Rory Cummins: Drivers
August 20, 2012 by Rory Cummins
Over the years in Mondello there have been many different types of driver. There have been those who burst onto the scene, burned bright and faded fast, some have been dedicated clubmen who have been there for the craic and the joy of racing all carried along by the distant hope that they might sneak a win. Others have been quick but just not quick enough, a win here and there but inconsistent in their approach.
But then there are those who have become the benchmark, wins beyond number, championships in a row, consistently the fastest. We all know who they are because they are the ones that we moan about. The Irish might love a winner but we hate them even more. They have earned our respect, begrudging as it is.
So who are these individuals who have dared to be put up on a pedestal. I am not talking here about the professionals, Daly, Kennedy etc, I am talking about the drivers who have competed at home. They might have gone to England for a few seasons but home is where the heart is and they have become the pacesetters.
I have compiled a list, its not a top ten because I’m not that brave/stupid and I might not even get to ten, but these are the drivers who have been the dominant force in Irish motor racing over the last twenty odd years. Some of you probably wont agree but hey ho, you cant please everybody. So here we go….
(a) John Keaney : Now one of the elder statesmen of the sport and seemingly retired, Johns career spans Mondellos entire existence. The winner of the first race there in a Mini he went on to define GT racing first in the TMC and then the MDGT. In the 90’s he moved into saloons and arguably more intense competition. Here he was still a force to be reckoned with driving a powerful Sierra Cosworth. When he moved with the rule changes into a Peugeot 306 still in the familiar Dunlop and Sasha colours, the unsorted car combined with front wheel drive dropped him down the order. This car was quickly sold and the newly emerging RT2000 was his final racing class. Always quick but never in a demonstrative manner John never indulged in the more robust driving tactics of his competition but then again he never really needed to.
(b) Brian Hearty : During the 1990’s Formula Vee was the burgeoning class in Irish racing. Huge entries coupled with tight competition at the front made it the place to be. From 1995 to 2000 only one mans name appeared on the champions trophy, Brian Hearty. 6 championships in a row in one of the most hotly contested classes we have seen. That sort of sums it all up really but there is a footnote. In 2001 Brian “retired” briefly but quickly decided to race in Formula Sheane. Two more championships and numerous race wins followed, and that’s in his retirement! Class act all the way.
(c) Jonathan Fildes : Exploding onto the scene in 1995 with a frantically driven Peugeot 205, Jonny was evidence of the old adage ‘whats in the cat is in the kitten’. The son of racing stalwart Ken he quickly marked himself out as one to watch. Strong performances in less than competitive cars led to a move to a Formula Opel. His first foray into single seaters didn’t really work out and he found himself in an RT2000. Dominance followed in a championship that already had some fierce competitors. Jonny took himself of to the UK Renault Clio championship and running on a fraction of a budget he won and managed to swing a drive in the Porsche Cup. He finished fourth in another under funded season but that was it for his international career. Home again and into a Dunlop Supercar where he once again proved the man to beat. These days he amuses himself with Kens Formula 2 Ralt and the occasional drive in Jackie Cochranes Tiger. He is always quick and always spectacular but with Jonny that seems to be his default setting.
(d) Michael Cullen : Michaels competitive edge always seemed to be a little bit harder than everyone elses although you wouldn’t know it to speak to him outside the car. Perhaps this edge was sharpened in the cut and thrust of European Metros in the eighties, wherever it was when he arrived home to race in the early nineties he was immediately a force to be reckoned with. Two championships in 1992 with the Joe Murray prepared Peugeot 205 and then he continued this success into the following year combining the Peugeot with a drive in the newly formed Fiat Uno championship. That year he contested three championships and won the lot. He carried on this double campaign for the next few years and was always winning races and on the pace. He now races a Ferrari in Europe and has proved his talent there as well. Michael had his detractors over the years but none of them ever argued with his speed.
(e) Vivion Daly : In a time when Irish motor racing was reasonably unpolished Vivions team always looked the most professional in the paddock. He always seemed to get the big sponsors but then again he always looked after them. Sure the Daly name helped but his speed was there for all to see. In the crazy competitive world of Irish Formula Ford he was always at the front and a hard man to race against. He spent a year in UK Formula Renault and then moved home to contest the inaugural Irish Formula Opel . Over the next few years he proved himself to be the benchmark for the young chargers who always seemed to pip him to the championship. In the late 90’s he finally got the championship he deserved but was cruelly taken from us too early. When you raced against Vivion you knew you had been in a fight.
That’s it then, the men who were the talking points of racing in Ireland over the last couple of decades. They might have been big fish in a small pond but everything was thrown at them and they still kept winning.