Leinster Trophy Blog- with Barry Rabbitt
September 20, 2013 by Barry Rabbitt
The Leinster Trophy weekend has always been the pinacle of the racing season in Ireland. It is steeped in history and folklore with stories of Irish and visiting drivers tussling to take home the most sought after prize in Irish racing. While I was at the now legendary 1982 meeting when a certain yellow helmet wearing Brazilian took the crown I was a mere 2 year old toddler – it was in the early 90′s that my real memories of this fantastic event were formed. I can remember the Formula Ford and Opel Lotus drivers – who were nothing short of heroes to me at the time – leaving nothing on the table in their hunt to put their name on a most illustrious list. Fast forward to 2012 and in what seemed like a heartbeat I had been given a car in which to try add my name, I remember at the time being ecstatic at just being in the Leinster Trophy race, in the end I finished an incredible runner up in what was effectively my single seater debut. I thought that was it, I had my chance and was not able to take it. So, a few weeks ago when word started to leak out that the MicksGarage.com Formula Sheane championship – in which I was now doing a season for FCR Media racing – had managed to secure the rights to race for the trophy once more I was thrilled, it was the second chance I never really expected. Going into the Leinster Trophy event on the second weekend of September we had had a torrid time in the GoldenPages.ie backed car. After leading the last 3 races at Kirkistown only to suffer mechanical issues I was hopeful but not exactly optimistic, this was compunded by 4
independent CV joint failures in testing and a crash in the last championship race on Saturday. As I left the track on Saturday evening with the guys at FCR Media Racing putting back together a rather second hand looking car I was full sure I wasn’t going to be in the hunt the following day. Sunday morning came around and it was grey, wet and windy. After testing in the wet during the week this didn’t quite bother me so I set off to Mondello and when I arrived the guys had the motorsport.ie backed car sitting ready to go for qualifying….or so we thought. About 2 minutes before the session was due to start we spotted a problem with the car that had been missed in the overnight rebuild from Saturdays race damage. Without going into specific boring details the front left wheel was basically hanging off…not ideal on a sodden race track that had grip characteristics of that of an ice rink. Despite efforts to remedy the problem it became apparant that we would miss the entire session unless we left the pit garage immediately and hope for the best. No sooner had I left the pits than a red flag was thrown, thus meaning I was going to have even less track time to feel out the tricky conditions. In the end I would have to live with getting just one ‘flying lap’ and I use the term loosely as it was little more than a banker lap. I was expecting another bite at the cherry but the chequered flag was thrown over a minute early…which wasn’t great! I was surprised to find that I had still managed to make it onto the outside of the second row.
With the car back in the garage everyone set about fixing the wheelbearing issue, Coilin Clinton who was merely a spectator until then stepped in, along with FCR mechanic Richie O’ Mahony and my good mate David Clarke and between them did some mega work to sort out the main issue and some other smaller ones they found along the way. In the mean time the heavy wind had driven away the rain and it was looking like we would get a fully dry race.
As I went to the grid for the race I was conscious of a few things. The main one being that despite the trojan work of those named above I didn’t have a fully sorted and dialled in car in terms of handling and outright pace, therefor I knew I needed to make the most of the early stages and get to the front before things settled down. On pole position was Tristin Quinn with Kevin Sheane alongside him. Beside me was the real danger man in my eyes, Brian Hearty. I’d been making great starts lately and I knew I needed another one, which is exactly what I got when the lights on the Rush Movie liveried bridge went out. I immediately pulled in on the two on the front row and had a look to the outside before being squeezed slightly by Sheane. I settled in behind him and Quinn as we rounded turn 2 and headed towards Duckhams (or whatever its called these days). Sheane was leading but defending heavily from Quinn, both of whom were covering the inside line. I took a more conventional approach and went around the outside at the first apex which put me ahead of Quinn and up to P2, I then continued around the outside of the lead car but figured he would probably push me wide on exit so settled in behind. As expected Sheane started to defend heavily once he saw me behind, his apex speeds quite obviously reduced drastically in a bid to push me back into the chasing pack. A strategy I have no problem with and one I would and have used myself. For most of the international loop of the opening lap he continued this tactic and I figured he would almost certainly do it at Dunlop corner which leads onto the straight, so I made sure to get a tight exit out of the fast Irish Ferries corner which leads up to Dunlop, this made him go in tight and I was able to take a wide entry, I slowed
the car way more than necessary as I knew he would most likely ‘park it on the apex’ to impede my momentum and that’s exactly what he did, however as a result of slowing more than needed I was further back than I should of been so his slow apex speed played into my hands and I drew alongside as we exited the corner. Now on the inside along the pitwall I waited for the certainty of a squeeze which duly came but with the inside line for the approaching turn one I had the move all but completed and actually finished the opening lap in the lead. Once at the front I put my head down and put in a decent lap to extend my lead but I could feel the car was, as expected, not 100% in handling terms and to continue to push at that pace was likely to end in me making a mistake and potentially losing the lead so I backed the pace off a bit which allowed Sheane and Hearty to close back up. Through the faster corners (Duckhams, Lola and Irish Ferries) I could see I was quicker so I concentrated on using those corners to manage the small gap. In the mirrors I could see that Hearty was not trying too hard to pass Sheane which was smart on his behalf as that would of helped me get away. Sheane made a few moves around in my mirror but none that were enough to worry me, though on one lap he did manage to draw alongside me on the run to turn one, I covered the inside and braked right at the limit – going down an extra gear than normal to slow the car – and he went straight on into the gravel. This was not the relief it may have appeared from the outside as it now released Hearty, as I said earlier, the real danger man, with a full two laps of the 2.5 mile track to go. I had Sheane figured out but Hearty was an unknown and that was worrying, though I knew he wouldn’t make any stupid lunges etc. As I crossed the line to start the final lap, I said out loud to myself ‘lap of your life, lap of your life’. I normally never do anything like this so you can tell how I was thinking inside the cockpit. I took it real handy through turn one making sure to get a strong exit, I pushed it through Duckhams, as the following corner – the Esses – which leads onto the international loop was where I was most vulnerable, suffering from huge understeer. I got through there with Hearty now right behind me but up next was Lola, another of the corners where I had a slight advantage which gave me breathing room all the way through 7a and 7b. The acute left hander, Honda, was the last real overtaking opportunity for Hearty so I covered that slightly but I was just far enough ahead to mean he didn’t try too hard. Then through Irish Ferries I pushed reasonably hard to ensure I had some breathing room at Dunlop, which I proceeded to take at little more than a snails pace. As I came onto the straight I could see (almost) everyone on the pitwall waving and cheering and I crossed the line just 2/10ths ahead of Hearty. I slowed and looked to the left and could see my friends and family leaping around in the grandstand. It was a moment I will never forget.
When I got back to the pits there was a huge crowd gathered at parc ferme and the first man up to me was Brian Hearty which shows
just what a sport he is, as too, did 3rd place man Enda O Connor. It was all a bit shouty and jumpy after that and after the interviews etc I returned to the FCR Garage to an ecstatic team before the Leinster Trophy made its way down and into my hands. I took a few minutes to read as many of the names as possible and it’s quite a list!
I would like to thank everyone who helped me.. my parents Jim and Ann Marie, my uncle Liam, my brothers Shane and Keith and sister Kyna. My long suffering girlfriend Andrea. Not to mention the guys at FCR Media Paul, Nathan, Jennifer, Keith, Richie and stand ins Coilin Clinton and Dave Clarke. A special mention too to motorsport.ie’s Leo Nulty who supplied the car and support all year. And finally to my sponsors GoldenPages.ie, Motorsport.ie, Deliver-It.ie and Thomas J Graham Sand + Gravel.
Most of the above and more then joined us at The Naas Court Hotel for quite the party!