Motormouth’s Season Preview- with Leo Nulty
March 5, 2014 by Leo Nulty
So, just a couple of weeks to go to the start of the racing season- I can’t wait! For race fans, the return to Mondello’s traditional St Patrick’s weekend season opener is fantastic but I suppose it is slightly tougher on competitors and teams, having to have the cars ready a month earlier than in recent years.
2014 already has all the hallmarks of a great season. Mondello.tv will be covering all rounds at the Kildare venue- and as you will have seen if you watched the coverage from the Formula Ford Festival, the quality of the coverage is now excellent. In fact, you didn’t hear it from me, but there is a pretty strong chance that Mondello.tv may appear on terrestrial tv this year too! The Patch Tyre Equipment Fiesta Championship continues to grow, 41 drivers registered last year and over 50 raced (with the odd one-off etc). 15 Fiesta hopefuls have already completed the Motorsport Ireland licence course at Mondello so far this year so do you don’t have to be Walter White to work out that the grids will be packed to capacity this year. This can only be good for motorsport as a whole as some of these guys will surely graduate to other classes in the future too. Plans are afoot to not just catch, but also to name and shame the rule benders too. The amount of rule bending attempted in the class in 2013 was nothing short of sickening, but happily, most were caught. In 2014, there will be even more eligibility checks and those found not to comply will automatically lose 40 championship points, as well as both driver and technical details being subsequently published on the championship website in a new “Name & Shame” initiative. If the class is policed correctly, and my instinct is that it will, then it is a wonderful class to learn to race. Cars seem to be changing hands for just under €3k, which is not much for a turnkey racecar capable of challenging for wins.
Formula Vee, under the leadership of new chairman Ivan Casey, have been putting a major push on for new drivers and by the look of it, they have been pretty successful. The announcement of the “Finol Star Of Tomorrow” “C” championship can only help and a number of starter cars have changed hands recently so that should be worth watching. National champion Adam Macaulay had his car for sale but still has it so don’t be surprised if he decides to defend his title. Avanti Sport’s Kevin Grogan tested a FF1600 over the winter but one suspects he has unfinished business at the sharp end of Vees after his dominant performance at the last round of the 2013 series. At the recent pre season test day, the Vee Association put on a huge effort to help first timers- with tuition and driving tips during the morning of the test. This went extremely well and there were many new faces and cars, which is great. Let’s just hope there are none of the traditional Vee scrutiny issues to put off these newcomers.
2014 also sees the return of a Mondello Park FF1600 championship for the first time in many years. I grew up watching FF1600s battling round the National Circuit so I am looking forward to this one. Sean Doyle is one of the first to have thrown his hat in the ring and stays with Morgan Dempsey’s MCR squad, although he moves to a newer Van Diemen chassis. Neville Smyth has also shown an interest as has Noel Dunne. With those three onboard there won’t be any easy wins in the series! MI Young Driver Niall Murray will also compete in the ex Kevin O’Hara MI Van Diemen, and will be hoping to put his recent controversies behind him with some strong performances. At the time of writing there is no news from the O’Hara camp but he does have a competitive Van Diemen in the shed at home so he may appear out to prove a point! Former Ginetta Junior Champion Andy O’Brien was also spotted testing a Swift SC92 at Mondello recently and if the car is up to it, he should be capable of raising a few eyebrows too. There will also be classes for pre ’93, Pre’90 etc . The winner of the Champion of Mondello title will receive an expenses paid trip to the FF Festival in Brands Hatch in October,
including ferry, entry, tyres etc. Mondello will also run their June Event as a two day Irish Formula Ford Festival, with some interest from across the water already- hopefully there will be sufficient numbers to run this with heats, semis and a final, just like the good old days!! The winner of the Final will receive the new Vivion Daly Trophy- a nice initiative to remember the man who was the one to beat in Formula Ford for much of the eighties!
Can anyone beat the BMWs? That’s the question everyone has been asking about the ITCC after Erik Holstein and Dave O’Brien steamrollered all the Hondas into submission in 2013! Many, Holstein included, are convinced the answer is yes, and Rob Butler did manage to slay the Bavarian machines once in his well driven Civic- but they do look like they are a class above the rest. Series organiser Brian Sexton has his long awaited Honda powered Lexus almost ready to go- although we were beginning to think it would be eligible for Future Classics by the time it appeared! Sexton is quick and experienced and it remains to be seen if his unusual car choice will hamper or help him in the battle at the front of the field. Brian Fitzpatrick has bought an immaculate Seat Supercopa and although at the time it is unclear whether he plumps for ITCC or the GT class, this car should certainly be able to challenge the BMW brigade. We know that similar cars have lapped the Mondello National well under the magic minute so if it appears out in ITCC, there will be a rush to the grandstand to see that battle!
A few technical issues probably cost Brian Hearty the 2013 Formula Sheane championship and having spoken with him recently, he is keener than ever to redress that balance this season. Brian is no spring chicken but his speed and commitment are unquestioned. This makes him a perfect yardstick to evaluate the younger drivers in the class. If you can run with, or even beat the Dundalk man, you are definitely no slouch. Kevin Sheane will doubtless be back to defend his title and Robbie Allen and Keith Hogg have the pace to run at the front too. Former Uno Champion Coilin Clinton has also purchased a Sheane and it will be interesting to see how he progress on his transition to single seater racing.
Connaire Finn dominated the inaugural GT Championship in 2013 and returns for more in his Ginetta this season. Pat McBennett has worked hard on his Honda powered Elise over the winter though and will be keen to close the gap. ASK Racing should be back in force and I hear they have been buying up any T cars they can find after Vin O’Reilly and Pete Murray had so much fun with them last year. There are stories of a few former RT2000/Dunlop supercars coming back out but then we hear that every year so we will have to wait and see! John Cardoo performed giant killing acts in his immaculate Mini last year but the car is now for sale- no doubt he has a plan for its replacement!
Future Classics did well in year one and seem to have attracted even more interest for this season, with a few more Unos, possibly a Punto (don’t mention the war) and even the daddy of them all from back in the day, a 3 litre Capri joining in the fun! Expect to see more Peugeot 205s out, a 16v Mk2 Golf and possibly a few unusual machines if they decide to run an invitation class. Ian Thornton did all the winning in 2013 but will likely have to work a little harder this year to stay at the front.
The HRCA will be back for more in 2014 and if Dave Kelly returns in his beautiful Crosslé-BMW 9S, it is hard to see him being beaten. The introduction of the Joe Flynn Trophy last year, for MGBs, Midgets and Austin Healy sprites, was successful and should attract a few more this year.
Leastone have just announced their Leastone 1000 and FF1600 hotshoe Kevin O’Hara tested it last weekend and came away super impressed. “Proper piece of kit”, he reckoned, “and I would not be surprised if it won a Libre race outright!” That’s talk that will interest the likes of Libre frontrunners Martin Daly and Cian Carey, both of who would be well up for the battle! We will have to wait and see who pilots the attractive new machine for round one before we make any predictions!
Global GT Lights have elected to race just once at Mondello Park so we won’t see much of them. Strykers have been quiet of late but no doubt perennial pacesetter Alan Watkins will be out to defend yet another title- it remains to be seen if Alan Auerbach and Dave Griffin, both of whom have shown flashes of serious pace, can remove Watkins from the throne!!