Saturday 02 April saw the third round of the SW Adair Tyres Northern Ireland Sprint Championship at the North Ulster Car Club April Sprint at Nutts corner. As everyone rolled up on a cold and damp Saturday morning no one was predicting just how good a day it was set to be. A massive thanks must go out to North Ulster Car club for putting on such a fabulous day. Their no nonsense, get it done attitude shines bright and the whole day flows from this.

The previous day’s rain and cold temperatures left the circuit greasy under foot, to say the least and a lot of people found this to their detriment under breaking in various places round the circuit, however as the temperature rose and the track dried Mr Grip made himself available again leading to more favourable driving conditions for the entire paddock.

Right from the start I want to mention 1 particular individual who I highlight as the driver of the day. This, in my opinion anyway, goes to complete newcomer and absolute rookie Ethan Faulkner. Ethan made his motorsport debut on Saturday in Jedi mk4 1000CC class 14 car. Now whilst this wouldn’t seem to be a beginner’s car to many of us but Ethan grabbed the Jedi by the horns and wrung its neck like a turkey farmer in Mid-December. Ethan had previously only done a handful of laps in the car at Nutts Corner the week previous to the event so was coming to the event as a complete new comer. None the less he didn’t let his lack of experience put him off and he piloted to an awesome 6th overall and third in class on his debut. Yes you read that right, 6th overall and third in class on his debut. Ethan finished a mere 1.56 secs off seasoned campaigner George Stevenson in his class 14 Force. All in Ethan only finished 10.43secs behind event winner Tim Woodside!!!! Ethan’s father joked that Ethan has never driven a car as fast as the 97 mph he achieved on run 3, as the young lad is still on “R” plates on the road. He also assured me that he had left his “black box” firmly attached to his road car at home!! Just to repeat how good a drive this was Ethan finished 6th overall and third in class on his motorsport debut!! This young lad looks like a star of the future!!!

Ethan wasn’t the only one who was driving well on Saturday, in fact there were very few who weren’t having super drives all day. One of the closest class finishes I have ever seen went down in class 10 where Dermot O`Hagan pipped Alan Roddy by a mere 0.01secs to take the class 10m win. These 2 drivers are coming on leaps and bounds this year as they push each other harder and harder at each event. It is superb to watch and I spoke to Alan Roddy during the day who advised that he hasn’t had as much fun in the Saxo in years as he’s having at the minute, although he does wish Dermot would go a bit easier lol Alan tried a different rear wing set up for one of his runs, when the boot lid opened. Whilst this extended diffuser helped him greatly under braking and through the corners, the extra drag wouldn’t have helped on the straights!!

Other notable drives of the day went to Ryan McGimpsey who pushed his little Jedi out of its hibernation hole and drove the wheels off it to win class 14 by 5.42 secs as he finished up 4th overall!! Jim Hutchinson also had a superbly consistent day where he did a 138.00 on run 1 and a 138.01 sec run on run 3 as he pipped Steven Hawthorne to the specialist class honours. Stewart Strain made a welcome return to the paddock in his 205 and took class 11 honours and narrowly missed out on the modified category win by a mere 0.22 sec to the ever hard charging Stephen Colbert. This was after Stewart had been spotted underneath David Evans 205gti fine tuning Betsy`s wheel alignment after it was discovered that David wasn’t as good with the wheel alignment gauges as he thought he was!!

There were a lot of new drivers out at this event and a few returning ones as well, admittedly though some may have been testing for the upcoming hill climb season. It was good to see Phil Dorman return and he finished 7th overall, Patrick Roche made a return in his RSR Escort and guided it to 12 overall and second in class, although he advises that his “proper engine” isn’t quite ready and that he will be closer to the front when it is. David Francis returned as well in his class 9a Escort Cosworth and gave a lot of us a lesson in super smooth driving through the more intricate infield section. Brendan Flynn and Davis Buick also returned with Davis in a new MNR Vortex. We also saw 7 Mazda MX5s in Class 2b which is one of the biggest Mazda entries I’ve ever seen at a sprint!!

In terms of the overall winner, well I don’t know where to start with this, which is why I left it to the end to write it. “Woodside” was the word of the day as Simon and Tim Woodside battled all day against each other in their Pilbeam MP82`s. Simon had won this event before in 2007 as well as winning 1 NI Hill climb Championship and 3 Sprint Championships in his career and whilst winning these he has had numerous outright wins across many circuits in his career. Tim on the other hand was certainly on the back foot having never won an event outright before and having only driven this car a handful of times. This, as a bit of background, explains why Tim was delighted to take his first ever fastest time of the day and event outright win by a mere 0.29 secs from his brother Simon.

Both the Woodside’s battled hard all day Tim set the early pace and Simon couldn’t match him despite trying very, very hard. I watched their second timed runs through the tight and tricky infield sections, and honestly the 2 guys were throwing their Pilbeam MP82 single seaters around like rally cross supercars as they took loads of kerb, wide fast lines, carrying massive speed and it was just superb to watch. If ever anyone wanted a display of fast, flowing committed driving in single seater then these 2 provided it in spade loads on Saturday. For those who think that single seaters are just point and shoot straight line speed, watching these 2 fellas on Saturday would’ve changed your mind completely.

Steven Gault made a superb return to the championship in his very rapid Dallara and despite some gremlins he took a very convincing third place ahead of Ryan McGimpsey, George Stevenson and Ethan Faulkner in that order. Stevens speed is increasing in the new car but his super smooth driving style means that he can ring every iota of time from the car and with a bit more seat time I predict Steven will be in between the Woodsides with his sleeves rolled up. If Ryan McGimpsey continues to sprint as well then he also will be in the mix as he just does things in his Jedi that Jedi never envisaged the car to be capable of. He is just awesomely quick.

So far I have mentioned 6 potential outright winners there and then of course we have John Donnelly in his Pilbeam MP62 which sadly had mechanical woes pre event and also the OMS25`s of Alan Cassells and Rob Dwane, neither of which managed to set a timed run on Saturday. All in we have 8 or 9 potential winners on any day which is why the SW Adair Tyres Northern Ireland Sprint championship is so good. In terms of the overall championship Tim Woodside leads the way ahead of Rob Dwane and Alan Cassells and Simon Woodside in that order.

In terms of the Categories we will start with the Roadgoing category where the car in front was once again a BMW. Andrew Robb was out again and took the category and class 2 win as well as 24th overall in his BMW. Conor Hamill pushed him hard but couldn’t get the deficit below the final 3.43 secs which really doesn’t do the battle justice. Third went to the hard charging and ever improving Crawford Ewing in his Megane. Crawford finished 0.76 adrift of Conor and a firm 1.12secs in front of Aaron Vance. Crawford seems to have gelled well with his Meganne as he chases the BMW`S down. Conor Hamill leads the overall category championship ahead of Andrew Robb and Crawford Ewing.

Stephen Colbert increased his lead in the Modified Category championship after taking the category win on Saturday as well as class 6b honours and 16th overall in his sunbeam. Stewart Strain pushed Stephen hard for the category but failed by a mere 0.22secs. Oliver Cormican was also ready to pounce and finished third in category a mere 0.16 behind Stewart. So all in this category was separated by a mere 0.38 secs. It’s close there. Stephen leads the category from Ian Lancashire and his father Ken as his consistent run of 3 points scores puts him 8 points clear. Mark my words this will be a closely fought category this year!!

In the specialist Category battle David Hawthorne (who many would argue is the fastest Hawthorne) was not out on Saturday so he left Steven to defend the family honours. Jim Hutchinson took the category win in his RSR Escort on his way to finishing 8th overall and fastest tin top. Jim put in 2 cracker runs which were only separated by 0.01secs. Talk about consistent. Interestingly it was also Jim Hutchinson’s birthday on Saturday. I spoke with Jim and he advises me that his car will do his age in MPH in first gear. Now I won’t be drawn to comment on whether the car is highly geared or whether Jim just doesn’t look his age, but IL let you all make your own minds up. (Note to self, park well well well away from Jim at the next event). Steven Fought hard and got the deficit to second down to just a mere 1.44secs behind Jim which was impressive going especially as Third placed Scott McMullan was snapping hard at Stevens heels. Scott still leads the category after round 3 but it’s tight as the top 2 drivers, Scott McMullan and Steven Hawthorne are equal on 10 points each and Jim Hutchinson and David Hawthorne are equal on 9points each and these pair now have a game in hand. Again I don’t fancy predicting a winner in this battle.

In the Heaslip Ladies Challenge Emma Campbell took the Challenge win with a corrected 1.56s advantage over second placed Sheryl McBride. Kathy McDade in her Honda civic with its new “My little pony” influenced livery took third in the category. All 3 girls are improving greatly across each event and the results are showing this as Emma leads Sheryl by 1 point and Kathy is 5 points adrift of Sheryl in Third. Amy is fourth with 19 points and last event winner Catherine Donnelly is fifth on 11 points. Both Amy and Catherine have a game in hand, indeed Catherine has 2, so when the dropped scores kick in this championship really will go down to the wire. Kathy did however have a vital element missing on Saturday as her “powered by fairy dust” sticker was not ready in time to be added to the car and this being missing, cost her at least a couple of seconds a lap. Is fairy dust going to help her de-throne Emma from the top of the category this year? Let’s just wait and see!!

For some the most important category is the fastest mini in the west. Once again this went to Karl Johnston who once again drove the wheels off his little mini. Karl was incredible to watch as he explored every inch of the tarmac, and a wee bit of the gravel trying to keep the elusive McGarrity and Milligan duo behind him. Gary fought hard to take second in the mini battle and third went to the hard charging Gerry McGarrity. Gerry has advised that he has a plan to win the fastest mini trophy again!! He’s currently coasting to let Karl and Gary think that they can’t be beaten, then as the season draws to a close hel pull out and pass them, waving in a polite gentlemanly manner as he overtakes them to the crown!!

As those who were there will vouch this slightly light hearted report just sums up the superb, friendly banter filled atmosphere which was to be found round Nutts Corner on 02 April. The action was fast and there were some superb class battles up and down the timesheets all day. These battles are due to continue at our next event which is the fourth round of the SW Adair Tyres Northern Ireland Sprint Championship hasted by Larne Motor Club at Kirkistown on 07 May. Larne Motor club always put on a fabulous day and this event looks set to be a belter!!!

See you all on 07 May at Kirkistown


Graham is a photojournalist and motoring writer with over 20 varied years of coverage from manufacturer press launches to international motorsport and motoring events throughout the world. Graham is a full member of the Guild of Motoring Writers and Ulster Motor Writers Association.