Saturday 7th September saw Larne Motor Club host the 6th Round of the SW Adair Tyres, Northern Ireland Sprint Championship at Kirkistown circuit in Co. Down.
The day started off wet after rain during the previous night and the threat of rain never left the circuit all day.
With a damp track for the practice runs, and a north westerly breeze, everyone made a cautious start to the day hoping that the track would dry up and the clouds above would pass by intact, and to be fair, this is what happened for most of the day.
After a trouble free practice, on a track which was now dry, John Morgan showed his hand early and set the fastest time of the first runs, being over a second faster than championship leader Adrian Pollock, with Gerard O’Connell going third fastest in his radical.
Ivan McCullough also managed to set a speed trap speed of 154 mph in his blisteringly fast Nissan GTR but the fastest speed trap of the day went to Robert Morgan in his Pilbeam, who got a 160mph reading on his last run.
Unfortunately, mother nature decided to intervene on everyone’s plans and it started to rain just as the drivers were lining up to start their second timed runs of the day.
Those who had been watching the weather tried to get in early runs before the rain came, and whilst it didn’t rain heavily, or for long, there was just enough moisture on track to slow almost everyone down, and indeed many of the top runners opted not to take their second runs.
With the track drying well, to the point that it was almost bone dry, it was all down to the third runs, and for some drivers this meant an ‘all or nothing’ last run. John Morgan lined up in the family Pilbeam and set a blistering last run time of 118.36 seconds which was 0.78 secs faster than his first run time.
Adrian Pollock had other ideas however, as he left the line like the proverbial scalded cat as he tried to keep ahead of Morgan in the championship race. Adrian pulled an absolute stonking run out of the bag to take the overall win by 0.25 seconds from John Morgan with a time of 118.11 seconds.
I watched Adrian go through the rear chicane and it was obvious how much he was going for it as he entered the chicane and just flicked the Dalarra round it, in a similar fashion to a MkII Escort with a hydraulic handbrake. It really was fabulous to watch.
Gerard O’Connell took third with a time of 121.66 in his Radical.
It was great to see both Barry Morris and Seamus Morris out in their single seaters along with Michael Roche and Steven Gault, with a grid of 16 single seaters out of the total entry of 60 starters. Its great to see so many of these cars competing.
The honour for fastest saloon car went to Ivan McCullough in his Nissan GTR with Chris Rogan being the fastest road going car in his Megane, while Stephen Strain was fastest historic in his MkI Escort.
In light of todays results, Adrian Pollock now holds a slender 2 point lead in the overall championship from John Morgan, with Gerard O’Connell third. Chris Rogan further enhances his lead of the overall roadgoing championship. The modified championship is now very tight with Daniel Campbell and Oliver Cormican almost inseparable at the top.
As always, the best of the action takes place amongst the classes and this event was no different to any other.
Gary McClurg took the class 1 win in the Road going Production cars up to 1700 cc in his little Citroen AX. Gary headed Stephen Morrisey in his Peugeot 106 by 2.95 seconds. Denis Watson steered his Saxo to third in class 1. Stephen Morrisey was lucky to get competing after his car broke down on the way to the circuit and he arrived into the venue on the end of a tow rope.
He was very glad indeed of the assistance supplied by a marshal and another competitor who were going to the event, and he advised that almost half the field stopped with him to either offer or give him assistance. Gary McClurg now has an 11 point lead in the class championship from Stephen Morrisey and he is also the only person to win their class at every round to date!!
Class 2 for the over 1700cc production cars was won comfortably by Bangors Chris Rogan in his Megane. Chris was also fastest production car with a time of 151.86 which placed him 26th overall. Stephen Donnelly took second in class in his Clio by a mere 0.06 seconds from Nicholas Bassett in his Honda S2000.
This class has seen a real rise in entries and interest this season and is becoming the class to watch. Chris is currently leading the Roadgoing category in the overall championship and has a very good chance of taking a top 3 class championship result at the end of the year as well.
This was also the biggest class of the day with 11 entrants. In terms of the championship Michael Clarke now holds a slim 1 point lead with Chris Rogan and Stephen tied for 2nd place.
Gardiner McIlwaine took the honours again in class 4 for road going specialist production cars after a spirited drive to a best overall time of 156.11. With Gardiner being the only competitor in this class all year he is also a sure money bet to win this class championship this year.
Class 5 road going Specialist production cars was won, comfortably by Donaghadee man James Perry in a very lonely class which saw only him entered.
Class 6a for Modified 8 valve production cars saw the continuing battle between Gary Milligan and David Evans continuing where it left off the last day. Again, Gary was fastest in practice and after the first run before David Evans put in a best run of 158.68 in his second timed run.
Gary was unable to beat this due to a damp track and he finished 2nd to David 1.37 secs down. David also set another class record and interestingly both drivers beat the existing record. David now has a 10 point lead in the class championship although Gary has 2 games in hand over him with 18 points still up for grabs.
Class 6b Modified 16v Production cars saw Brian Fitzmaurice maintain his dominance of the class with a best run of 153.15 seconds from Colin Dines and Andrew Kernohan in their clios. These little clios are proving extremely popular with 7 of them out split between class 6b and class 2. Brian now leads the class championship by 12 points from Second placed man Colin Dines with Andrew Kernohan now third.
The battle for class 7 modified Specialist Production cars has now really hotted up. Graham Boyces first run time of 137.77 was enough for him to pip Clive Latimer by 0.11 seconds.tom Devaney took third with a 148.20 sec run. Clive opted not to do his 2nd run after the rain had dampened the track and with a spin on every run of the day so far Clive opted not to risk damaging the car and to miss his 2nd run.
The ”flying snotter” as it has become affectionately known, proved to be exceptionally unpredictable in the damp conditions and clive was very very lucky to escape unscathed from a huge spin on the exit of the front chicane in practice. Its safe to say that Clive experienced a “persil moment” (although other brands of washing powder are available).
In terms of the championship, Grahams superb drive increased his lead in the class championship by a further point from Clive with Tom Devaney third. Clive has completed 1 less round than Graham so dropped scores will come in to play in this title fight.
Class 8b specialist Libre Saloon cars saw the much anticipated return of Derek Brogan in his nimble little fiesta. Derek who still leads the class championship by 3 points after today from Gary Campbell had to follow Gary Campbell home in second place after Gary Campbell took the win in his stunning little Toyota Starlet with a run of 148.57. Gary had suffered mechanical problems all day and only managed 1 full timed run, in the last runs, so he had to make it count and did.
Class 9 Sports Libre cars, turned out to be another Radical class with Gerard O’Connell taking the class win with a 121.66 from second placed Gordon Buckley in his radical with a run of 140.11. Ryan Murphy was third on a 143.32 in his Escort Cosworth. Gerards class winning first run also netted him 3rd overall, and last week he won the Knockalla Hillclimb in Donegal on the Saturday, and set a new class record in his Radical.
The sight and sound of this car has to be experienced to be believed and Gerard’s mark 2 escort style of driving is a pleasure to watch as he throws the radical around like an escort. Gerard’s win puts him 13 points clear of Lee Kirkwood in the class 9 championship and maintains his third overall position in the overall sprint Championship.
To top what has been a highly successful season for Gerard he also tops the Northern Ireland Hillclimb championship by 9 points and needs to finish 7th overall or better on this Saturdays Knockagh Hillclimb to be crowned Northern Ireland Hillclimb champion for 2018.
Class 10 sports libre rally cars up to 1650cc saw Alan Cassels continue on his winning ways with a winning run of 144.13 secs which put him 21st overall. Portaferry’s Thomas Fitzmaurice finished 2nd in class with a 163.57. Thomas was very disappointed as he suffered mechanical woes which meant he only got 1 timed run. Alan Cassels has now taken the lead in the class championship with Thomas Fitzmaurice jumping to second. This is going to be another close championship battle to watch as the season unfolds.
Class 11 sports libre rally cars over 1650cc was again, like all the previous rounds, dominated by the flying Daniel Campbell in his Toyota Starlet. Daniels run of 145.52 gave him the nod over 2nd place man Simon Gordon in his Astra who did a 153.56. Daniels run put him 22 overall and gives him a 13 point lead in the class standings. With 18 points available, and the bonus points on offer at Enniskillen, a fourth place at the Enniskillen round may be enough to see him lift the class championship, depending on how the other class competitors score.
Class 12 4wd libre saw Ivan McCullough wow us all on his first run with a speed trap reading of 154 mph and a first 64 feet time of 1.91 seconds. This was the fastest first 64ft time of the day and shows just how quick the GTR is. Ivan took the class win with a 138.60 sec run from 2nd place man Oliver Cormican (142.79), Bangor man Ted Johnston was third in his Escort Cosworth with a 149.13sec run. In terms of the class championship Oliver leads Ivan by 7 points however dropped scores will come into play here as Ivan has 2 scores less than Oliver so it really is all to play for. Oliver has already won this class in the Hillclimb Championship.
Class 13 series racing cars. ANICC chairman Henry Campbell again took maximum points in the class with another win and a run of 143.73 from Ian Maple 152.54 secs and third place man Basil Barnes 158.77. Henry Campbell’s class win gives him a 12 point lead in the class championship from Basil Barnes with Ian Maple 1 point behind in third. It was great to see Ian finally getting a problem free run on Saturday as he seems to have finally put his misfire woes behind him. Now can he catch Henry Campbell?
Class 14 up to 2000cc 8v or 1400cc multivalve racing cars. Lewis Wilson took the class honours by only 0.09 seconds from George Stevenson. Lewis did a 136.12 as opposed to Georges 136.21. Third in class went to Catherine Donnelly who set a time of 141.34. Catherine has improved leaps and bounds this season and is finally getting some brilliant times.
Interestingly George Stevenson lead the class all day and Lewis pipped George on the last run which is when Catherine also set her fastest time. George Stevenson now has a 7point lead in the class championship from Lewis Wilson with Thomas Corey third.
Class 15 All other racing cars. Adrian Pollock 118.11 took the class win from John Morgan 118.36 with Robert Morgan third with 122.10. Steven Gault was fourth with a 125.53 secs run and finished 0.05 seconds faster than 5th placed Michael Roche. As mentioned above this class went down to the last run of the day, with most of the drivers opting not to do the damp second run.
In terms of the class championship only 1 point now separates Adrian Pollock from John Morgan in Adrian’s favour. Before this round Adrian and John were completely equal in terms of number of points with both scoring 18, and both had 2 wins and 2 second places each which shows just how close the season has been .
In terms of the overall Sprint championship Adrian has a 2 point lead over John. This is going to be one of the tightest championship run ins that I remember so it is going to be fantastic to watch how it all unfolds as dropped scores etc come into play.
Class 16 road going Historics again Gerry McGarrity took the class win in his little mini with a run of 160.19 secs. Michael Johnston was second with a 163.96. As always Gerry was fabulous to watch as he threw the little mini, through the chicanes with no regard for the age, or the sheer beauty of the car.
Gerry also narrowly missed out on the title of “fastest mini in the west” by 0.14 secs. The fastest mini in the west is an ongoing battle which has formed between Gerry and Omaghs Gary Milligan who have, over the last few seasons, been battling across the sprints and hillclimbs to have the bragging rights of being the fastest mini driver in the west of the province. Saturdays result puts Gerry 12 points clear of Mervyn Johnston in the class championship battle.
Class 16b non road going historic saloons. Stephen Strain had a quick, but lonely, drive to maximum points and a class win on Saturday. His run of 154.72 put him an impressive 31st overall and made him fastest historic. This result also puts him 10 points clear in the class championship.
The next and 7th round of the SW Adair Tyres Northern Ireland sprint Championship is scheduled for St Angleo Airport on 29 September and is hosted by Enniskillen Motor Club. This event is in its 3rd year as a championship event and is also a bonus scoring round with 3 bonus points available for anyone who scores points at the event. Its timing is also very critical as the bonus points mean that some of the class titles can be won, or indeed lost, at this event depending on how results go.
Words: David Evans – #154 | Photos: Graham Baalham-Curry