Back to the Future- Irish FF1600 is back!
March 22, 2013 by Leo Nulty
I know I am getting old when my articles start off talking about memories of childhood trips to Mondello- but I won’t apologise for it! Back then, I was more into saloons but once I started karting, I took a far keener interest in single seaters- and especially FF1600. Back in the day, there were so many entries that there were three races at each Mondello meeting- an A, B and C race. The guys who raced varied from clubbie racers to hardcore wannabe career racers. As a result, Irish FF1600 produced great drivers- world beaters in fact. David Kennedy, Michael Roe, Tommy Byrne and many many more cut their teeth in a FF1600 at the Kildare circuit and all went on to achieve great success in the sport. This probably led to the theory that “if you can win at Mondello, you can win anywhere” but certainly the level of competition was the equal of anywhere else on the globe at the time. Later on, Eddie Irvine, Bernard Dolan, and the late great pairing of Fionn Murray and Vivion Daly were also impressive graduates.
Crossle had been producing cars for many years in Holywood in Northern Ireland and with cars like the iconic 32F, they were up there with the best. When they were joined by Mondiale in the early 80s, the Irish built chassis’ were both an extremely competitive proposition. The Sligo-based Murray family were almost always Crossle mounted, until 1988- when Fionn Murray could not get the latest 70F to compete with Vivion Daly’s Reynard. Incredibly, “Vivo”, offered Fionn a test in his car, after which the Murrays ordered a brand new one- and Fionn beat Vivo in the next four rounds en route to a couple of titles. Ironically, when the pair, now both Reynard mounted, battled for the lead of the televised Leinster Trophy round, they were shadowed by Pat Duffy, who Crossle had dragged out of retirement to drive the 70F that Murray had walked away from. Incredibly, Duffy, who had always been one of the quickest FF1600 pilots, also broke the lap record on that day!
Murray “crossed the water”, which was the done thing back then if you wanted to make a career of it (still is!), whilst Vivo elected to stay at home. This was a good thing for young Irish racing, as he became a yardstick by which to judge young Irish drivers. The theory in the paddock was, that if you could beat the likes of Vivion Daly and Brendan McKenna, you were good enough to head to the UK!
After a few quiet years, it seems that FF1600 proper is to return to Mondello’s tarmac in 2013. An Irish Championship is being run, with three rounds at Kirkistown, one at Bishopscourt and happily, two at Mondello Park. FF1600 has been around for many many years and has been “replaced” on a number of occasions- Zetec, Duratec and Eco Booost come to mind, but it is not just anoraks like me who feel that the FF1600 is still a purer, better class. Happily, the young drivers seem to agree this year- and it looks like we will have a formidable line up. Dunlop/Motorsport Ireland Young driver of the Year Kevin O’Hara is competing in the championship as part of his prize- he is incredibly quick and with no budget worries and former UK FF1600 champion Bernard Dolan on the spanners, will surely be a threat. Niall Murray has come back from the UK and purchased a car which his family team Murray Motorsport will run, he has undoubted pace and plenty of aggression and should be a factor, despite his lack of single seater experience. Sean Doyle, recently announced as a brand ambassador for Nissan Ireland, would also appear to have a deal done with Morgan Dempsey to join his team and drive their Van Diemen for the year. The perennially underfinanced Wicklow teenager may not be a complete package as O’Hara just yet, but he is younger and has plenty of time to learn. He is never short of committment and always great to watch- could spring a surprise on occasion. Having failed to raise the budget to race in the US, Jonny McMullan will be back in a FF1600- and no doubt will be pushing the more modern machines hard in his immaculate but less fashionable Mondiale. Noel Dunne will also be back for more in his Van Diemen and, like a modern day Vivion Daly, will be giving no quarter to his younger challengers! Patrick McKenna also returns to the class where he cut his teeth with a Morgan Dempsey run ’00 Van Diemen and Festival winner Ivor McCullough won’t be easily beaten either!
All in all, it looks like a recipe for a classic season of racing; welcome back Formula Ford, we’ve missed you!