Barry Rabbitt: Leinster Trophy
September 22, 2012 by Barry Rabbitt
Fresh from taking the chequered flag first at the Phoenix Park ITCC race in Dave Clarkes Golf GTI, we started talking about the possibility of racing the car at the Leinster Trophy weekend the following month. It was decided that we would trek north to Kirkistown the following weekend and see how we went before making a final decision, a successful weekend there where I led until a gear linkage issue dropped me to 3rd made the decision for us and we arranged to test the car the following Wednesday at the Mondello Park, though only running a couple of laps we felt the car was strong enough for a podium. A few jobs were carried out and the Golf was ready for battle. Fast forward to the Tuesday before the Leinster Trophy weekend and slouched in front of my TV a text from Motorsport.ie’s Leo Nulty arrived in my inbox – ‘Are you racing this weekend?’ it read, I know Leo well enough to know this was not merely small talk. Within a couple of messages Leo spilled that he had bought a Formula Sheane and was I interested in driving it for him at the Leinster Trophy? I agreed, as one does in these situations and the plan began to hatch. The car had not run for more than 3 years and was somewhat of an unknown quantity. I was dispatched on the Wednesday with the trailer to go collect the car and as I was away on business on Thursday I had Gilmartin Motorsport throw an eye over the car to ensure it was at least safe for the track.
I arrived at Mondello for testing on Friday with the Sheane, which was anything but pretty which led to poor Leo getting plenty of stick from the Sheane drivers who he had been harassing (successfully) all year into cleaning up their own cars. We missed the whole first half of the day due to what turned out to be a dodgy ECU, at this point I was ready to forget it and concentrate on the ITCC and the Golf for the weekend. A new ECU however solved the problem and we made it on track for the afternoon and with the help of a friend who has experience running IRL cars in the States we made good progress on set-up all day ending up 2nd quickest of the day.
I opted out of racing the Sheane on the Saturday and instead spent the day collecting the Golf and actually preparing the Sheane for the race the following day. It turned into a long night as like always there was more to do than we thought. At this point I really need to thank Paul Grogan and Kevin Sheane Sr who jumped in to help, its no exaggeration to say that without them I wouldn’t of been racing. Thanks guys!
A quick visit to the bar turned into a 3am end to the day and me curling up across the front seat of my van for a few hours sleep. Not the ideal way to prepare for 2 qualifying sessions and 3 races the following day! The glamour of motorsport knows no bounds!
First up the next morning was ITCC qualifying and the rain was coming down hard, I ventured on track in the Golf and within 1 lap the window had misted up so badly that I had serious trouble seeing the track let alone my pit-board. I was surprised to see that I had qualified 3rd of the 27 cars, maybe not being able to see was an advantage…
Within 20 minutes of being out of the Golf I was strapping myself into the Formula Sheane to qualify for the Leinster Trophy. My single seater experience to date is no more than a few tentative laps in a Formula Ford some 3 or 4 years ago and none of those were in the wet. I was shocked at the lack of grip from the car and tip toed my way around for the opening laps. This time I could see my pitboard but it didn’t make for good reading, 7th + 2 secs! The track however was drying and with cars falling off all over the circuit I decided to play it safe and make sure to be still on the black stuff come the end of the session when the track would be at its driest and therefore fastest. I held back slightly and was getting prepared to launch a final do or die lap as the session timer counted down. I was least impressed when the officials red flagged the session before I got to try properly for a quick lap. In the end however I had recorded 4th fastest time which I was happy enough with.
Again without much of a break it was time to go back to saloon car mode and line up for the first of two ITCC races. A poor start in this race saw me drop back a few places off the line from my 3rd place grid spot. After the opening lap I was back up to 3rd place and settled in for what was to be a pretty unspectacular race.
The big race of the day the Leinster Trophy, was scheduled for 3pm and by the time it came around the rain had stopped and the circuit was dry. Equipped with fresh tyres I took to the grid in front of a packed Mondello Park grandstand, I have watched countless Leinster Trophy races from that same grandstand and know I was actually going for the prestigious trophy myself. On the warm up lap I could feel that the new tyres had given me plenty of extra grip compared to the 4 year old items that we tested on. Returning to the grid for the race start I realised I had no idea how to get this machine off the line. As the lights went out I made an only average start but retained my 4th place at turn one. The car immediately in front of me was Global GT Lite ace Sean Doyle who was also racing a Sheane for the first time. I knew I would have to dispatch him quickly before the leading two got away. On the 2nd lap I made a move on the entry to Parabolica and consolidated the position on the approach to Tarzan. The lead two of Sheane Jr and Quinn were only slightly ahead and as I put my head down to try pull back the gap it became obvious that although the grip overall was better the balance had changed drastically and the car was very pointy on the front and loose on the rear. Second place man Tristan Quinn who was hammering the kerbs pretty hard broke a driveshaft which promoted me to second place. Doyle was still in close attendance and over the remainder of the race we had a few great battles seeing us interlock wheels on more than a few occassions. I thouroughly enjoyed the battle as it was very hard but clean. In the end though I simply didn’t have the last bit of pace of the deserving winner Kevin Sheane Jr who adds his name to the most coveted trophy in Irish racing.
I had to cut short the Leinster Trophy podium and literally run to the assembly area where the Golf was sitting waiting for me. Getting straight into it felt very strange after the Sheane . You have to totally reset your brain as both cars require polar opposite driving styles. I was starting 6th for this race and a good opening few corners saw me jump to 2nd before the lap was out. Ahead of me was Brian Fitzpatrick in his Honda Civic who I passed at Dunlop on the second lap just before the safety car came out to clean up the river of oil that Holstein had dumped over the whole lap. This was a bitter blow as myself and Fitzpatrick had a massive lead. The restart again saw me drop back behind Fitzpatrick who I again passed for the lead at Dunlop. Behind me I could see Johnny Whelan coming fast in his Peugoet 306 and I pushed as hard as I could, unfortunately with 2 laps to go the tracking of the Golfs front wheels moved and the handling went horrible. I was a sitting duck and on the last lap Whelan got by me as we made our way through the esses. I managed to hang on to the back of Whelan and made a late lunge on the brakes into Dunlop on the last lap. Exiting the corner side by side with Whelan the Golfs 100bhp deficit saw us lose out on the drag to the line.
All in all a great weekend and I came home with 3 podiums from 3 races in 2 cars that I have not much experience with. Just one more position in the ITCC and the Sheanes would have seen me go home with the Leinster Trophy and the Dunboyne Cup…. Maybe next year we can go one better!