Irish Formula Ford Festival Time at Mondello Park- the dash for cash!
May 31, 2014 by Leo Nulty
So it is almost time for the return of the Irish Formula Ford Festival. With the full support of the Daly family, the Vivion Daly Memorial Trophy has been commissioned and will be presented to the winner of the FF1600 final, making this the richest Formula Ford event in the world! There are also substantial cash prizes on offer to the various classes, with well over €6,000 in the kitty at this stage. Vivion’s longtime sponsor Abrakabra, have come on board as title sponsor which is quite fitting and also timely, as they launch their new logo and menu nationwide. Stephen O’Connor of Rathcoole and Clane Motor Factors deserves special mention, as he helped me obtain programme ads from many of his suppliers, and Denis Sheehan, Vivion’s longtime friend, who opened doors for me at Ababkebabra initially!
It should be a hard fought Festival, as we are blessed with plenty of talent in FF1600 in Ireland at the moment, as witnessed by
Niall Murray’s UK Festival win last October. Murray is now piloting the Motorsport Ireland/Irish Sports Council Van Diemen and on the back of a strong run, approaches this event as one of the favourites. The troubles Kevin O’Hara had with the car last year have apparently been ironed out and he is on the pace everywhere. It is by no means a foregone conclusion though as he will face some formidable opposition.
Old hands Noel Dunne and Neville Smyth are both as fast as they ever were and should be clever enough to stay out of trouble in the early stages while the young cubs go at each other perhaps! That said, Dunne dominated in Kirkistown today with two poles, two wins and two fastest laps, so maybe he will be flat out from the off!
Stephen Daly seems to be the quickest man round Mondello National at the moment, only by fractions though, so if he can carry this form to the longer International circuit, he will be right there too. Daly, like his father Dan, has an unconventional driving style. I have watched him a few times at Ford Corner at Mondello and his approach is different to all the rest. He turns in early, which for years was perceived as a big mistake here, trail brakes to an early apex, often locking the inside front and even using a hint of opposite lock. You would expect him to be late on the throttle as a result but he somehow gathers it all up and is on it straight away by mid corner! Baffles me, but the stopwatch doesn’t lie, maybe we should all try it!!
Sean Doyle’s budget has limited him to the Champion of Mondello series thus far in 2014 with just today’s race in Kirkistown (where he climbed to 4th from a lowly qualifying position,) being his only other outing. His pace and commitment have never been questioned though and he ran very strongly at the last time the Fords ran on the International Track at the Leinster Trophy in September so he can’t be discounted.
Probably the biggest news here is that former MI Young Driver of the Year Kevin O’Hara has been recruited by Hugh Reid to drive the Mondiale M88S previously piloted by Jonny McMullan. KCMG-supported O’Hara is probably one of the quickest drivers about and the Mondiale is definitely a match for the more modern machines, as witnessed by McMullan’s win at the Leinster Trophy meeting last year. O’Hara, without a full time drive this year, will be keen to make a point, especially after all the mechanical maladies he suffered at the wheel of the MI Van Diemen last year! Definitely one to watch here!
Former FF1600 Leinster Trophy winner and current WRC-2 rally contender Rob Barrable heads up a number of interlopers joining the class for this event. with his Swift SC92 rebuild not quite finished, he will line up in Morgan Dempsey’s second Van Diemen. Barrable’s former sparring partner and current Mondello National FF1600 lap record holder Patrick McKenna is chasing a drive too but front running cars seem thin on the ground, not surprising considering the cash on offer. GT ace Connaire Finn will make his FF1600 debut with ASK Racing’s ex McKenna Ray, which will be interesting as, despite his lack of single seater mileage, Finn has been quick in anything he has raced. Former Ginetta Junior pacesetter Andy O’Brien progressed well on his FF1600 debut in the ex Morgan Dempsey Swift SC92 and he should also go well, despite having had minimal running in the car.
Former Dunlop Supercar Champion Rod McGovern is also mooted to be entering- he dipped his toe in the water in 2013 for his Ford debut and is keen for more, he is also entered for Kirkistown today for a bit of practise!
Cliff Dempsey is unfortunately not able to make the trip home for this event, which means we will not see his drivers take on our own, but also crucially has sidelined Barry Rabbitt and Johnny McMullen, both of whom had hoped to do deals to run with Cliff’s crack squad over the weekend. Rabbitt will probably wheel out his ex Noel Dunne Swift SC95 but with limited mileage even the current Leinster Trophy holder is unlikely to run at the front.
Tom O’Connor should be back out in his immaculate Van Diemen RF90, and he discovered some extra pace at a recent test day so maybe
he can be a thorn in the side of the newer machines. His brother Stephen is waiting on parts for his similar machine unfortunately so will not join him on the Festival grids. With the prize money spreading down through the classes, expect some of the quick NI pilots to visit Mondello in search of class wins. Ryan Templeton brings his Crosslé 32F and new Pre ’87 Kirkistown lap record holder Mike Todd will also be out in his immaculate Mondiale M84. No doubt the entertaining Ivor Mairs will also return with his Mondiale. It is always nice to have some of the Kirkistown regulars down for this meeting- no dount there will be plenty of banter in the Clubhouse Bar on Saturday night!
Others who may join the fun, but are unconfirmed are former Formula Veester Lloyd Murphy in his Van Diemen RF91, Keith Sheehan in his father Denis’ old ’89 Reynard, Billy Crosbie, who has restored the ex Eddie Jordan Crossle 40F, Denis Sheehan himself, who having recently damaged and rebuilt his 25F, had purchased a 40F from Arnie Black.
All of the action will be covered live by Mondello.tv and subsequently shown on both Setanta Ireland and TG4, don’t miss it.
Action is on the National Circuit on Saturday and moves to the International Circuit for the Festival on Sunday. Admission is €12.50 with under 16s free.
Images from Jaytee Photographic.