An emotional trio of Rabbitt brothers, Barry Shane and Keith were understandably sparkly eyed as they were presented with their winners awards after the Mondello Park 6 Hour Endurance Race on Sunday. Their uncle Liam, a former racer and sports promoter, passed away suddenly earlier in the year and, as he had introduced them to motorsport and was an integral part of their team, they had decided to do the annual race in his honour.
The event has always attracted stars from the world of Rallying, BTCC, World Sportscars and even former F1 drivers. This didn’t change in 2023 with Irish F1 duo, and event regulars at this stage, being joined by Hollywood superstar Michael Fassbender in a Mondello Park liveried/POB Racing run car. Lucca Allen was also back for another go, bringing fellow LMP3 driver Hampus Ericsson with him and teaming up with former Porsche racer Bob Cameron in the Lightning McQueen liveried Cameron Cars machine.
Ones to watch ahead of the event had to be Team Barrable, looking for their third win at the event, who had once again recruited Paul O’Brien’s crack POB Racing squad for the weekend. Murray Motorsport are also previous winners of the event and this time they fielded Eoin and Niall Murray along with multiple Autotest and race champion Eddie Peterson- a combination as strong as any. LOH Motorsport have also taken vistory in the annual season ending race and this time they fielded Dave Maguire Snr and Jnr as well as Michael and Victor Cullen, in the JMC car campaigned to great effect by Maguire Jnr this year. Alex Denning was also on the list, teaming up with his former tin top ace father Liam, along with Fiesta ST regulars Max Turley and Chris Jones. Alex did the fastest time in official timed testing the day before the race, just ahead of Murray and Maguire, with Andy Kavanagh fastest of the class regulars, his milesPLUS machine rounding out the day in P4. Surprisingly the Rabbitt brothers were down in fifth and Team Barrable in seventh, split by another strong lineup, The Tyre Brigade, comprising Ulick Burke and Jordan and Morgan Dempsey.
As the saying goes, there are no prizes for testing, so onto official qualifying on Sunday morning. Many say it doesn’t matter where you qualify in Endurance racing but as one of the top drivers replied to me when i suggested that: “It doesn’t matter AS MUCH as a sprint race, but you’d rather start at the front than the back Leo!” Rob Barrable nailed a cracker of a lap to take pole position during the session and even though others got close at the end, nobody topped up to Team Barrable would start from pole position. Alex Denning in second for his “Mika Lakkinen Talent” team and Eoin Murray in third for Murray Motorsport, were both less than a tenth off though, and the rules say that the fastest driver in qualifying must start the car for each team, meaning we would have an entertaining first stint, at the very least. LOH Old/New were next up, with young Maguire fastest, from the Archer Motorsport team of Andy Kavanagh who had recruited rapid hillclimbers Billy White and Joe Courtney. The Kellett Motorsport family team of Alastair, William and Chloe Kellett rounded out the top six. Full qualifying can be seen HERE.
When the BMW Ireland safety car pulled in and the pack came out of Southside, Barrable kept them guessing but eventually floored it. Denning was predictably racy from the off, almost grabbing the lead down the outside but Barrable held firm. Having forged by a few laps in, Denning led in the early stages with Barrable happy to sit back- until Murray began to close them both down.
Barrable then reasserted himself in the lead with a run off the newly named Nordic Spirit corner and a subsequent lunge down the inside into Southside. Murray was on his bumper and followed them through and, somewhat surprisingly, they began to ease away from Denning. LOH, Kellett Motorsport and Archer Motorsports were a few seconds back from Denning inside the first hour with ITUTI Motorsport, having climbed to sixth, the GCA run team comprising of Graeme Colfer, UK based Endurance specialist David Meenan and former karter Matt Dunnion.
By the half way point, LOH had the lead, but Rabbitt Brothers Racing were beginning to come into the reckoning. Kevin Doran’s Division 88 concern had done the all the pre race prep work and was now hard at work on strategy. They were out of sync with the other top teams, who were pitting at pretty much the same times, but everyone had an eye on them- with good reason. Barrable, Archer and ITUTI made up the top six with Murrays down in seventh, having incorrectly served a Stop/Go penalty and having to do it again.
There was much hilarity when the Mondello Staff Incentive team “Rough and Not Ready”, which had been stuck in third gear, went off at Southside Motor Factors Corner, embedding itself in the tyres. It was dragged out under safety and lo and behold, all gears were miraculously working once more! This car was also to play a major part in the race later on. The gearbox finally cried enough at the end of the main straight and dumped its contents onto the Mondello tarmac. This necessitated a Safety Car , which was duly despatched. Most teams though, were just starting their stints so would have no benefit from stopping so soon, so they duly lined up in the slow moving train behind the Safety Car. Division 88 though, had other ideas. To the amazement of the other teams, the Wrapco liveried car dived into the pits for a splash and dash, rejoining just in front of the train and speeding up to rejoin it. A couple of laps later, the car was back in, this time for new fronts. Once again they managed to get back out before the safety car arrived. A third stop was then decided on to change driver from Keith to Barry and, you’ve guessed it, they rejoined still on the lead lap. Genius!
This set us up for a grandstand finish, with Barrables, some 46 seconds back, hunting down Rabbitt Brothers Racing at well over a second a lap, with just 40 minutes to run. The atmosphere was tense. Barry, whose speed is undoubted, could coax no better than a mid 12 (1:12) from the car and seemed to have a clear road ahead whilst Rob Barrable was throwing caution to the wind, lapping in the mid /low 11 second bracket despite the traffic. “I was doing all the maths in my head trying to turn minutes remaining into laps left and divided by the closing speed of the Barrables. I was so busy carrying the two in the long division I nearly went into the gravel at Duckhams”, said Barry!”
The gap was down to 15 seconds with just over ten minutes to go and it looked as if Rob was going to catch the Wrapco car- but it would be marginal. Then, somewhere out in the darkness, a car cried enough and with the CoC not happy with where it was parked, the Safety Car was despatched. That, as the fella says, was pretty much that, as the BMW Ireland Safety Car led the pack across the finish line to conclude six hours of fantastic racing. The Rabbbits and their team were over the moon, they knew that they had worked the magic to beat a host of faster cars- they only had the eleventh fastest lap of the race!
LOH Motorsport staged a late comeback to complete the podium, with Murray Motorsport a disappointed fourth, having served a number of penalties in the second half of the race. The Tyre Brigade were fifth, all three drivers having been fast and consistent, with Archer Motorsport rounding out the top six in the milesPLUS car. ITUTI were gutted to retire almost within sight of the finish, the engine crying enough after a strong showing. As for the celeb team, they staged a strong recovery, climbing to 9th at the flag, having completed the first lap of the race in 20th, half a lap down.
Images from Paddy McGrath/Mondello Park