the run to the flag. She got a great run and eased alongside McFall for second, the pair crossing the line as one, with McFall hanging on by just .011 of a second (below)!
Adam McNamara was fourth, from Darcey Kilfeather. Once all the points were added up, it’s Kernohan who left Mondello Park with a early series lead, having taken a maximum score from the meeting. As Race two showed though, McFall and Dunnion are right there in terms of pace and with the less experienced drivers improving every time out, we can expect a cracker of a 2023 season. There are also a number of new cars in build so grids should expand before long too.
Below are the championship standings, for more information on the Patch Tyre Equipemtn Junior MINI Challenge, and for technical regulations, click HERE.