Savage Makes Early Bid for 2023 ITCC Title with Double Bishopscourt Wins
Rob Savage has been a stalwart of the Irish Touring Car Championship for many years now. His trademark “Blue Thunder” Integra was alwas fast and well driven. In recent times though, he has decided to move things forward and build something a little bit different. The result was a beautiful Honda Accord. The Campbell Motorsport built machine is powered by a supercharged K20 Honda unit, with paddock whispers suggesting that it has shown figures well north of 400bhp on the rolling road.
In the opening ICCR Meeting, Owain Drought’s Golf GTI took the honours in race one, with Savage back in third place. The Accord did just pip the Golf for fastest lap though and in race two, the Honda took the honours, shadowed by the Golf throughout. This, we would have thought, would set us up for a nail biting battle between the pair when the Precision Tint and Graphics series visited the high speed Bishopscourt circuit in county Down for rounds 3&4. Had Paddy Power been taking bets on it, they may well have had the Tipperary driver as favourite, as he had been fastest through the new Mondello Park speed trap in qualifying, and in both races. In reality though, it was all very different.
From the first lap of the practise session, Savage was in a class of his own, the Honda looking and sounding superb as it got to stretch its legs on the long straights. When it came to qualifying, the Honda took pole, but Drought was 2.9 seconds slower, the Golf displaying a low fuel pressure alert on the dash. Even so, he was also well clear of third place qualifier Cian Walsh, who had Gar Hayden’s Civic alongside him on row two. Next up was Stuart Curran with Steve Martin the only Honda up competitor, having bought Cathal Ward’s immaculate Castrol liveried Integra the previous week!
Drought usual lightning start saw him lead the pack, by a significant margin, around the opening lap. Savage soon eased up to the back of the Golf though, and once by, he really opened up the Accord, leaving all the rest in his wake. Drought, all alone in second, had a big moment at the Turn 1/2 complex- he managed to catch it but as he crossed the kerb, it pulled the front tyre off the rim, ending his race. Hayden had been going well in his Civic before a gearbox failure caused him to retire in a plume of smoke. At the flag then, it was a delighted Savage, who crossed the line well ahead of his nearest challenger. Stuart Curran’s immaculate Integra tooke second place, but only just, as Cian Walsh’s Civic shadowed him across the line after a good battle. Ward took the Honda Cup honours, having bettered his qualifying time by a significant margin as he got used to his new car.
In race two, with the top 6 reversed. Walsh just got the drop on Curran when the lights went out as Savage lit up the fronts and Drought, briefly boxed in, wasn’t able to make his usual start. the leading pair sat it out door to door round the high speed Turn One and Curran tried a brave effort round the outside of Turn Two, but Walsh held on to lead as the finished the opening lap. Once Savage had disposed of Drought, and a few NI saloons though, he was soon closing down the leaders, passing Curran into Turn Two. if he thought Walsh was going to hand over the lead without a fight though, he was wrong, the black Civic not giving the Accord an inch through the high speed Bishopscourt chicanes out the back. Once they came out onto the main straight though, the Accord simply powered by and that, as they say, was that. The job wasn’t finished though for “Savo” as he had another target on his mind. He was after Erik Holstein’s long standing ITCC lap record, set almost ten years ago in his E36 M3. He ended up on a 1:13.9, which most people thought was a new record but apparently was just a tenth off. Either way, he was untouchable all weekend in a car that looks and goes superbly, and was extremely well driven too. Drought kept his title hopes alive by climbing to second from the back, with Walsh tanking the final podium place from Curran. Martin once again took Honda Cup Honours, but his Integra was smoking badly in the closing stages, a legacy of dispite between his sump and a Bishopscourt kerb!
Images from Cregor Elliott