The Northern Irish car racing season got off to a wonderful start at Kirkistown Race circuit in County Down, on Saturday 30th March. The gate receipts were being donated to the Air Ambulance Northern Ireland and that, coupled with a reduction in entry fee to £10 per person, led to a large spectator attendance. Good weather was also in attendance.
The first race of the day was for Roadsports. Jim Larkham, from Newtownabbey, was the fancied runner but Paul Conn, from Lisburn, and the evergreen Ivor Greenwood, from Dundrod, had other ideas. Greenwood put his Radical Prosport on pole, ahead of Conn’s Crosslé 47s. Larkham had problems and qualified last! From the start, Greenwood took a lead he would never lose and Conn slotted in behind. However, it was a fraught battle and Greenwood only got the win by a second, at the line. By lap 3 Larkham had got his Radical Pro6 into third place, where he would remain. Greenisland’s Maurice McClay took his Westfield to 4th place. Welling’s Steve Morris got 5th in his Crosslé 42s and Donaghadee’s Mark Francis completed the top six.
A new class was introduced at this meeting. It features Mazda MX5s and is being overseen by David Cousins. For this season, these cars will race along with the Kirkistown Fiestas, which are also featuring a new model of this budget class. A couple of Fiesta drivers from previous seasons have ‘graduated’ to the MX5 class. These are Nutt’s Corner girl, Eórann O’Neill and Newtownards man, Craig Brown. A few teething troubles resulted in Brown’s car not being out and O’Neill’s car having power issues. However, Brian Sexton, from Naas, David Cousins, from Ballywalter and Stephen Murray put on a great show at the front of the field, with the lead changing almost from corner to corner. Sexton was mighty on the brakes and he pulled off some amazing overtakes going into Colonial and Maguire’s Hairpin. Unfortunately, Cousins retired from second place on lap 9, with a broken gearbox. Removing the dynamic of a third car from the fight seemed to enable Murray to settle into a lead he would not lose. Meanwhile, O’Neill was having a battle royale with her old rival Mark Stewart, from Belfast, who was in a Fiesta. Stewart prevailed at the end, while Ricky Hull was the second Fiesta home. Stephen Walker, from Helensburgh, brought the new shape Fiesta home 6th. It later transpired that this car is yet to shed a lot of weight and should be some 100KG lighter on its next appearance.
Race 3 was the first of two Dawson-WAM NI FF1600 battles. The Randalstown Rocket, Alan Davidson, took first blood by putting his aged Mondiale on pole by 0.012 seconds from Lisburn’s Will Herron. However, at the end of the first lap he had dropped to third behind Herron and Ballymena’s David McCullough. A lap later saw McCullough in the lead and Davidson into second place. Herron and Davidson continued to swap places over the next three laps before Davidson got a gap and set off after McCullough. White Mountain driver, Scott Finlay, appears to have found his feet in his second season and by lap 2 he had firmly established himself in fourth place. Cameron Fenton, from Greystones, had a great battle with returning veteran, Chris Paul, from Lisburn. They swapped places regularly with Paul just getting the decision on the line by 0.14 seconds. On lap 15 out of 16, Davidson made a move stick on McCullough and crossed the finishing line 0.153 seconds ahead.
The visiting Formula Vees were next, with a good field of 14 cars qualifying. Anthony Cross, from Bohernabreena, took pole. From the start, Jack Byrne, from Tinahely, went in front. Unusually for F Vees, he began to build a substantial lead, which he held to the end, crossing the line over 10 seconds ahead of Ken Browne, who was 7 seconds in front of Paul Heavy, from Kilmeague. David O’Loughlin, from The Neale, was 4th ahead of Robert Flemming, from the Curragh and Newry’s J.B. Farrell.
Race 5 was for Touring Cars and GTs. It provided the biggest grid of these machines for many a year at Kirkistown. 21 cars qualified. Pole was taken by Dungiven’s Gerard O’Connell in his 2.8 SHP Escort GT. Shankill’s Martin Duffy, in his 3.2 BMW M3, took the Saloon pole. Lap 1 saw no less than 5 incidents at different parts of the circuit. Cumulatively, they caused the introduction of the Safety Car for 5 laps. Martin Duffy snapped sideways into the barrier at the start. Martin McDonnell went off in his Subaru at Colonial. Bangor’s Alan Stewart was punted off between Colonial and Fishermans, while O’Connell also took to the grass on the outside of the track and took a while to recover, dropping to the rear of the field. Adrian Dunne, from Tyrrelspass, went off on the approach to the Crosslé Chicane. At the restart, Ciaran Denvir, from Downpatrick, was in a lead he would keep. Navan’s Jay O’Reilly had got his incredibly light Honda Civic into 2nd, a position he would only lose temporarily for a lap, to Athlone’s Ulick Burke, on lap 6. Burke’s challenge would fade and he eventually finished 6th. Carrickboy’s Keith Campbell and Stephen Potter, from Newtownards were having a mighty battle for 3rd, which was resolved in Potter’s favour on the last lap. Meanwhile, O’Connell was on a recovery drive. He deposed Burke for 5th place on the final tour. Gavan Kilkey, from Londonderry, won the BMW330i class at his first attempt!
Race 6 was the second outing for the Roadsports. Jim Larkham was coming from behind because of his issue in qualifying. Ivor Greenwood led from start to finish, setting a new Roadsports lap record in the process. Not bad for a seventy two year old!
Paul Conn held 2nd place throughout. John Benson, from Holywood, held 3rd in his Crosslé 37S until Larkham caught him on lap 7. He then had a battle with Maurice McClay which was only resolved in his favour on the last lap. Steve Morris secured 6th place.
Race 7 was a Mazda MX5 only affair. David Cousins had taken his broken car away to his workshop after race one and worked feverishly to replace the gearbox. He was back in time for this race. Brian Sexton took the lead from the start but Cousins got in front on lap 2 and was never headed. Meanwhile, Stephen Murray and Sexton battled right to the flag, with positions changing constantly. Sexton got his car in front by 0.22 seconds at the finish line. Eórann O’Neill had a lonely drive to 4th with a rather sick engine.
Race 8 was the second Dawson-WAM Ni FF1600 race. This time Alan Davidson went straight into the lead and stayed there. Behind him a mighty battle was ensuing between David McCullough, Will Herron and Scott Finlay. By lap 5 the positions were fixed. Once again, McCullough set off after Davidson. Finlay established superiority over Herron. Chris Paul had got into 5th place by lap 3. Meanwhile, Ballymena’s Henry Campbell was rising steadily up the field. He eventually finished in 6th place.
Race 9 was the second Formula Vee encounter. This time Jack Byrne was challenged throughout by Anthony Cross, in a more typical F Vee battle. It was resolved, eventually, in favour of Cross, by 0.8 seconds. Paul Heavy, Dan Polley and Ken Browne were embroiled in another typical Vee battle for 3rd place with places swapping all the time. Heavy eventually prevailed ahead of Browne and Polley, in that order. J. B Farrell took 6th, after a great battle with David O’Loughlin. This was definitely an “old school” Formula Vee race.
The final race of the day was the second Saloon/GT race. Gerard O’Connell’s car retired from the lead on lap 8. Ciaran Denvir took over to win for the second time on the day. His good friend, Stephen Potter was second and Keith Campbell took an unchallenged third. Ulick Burke was having a recovery drive from 12th. By the end of lap 1 he was 7th. Lap 3 saw him 6th, which became 5th a lap later. With the demise of O’Connell, that became his finishing position of 4th. Jay Reilly nursed a recalcitrant drive shaft, freewheeling through the corners, to 5th place, all the time watching Nutt’s Corner’s Donal O’Neill getting larger in his mirrors! Once again, Londonderry driver, Gavin Kilkey won the BMW 330i class.
In all, this was a great meeting. It augurs well for the rest of the season, with some new names trying to depose those more established and some veterans showing that they are still forces to be considered.
The next meeting is on Saturday 27th April, when Kirkistown will host the Dawson-WAM NI FF1600s, the Irish Legends, Roadsports, Saloons/GTs, Future Classics , Fiestas and MX5s and Superkarts.