The weather was dry and sunny when we got under way but rain was expected at some stage during the day. The first session included Desi McGlade making his return with a rebuilt engine in his Westfield. He seemed to have lost none of his speed.
Clarke Forsythe in his Westfield was also returning after a long absence. This car is for sale and is an extremely clean example of the marque. The details are on our web site, www.trackskills.com.
Eric Cooper, having enjoyed the experience of his first Kirkistown track day at our last event, returned again in his quick Renault Sport Megane 225. The Tyrone contingent of Johnny McFarland in his Lotus Elise and Adrian Kerr in the Cooper S were back and on a mission to enjoy themselves.
Once again, we had quite a number of first time track drivers joining our regulars. The number two group, which is for these drivers, included ex-British Quad champion, Jim Gately in his troublesome Toyota MR2. The BMW marque was well represented by Daniel Flynn, Rowan McIlveen, Jonathan McCully and Colin Anderson. We also had Robin Mercer in his TVR and Denis Lynn in his Porsche 911. Denise Hughes was having her first track experience in her Renault Megane and after some helpful instruction from saloon racing ace, Greer Wray, she got going well. Group three included the Megabussa brigade. These included Paul Keys, Roy Stewart and Jeff Rutherford. Shamus Jennings was in his beautiful Porsche 997 GT3 RS and Ali-Reza Afrasiabi was back in his Porsche 911 Turbo.
By the time the third group was on its second run, the rain had arrived. The track was getting slippery. We decided to have the lunch break at this time, in the hope that the rain would ease. Alas, that wasn’t the case and when we resumed, if anything, the rain was heavier. However, the poor weather did not seem to deter many, not even the open top Westfield brigade and the sessions were full for the remainder of the afternoon. One or two did leave but, to be fair, they were folk who were attending for the first time and in rather powerful and expensive, rear wheel drive cars.
I was very impressed with the aforementioned Porsche drivers, Shamus and Ali, who seemed oblivious to the weather! Conn Williamson continued to delight in his glorious sounding Sunbeam Tiger. The Honda Civic contingents, who are planning to race at Kirkistown next year, got some valuable wet running experience. As the afternoon progressed, the rain eased and drivers commented that there was a surprising amount of grip available. I cannot emphasise enough how much can be learned on a wet day. It brings to the fore the necessity for smooth inputs from the driver in every area, whether braking, acceleration or steering. Corner lines, which may be different in the wet compared to the dry, become so important for a quick lap.
The quote of the day goes to Johnny McFarland who, having found good grip and then gone in too hard at the hairpin, declared he was, “walking like a moth!” As he said this, he strode off with his legs about a foot apart. I made the mistake of asking what he meant… By 16:30 the rain had been completely stopped for some time and things were running smoothly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to last and a call came through on the radio of a massive accident at the hairpin. A driver had wrecked his BMW M3. Fortunately, no one else was involved. At the time of writing it seems a component failure was to blame but that isn’t confirmed. The ambulance was mobilised and the driver, who had got out of the car by himself, was taken to hospital.
Two of our medically trained marshals accompanied the driver and his dad in the ambulance, as it left for the Ulster Hospital. That left us with no medical cover and as such, the day came to an end. We always praise the marshals and the St John ambulance crew but on this day they earned our praise in spades. They did a fantastic job.
The driver was released from hospital the following day, battered and bruised but with no broken bones or internal injuries. His accident highlights the fact that, no matter how many precautions are taken, motorsport is dangerous and not to be undertaken lightly or without respect for safety measures. His BMW, although badly damaged, protected him well as did the bucket seat he was strapped into. Thanks to all who got in touch, concerned with his well being. It was a truly mixed day and one that tested our systems to the limit. It is good to know that everything that we needed was in place and will continue to be so in future.