Gerard O’Connor: My year on The Hills!
November 4, 2012 by Gerard O'Connor
The 2012 National Hillclimb and Sprint caught my attention because of the mixture of new and old venues. I decided to get out the competion suit for my first championship season since 2008. A sore back early in 2009 left me to pool my money for renting a Formula Libre car for the Phoenix Park races. A visit to the concrete barriers put paid to my finances for the 2010 season. In 2011 I did just one event, the Carlow sprint weekend at Athy and Bagenalstown. It was a spur of the moment thing so I rented a Formula Vee rather than trying to get my own car up and running.
The 2012 finances were ready for a full season. I did not get the chance to get the car ready for the opening round of the season at Wexford. Wexford proved to be significant for my class. newcomer Cillian Connole won on Saturday in his Wimhurst Formula Ford. Sunday did not go well for Cillian crashing on the second run. This was a great upset to me as I gave Cillian his first competitive drive in 2008 at the Clare Hillclimb weekend. Oil cooler problems restricted our running on Saturday, but with things sorted on teh Sunday Cillian duely beat me by 1.33s in my own car. Another notable situation at Wexford was two local rally competitors in a rented Formula Vee setting good times.Colm Dunphy also made an appearance in his Formula Ford.
Next up was the Clare/Galway co promoted event using the Corkscrew and Ballyallaban hills. I used the Easter break from work to start getting my car ready car. The discovery of a failed brake master cylinder led me to pass the work on to Aidan Walsh of West Limerick Rally Spares. This meant I went to Ballyvaughan with an entry but no car. There was a Vee available for rental on the Saturday only, it was there for the rally guys from Wexford one of whom had now registered for the championship. Enda Kennedy and myself had a difficult day on the Corkscrew, the battery was barely starting the car so there was a lot of pushing and jump starting, more so because the paddock was at the top of the hill. I finished with a time of 65.08s to Enda’s 61.78s. Enda only got two runs on Sunday as his double driver, Liam Howlett, crashed on his second run.
The hillclimb circus next travelled to hillclimb regular Simon McKinley’s home territory, he and Deirdre Delaney have built a house that actually overlooks the course picked by the Motor Enthusiasts Club (MEC) at Naul, Co. Dublin. This was my first time driving this relatively new venue. Using my own car with its now funcional brakes, I finished second after Eugene French on Saturday and first on Sunday ahead of Scott Milligan.
A new venue was in store for the first day of Carlow sprints on the June Bank holiday weekend, a number of championship contenders were not there having opted to go to the Saint Goueno hillclimb in France. the class 5 championship had now settled down to a battle of the Formula Vees. Enda, Eugene and myself were the championship contenders Scott having gone to spectate at the French event. The first day was on a course laid out at Kilrush Airfield situated between Kilcullen and Athyin Co. Kildare. The course was a very technical route comprising a large number of 90° corners, very different from a typical hillclimb course. I finished fifth at the airfield but took 8 points as two drivers, John Hendy and Ger Byrne, were not championship registered. Sunday was a big change from Saturday, A band of rain was coming across the country, we were hoping that it would hold off but after a dry practice run it started raining. This was a my first drive in wet conditions for a number of years so I took it handy and picked up another 8 points, Enda had now picked up four maximum ten point scores from four starts. Eugene was leading having started 5 events, things were going to be interesting at the last two weekends. The other thing that was looking good was on Saturday I moved closer to Eugne’s pace finishing only 0.27s behind, I was getting hopeful of beating Eugene before the year was out.
Kirkistown racing track was the next venue. Two different layouts were used each day, driving on a track with runoff areas and gravel traps allowed me to increase my confidence with the brakes. I had a busy weekend inlcuding a baulked run behind run behind Frank Nuttall in his Graham, it was learned later in the year that this was going to be Frank’s final season of competitive motosport on the hills, he will be greatly missed, although he has said he will still be involved on the organising side. But back to class 5 Enda again took maximum points both days and again I get tantilisingly close to Eugene finishing 0.23s behind him on Saturday. Being too cautious on my first run on Sunday and having a half spin on the second run left me 2.44 seconds slower than him on Sunday. Saturday had the largest entry of Irish class 5 cars with six entered, Class 5 is an exact equivalent of the Northern Irish class 13, there were two Formula Fords form the Northern Irsih championship entered as well. The entry was down to 5 on Sunday with only one Formula Ford, John Hendy had other plans and after a difficult day with her car on Saturday Jessica Casserly decided not to run on Sunday.
The big disappointment of the last weekend at Donegal was that due to the fine weather Enda was not going to be there to claim the championship, there was a crop in the field that needed cutting. This left the championhip to be decided between Eugene and myself. On Saturday at Knokalla hill there was a delay because of timing equipment problems. Unfortunately this meant that by the time we got to the second run the rain had arrived. Eugene had beaten me on that first dry run and with that took first place in class 5 in the Connaught Competition Engines National Championship. Eugene and I agreed to one run in the wet, that was the only time I was quicker than Eugen and it did not count. The dry weather was back on Sunday. Eugene had returned to Wexford to watch a family member in a GAA final, that left Scott and local called Padraig Halvey and myself to battle for honours on the day. Halvey settled down to learning his newly purchased car, leaving the battle for first between Scott and myself. After the third run Scott was only 0.53s behind me and he was hopeful of beating me. I put and end to that by doing the next run 1.05s faster, Scott did not improve on his third run time giving me the class win by 1.58s
Eugene and I were able to count eight rounds from the nine we each competed in. Eugene took the class 5 win by 74 points to my 71, Enda’s six maximum scores from six events will make him a strong contended in next year’s championship. Scott finished on 48 points and Cillian had two maximum scores from Wexford giving him 20 points if Cillian and the Wimhurst are sufficiently repaired for 2013 he should have some good results. I am pleased with my second in class 5 for the 2012 season and hope to be out again in 2013.