Testing Times- with Barry Rabbitt.
February 24, 2013 by Barry Rabbitt
It’s been a busy few weeks for me in my Race2Race.com role of tutor and mentor. For those of you unaware I am involved in the Race2Race.com competition which each year gives one lucky and talented winner the oppurtunity to race a saloon car with all expenses paid. 2012 was the first year of the competition and South Dublin novice John Greaney, 21, not only took the competition prize but went on to win the ITCC Touring Title his first ever year of racing!
Following this success John has received quite a bit of publicity and was even named alongside BTCC race winner Aaron Smith as a finalist in The Echo sports-person of the year awards recently. This publicity has allowed John to raise a budget to continue his career in motorsport.
Originally the plan was to contest the 2013 Elf Renualt Clio Cup Championship which supports the BTCC. A test was arranged with 2012 champions Pyro Motorsport at Donington Park and myself and John jumped on a flight to the UK. My role for the testday was to set a baseline time and provide tuition to John over the day. After many years of watching the Clios I was delighted to finally get the opportunity to get behind the wheel. Despite tricky wet weather conditions John got to grips with the factory built race machines quickly and was inside top 10 pace by the end of the day. The attraction to race in the prestigious championship was great but we felt that having to learn the UK circuits in such a high end championship may not be wise so we began looking for a suitable training ground.
I have a few friends in the UK who race in the BRSCC Mazda MX5 series and everyone of them had nothing but high praise for the series and cars so we set up a test with championship front runners TrackToys Racing in one of their cars at Donington just before Christmas. While there was no rain that day the cold conditions meant that the track was completely iced over and the test day could not begin until the midday sun began to thaw out the black ice. I drove the car quite a bit that day myself and was blown away by what fun these relatively modest machines delivered. With ‘only’ 130bhp on tap and threaded tyres they really should not be so good but the chassis delivers up an incredibly addictive recipe that mixes just the right amount of power and grip. By the end of the day myself and John were sold and a deal was done to purchase the car we had tested. Modest running costs and entries that sometimes exceed 100 cars means that the MX5 series is the ideal place for a novice driver to learn his craft. In many ways it reminded me of my own ‘training’ in Fiat Unos at Mondello were 40-50 cars would regularly enter, which incidently I hope the new Mondello Fiesta Zetec series can emulate.
Last Saturday we did a test day at Rockingham in the MX5 and once again John got to grips relatively quickly with a new circuit and made continuous improvement throughout the day to set times that should put him on the fringes of the top 10 in this incredibly competitive series. As I write this I am just home from testing the car at an opentrack.co.uk track day at Oulton Park on Friday, unfortunately John was unable to make the test due to work commitments so I was dispatched to drive the car as Track Toys had a number of their regular drivers in attendance and it would be the ideal opportunity to compare the new car to known quantities and tweak the set up slightly. Having only driven the shorter Fosters layout of Oulton a good number of years ago while racing the Punto Abarths I was really looking forward to giving the full International loop a try. After countless laps I can honestly say that the Cheshire circuit is firmly at the top of my favourite circuit list – though tied with the original Nurburgring!
With a few weeks until the first race of the season for John I must now turn my attention back to this years Race2Race competition which is looking for its 2013 driver who can hopefully follow our 2012 winner into an exciting life as a fully funded racing driver!
The 2013 Race2Race takes place at Kylemore Karting on March 21st. Tickets are priced at €170 and are available from www.therace2race.com