Having missed the opening two rounds of the Bill Griffin Motors Irish Stryker Championship, Michael Cullen needs a string of top results to have any chance of winning the 2023 title. Two wins at the high speed Bishopscourt circuit meant it was all going to plan and having tested well, he was in positive form ahead of last weekend’s ICCR meeting at Mondello Park.
Saturday dawned damp and gloomy though, in sharp contrast to the sunny spell of the previous number of weeks and conditions were difficult for the qualifying session. Initially Cullen was outpaced by team mate Kevin O’Hara, driving Victor Cullen’s machine, while he sits his exams, and subsequently by a heroic effort by Niall McFadden. McFadden looked set for his first Stryker pole, before Cullen snatched it back in the opening stages. McFadden was second, from O’Hara and Andy D’Alton. Next up were Greg Kelly, who had just rebuilt his engine, from Dave Reynolds, Roger Welaratne and Des Meehan, with Kevin McGrath and Dominic Ryan rounding out the top ten.
If Cullen was expecting another lights to flag performance, he had underestimated his fellow front rown occupant. McFadden had lined up with his Market Bar car angled ever so slightly towards Cullen’s and it was he who got the jump when the lights went out. He didn’t quite manage to pull across in front of the poleman, but went in late on the brakes to Turn One and grabbed the lead, with the Beacon Hospital car slotting in behind. He then rebuffed an immediate challenge at Turn Three and another one into Southside Motor Factors on the opening lap to lead across the line.
Waved yellows at Turn Three on the second lap though signalled something was wrong and it was the distinctive blue Beacon Hospital machine of Cullen that was leading when the pack streamed back into view. Predictably, Cullen wasn’t headed from here onwards, but O’Hara closed up on him in the closing stages, stealing fastest lap on the penultimate tour. In their wake, Kelly drove well to take the final podium place, just, from the charging Andy D’Alton, with Reynolds, Welaratne and McGrath next up.
New for 2023 in the Stryker class is a shake up for the grid in race two. Similar to the two Fiesta classes, the grid is made up of the finishing order of Race One, but with the top six reversed, to add a little spice to proceedings. This meant that Roger Welaratne sat on pole position, with Dave Reynolds alongside. Row two comprised of D’Alton and Kelly, with the LOH Motorsport pairing of O’Hara and Cullen on row three. Welaratne nailed a great start to grab the lead as the lights went out, with the LOH duo almost heading in opposite directions! Cullen immediately vaulted towards the front, while O’Hara was swamped by the charging pack as they headed down to the first corner. Cullen, having climbed to second, challenged Welaratne, and just as he got by slight contact was made, the front bodywork damaging a radiator tap on Roger’s car and sending him into retirement. This left Cullen out front once more. O’Hara had a tough job climbing to second as there were battles raging all the way down the grid. He eventually managed it though, and eased away to complete a second 1-2 finish for LOH Motorsport. Having provided most of the entertainment with his last minute late braking manoeuvres, it was Andy D’Alton who completed the podium, but only just, from Greg Kelly. Reynolds was next up, from McFadden, Pat Bergin and Dominic Ryan.
Header Image: Cregor Elliott
All other images: ICCR/Paddy McGrath