Motormouth Tries Touring Cars! – with Leo Nulty.
May 16, 2014 by Leo Nulty
I pretty much retired from racing at the end of 2011. It wasn’t a conscious decision, just something that kind of happened. I had become more involved with Mondello and once Motorsport.ie took off, I did not have as much free time as I had enjoyed previously. Before I knew it, two years had elapsed and with my commitments to Mondello.tv, it was unlikely that I would be back behind the wheel anytime soon. This, despite the fact that I own at least four race cars- I say at least because I never know the exact tally of my fleet!
Anyway, fast forward to early 2014 and I have a small health scare. Turns out to be nothing, thankfully but makes me decide I want to do a race! Cue Barry Rabbitt who suggests doing the Leinster Motor Club’s annual race at Bishopscourt in his ex Race2Race Integra. All sounded perfect- months away, competitive car, loads of time to get fit and test etc. Leo being Leo, though, suddenly it was mid April and the race was only a few weeks away. I entered and applied for my MI licence and dug out the suit and helmet, as well as cleaning out, taxing and insuring the long suffering camper. I had managed to lose the guts of a stone since my initial decision, so thankfully the suit fitted- there was a time when I thought the belt had shrunk over the winter, every year! Reality dawned in the run up to the race that I have never been around Bishopscourt in anything and that I had never raced a 200bhp saloon, nor one equipped with a limited slip differential! “It will be no bother to you” said everyone, “You’ll fly!” Being honest , I was not so sure. I thought in Mondello, with a bit of testing, I would be competitive but Bishopscourt, from any onboard I had viewed, looked like it was all about commitment. Barry brought the car to Mondello on the Wednesday before the event and I did a few laps of the loop. It was relatively easy enough to drive but had a vibration in the left through Lola corner and felt a bit unstable coming down the kink into 7a and b, which had me worried!! Barry did a few laps and concurred so off he went with the car. Donedeal showed a couple of new driveshafts for sale so Barry picked them up and fitted them as well as new track rod ends and a full setup. Somehow, despite the lack of sleep both he and the car were back at Mondello at 9am the next morning and three laps were enough to tell him the car was way better.
Having a corporate event on the Friday evening meant we could not leave until Saturday morning so the alarm went off at 04:30. Bleary eyed and half asleep, Jenny and I clambered into the camper and began the trek to Bishopscourt. We stopped at Lusk services in search of coffee, only to find that they had not yet opened, so we kept going. The camper does about 30mpg at 60mph and about 15mpg at 70mph- so we kept it at 60ish all the way. When we arrived, Barry was already there and had kept us a space beside his race van. It was beside the Stryker area as the ITCC defined paddock area was packed- so there had been words the previous night! We parked up, got connected to the power and got the kettle on- always a good first step! Felt weird seeing my name on the programme- had been a while! (Delighted to have been able to run #27 too!) The car flew through scrutiny and before I knew it, it was time for our one and only practise session. As I was getting strapped in, the rain began to fall. It didn’t really bother me as I have always loved the rain- but I had no idea what to expect from the car. Despite telling myself to do a few slow laps to learn the track and
get used to everything, I found myself pretty much flat out straight away! This was probably as late entry Keith Rabbitt had charged out of assembly and up through a few cars to glue himself to my back bumper- obviously I was a threat! I let Keith by after a lap or two and decided to follow him. I have to say, his commitment left me highly impressed. He was totally committed through the ultra fast turn one in particular. Luckily for me, Barry’s car had more poke, especially in fifth gear, so I could follow him round the quick stuff and then get up behind him again on the main straight. Once I was up to speed, I went by and got the head down, but Keith hung on, getting some impressive angles in my rear view mirror. There was a slight misfire on two right handers, which I reported to Barry when I returned to the paddock after the session. Barry said that the oil surge sometimes starves the Vtec system of oil so he topped it up. That apart, I was happy with the car, the balance was certainly spot on, with big high speed slides being very easy to handle and the wandering feeling I had experienced in Mondello totally gone.
Next up it was qualifying time and I let them all take to the track before heading out and having a go. It was bone dry this time and it soon became apparent that the balance the car had in wet conditions was not as good in the dry. Once the tyres got heat into them the car began to understeer. I had worked out that instead of closing the throttle fully, like I would have in the Puntos, if I kept a small bit of power on, then it kept the diff engaged and helped turn in greatly. Ironically, lifting off made the front wash out, the opposite of what you would expect. I headed to the pits and Barry stiffened the rear- but not too much as I was wary of the back end biting me though the quick stuff. I rejoined but on the closest I got to a clear lap, I saw Dave O’Brien’s M3 coming at high speed so stayed out of his way. Chequered flag and it was back into the paddock to find that I had qualified P2, just three tenths shy of Keith, who must have been on the doorhandles again! Having had a chat with Barry though, and watched the onboard coverage, we were confident that we had enough pace to take the win. That was it for the day so we retired to the camper for some food and a few tinnies. Incredibly the circuit bar was not open when we walked down at 7, but when we returned later it was in full swing, with most of the paddock in there for a frothy ale or two. The stories flowed and apparently I took two bets of €50 that I would win the following day. Unfortunately we couldn’t subsequently remember who took the bets- they most likely made themselves scarce on Sunday!
Up and at ‘em for Sunday morning, bit of brekkie and a shower and we were good to go. Cregor had specifically ordered a healthy breakfast from Jenny the night before- Greek Yoghurt, chopped fruit, nuts and honey. He never showed for it though and I later saw him staggering round the paddock with the remains of a breakfast roll in his hand! No matter, more for me! Come race one, the rain had returned so we left the car alone and headed out to P2 on the Production Class grid. I nailed a cracker of a start but managed to grab fifth instead of third, dropping me back. This turned out to be to my advantage as Keith slowed himself through turn two by running side by side with a Touring class car and I got the run on both of them. The balance in the car was incredible and next on my shopping list was Brian Fitz in the beautiful SEAT Supercopa. I got underneath him at turn three and took off after the two G-Sport Integras of Eoghan Fogarty and Owain Drought. They were hassling the M3s of Phil Brennan and Martin Duffy and I seemed to have similar pace to them all, even managing to dispatch one of the Integras after a grassy moment at the first chicane meant we had to sit out the centre, flat-out, chicane doorhandle to doorhandle! Unfortunately though, the misfire came back, with the engine all but turning off on the apex of the last corner, resulting in me giving Barry a tantrum fuelled wave when I went by the pitwall! (It subsequently transpired that Barry was not on the pitwall, but watching from the roof of Cian Carey’s truck in the paddock, which made it even funnier!) The misfire seemed to get worse and the SEAT was looming large in my mirrors when the red flags flew after someone aquaplaned off out the back. We were not sure whether or not it was to be a result but then we were informed that it was to re run after lunch.
Incredibly, this put me 5th on the grid overall with just the four M3s ahead for the restart. I somehow matched revs to grip pretty well (more luck than good judgement I can tell you!) and managed to beat Duffy away to take fourth overall- I couldn’t believe it. The dream didn’t last too long though, as Brian Fitz fired the SEAT alongside on the approach to turn one and I was back to fifth but still leading the Production class. I stayed with the SEAT all the way round the lap, but the dreaded electrical issue came to the fore again on the last corner. This made me slow onto the straight and the two G-Sport Integras breezed by me in formation as we passed the pits. The car was superb for most of the lap but at turn two and the final corner, both right handers, it would just turn off for about a full second. On the last lap, Martin Duffy was right with me in the M3 and got the run out of the final corner. I held on for the position but more crucially, I took the all important Production win! P1 baby, winner winner chicken dinner etc etc!
I was over the moon to have scored a win and wouldn’t have cared whether or not I did race two. Barry’s mindset was a little different though- he wanted to have a real go in race two and maybe claim some bigger scalps! Needless to say I didn’t take much persuasion, so it was off to the camper to review the onboard coverage. After a swift cuppa we quickly agreed to make some radical changes to the setup. We stiffened and toe’d out the rear and also changed the front tracking slightly. The misfire was traced to a faulty master switch which Barry and Dave Clarke also replaced in record time. Then it was off to the assembly area. It was a reverse grid race so having won the first one, I was Paddy last on the 18 car grid, with plenty do. I let the pack go on the warm up lap and set about getting heat into the rears- the car felt taily but pretty controllable, definitely better than qualifying, which was the last dry session we had. With more of an idea how to launch the car off the line, I nailed another good start. Keith had me covered though and immediately closed the gap I needed, leaving me no alternative but to go for the pitwall side. Luckily for me there was a gap- the width of an Integra and not much more- and I got a great run down the outside down to turn one. I slotted in behind Robert Doherty who was leading the production cars and turned in, balancing the car on the throttle and then BOOM! I was hit heavily from the left rear, which fired me off the track and into the gravel. After a full 360, I managed to steer the car out of the gravel and back onto the track but something was quite obviously wrong with the rear suspension, so it was a slow trip back to the paddock and onto the pitwall to watch the rest of the action!
Was I annoyed? Not really if I am honest- I had a brilliant weekend. Had that incident happened in race one, I suppose my outlook would have been slightly different, but you just can’t beat a win to make all your troubles go away. I was very impressed with the ITCC as a series and it seems to be a lot more accessible than you might think. It is the ideal next step up from Patch Fiestas too, as having learnt your craft in one of them, the Production class cars require a similar driving style but are far quicker and of course, you can adjust the suspension etc. I had never driven a Honda before but I can see why they are so popular- they are available relatively cheaply, they are reliable, fast and respond well to changes.
Huge thanks to Barry Rabbitt, who made it all happen and worked tirelessly on the car all weekend. Dave “Blocker” Clarke, Shane Rabbitt and Richie Kearney, who mucked in too. To Aimee Kershaw, who loaned us the standard exhaust manifold the 2014 regs require from her beloved Civic- (A little bit of Roxy won that race Aimee!) Anthony Kelleghan for removing said manifold and Johnny JOMO for bringing it to Mondello for us. MJ Smith for travelling up just to support me! Lastly of course to Jenny for the endless supplies of tea and food all weekend as well as the usual cool pictures!
It is back to Mondello TV duties for me at the next event, the Formula Ford Festival on June 7/8- should be a great weekend.