On Saturday the 24th of September the final Car and Superkart race meeting of 2022 took place at Kirkistown Race Circuit. As has been the case for a number of years, sometimes by design and other times by luck, the FF1600 and Formula Vee championships had already been settled. That allowed the two big races for The Martin Donnelly Trophy (FF1600) and The Emerson Fittipaldi Trophy (Formula Vee) to be totally pure contests, unfettered by championship considerations.
The scene was set in the first FF1600 race, where the expected main contenders all made their presence felt. Dave Parks, from Ballina, set the pace for the first three laps. Ballymena’s Ivor McCullough started from sixth but took the lead on lap four! Noel Robinson, from Portadown, held second for six laps before being passed by Ivor’s brother, David, and a recovering Dave Parks. Unfortunately, the Randalstown Rocket’s afterburners were not working and Alan Davidson retired from fifth place on lap eight. Interestingly, Ian Campbell, from Dundalk, came from last on lap one to finish fifth!
If the first FF1600 was a thriller, the first Formula Vee encounter was off the scale! Anthony Cross, from Bohernabreena, had qualified on pole and many expected him to drive away from his opposition. However, Jack Byrne, from Tinahely, had other ideas and he led across the line at the end of lap one. This writer was informed that seventeen changes of lead between these two took place during an incredible race. The result went to Cross by a margin of 0.005 seconds! All of this scrapping allowed Gavin Buckley and Dan Polley, both from Dublin, along with Donal Downey, from Naas, to be right on the heels of the top two, with Buckley half a second behind Byrne and just ahead of Polley and Downey, in that order.
And so on to the main events.
The Emerson Fittipaldi Trophy race came first, as the eleventh race of the day, and it was mighty! The same five challengers from race one got stuck in from lights out. At the end of lap one Cross had the lead, just, from Byrne. Buckley had risen from sixth to third and Downey was on his tail. Polley had dropped to fifth. It was soon obvious that, barring any accidents, the winner was going to emerge from this five car train. On lap five Byrne retook the lead while Buckley and Cross swapped places at almost every corner. On lap nine Cross passed both of them and Byrne got busy with Buckley. On lap twelve, Downey, who had been waiting for it all to go wrong for those in front, made his move and passed Byrne for third. By now Cross had a tiny lead, maybe a car’s length, while the three behind scrapped. Byrne passed Downey again on lap fourteen and relegated Buckley to third on the final lap. In the end, the Emerson Fittipaldi Trophy was won by Anthony Cross, by a margin of just 0.568 seconds over Jack Byrne, who was just 0.3 seconds ahead of Gavin Buckley. For his efforts, Cross was presented with a new set of tyres, supplied by Bill Adair.
Spectators had no time to lower their heart rates as the Martin Donnelly Trophy race was next. The first eight laps were as frantic as the Formula Vee races. Dave Parks was on pole and shot into the lead but David McCullough had already gone from fifth to second on lap one, passing Rob Parks, Alan Davidson and Noel Robinson. Ivor McCullough was also steaming through the field and by lap three he had passed Ian Campbell, Rob Parks, Davidson and Robinson to take third place. On lap six, Rob Parks began to climb back up the order, passing Antrim driver, Drew Stewart, for sixth. On the same lap, Ivor McCullough passed Dave Parks to make it a McCullough one – two. Two laps later, Robinson also passed Dave Parks and although the top four lapped in very close company and at great speed, nobody could challenge David McCullough successfully.
In the end, 3.8 seconds covered all four! The first three all will receive a new set of Avon tyres, supplied by Cooper Tires, at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in a few weeks time.
There was also marvellous racing in the other classes.
The first Fiesta race was red flagged twice, with the result declared after six laps. Portadown’s Michael Graham won ahead of a delighted Conor Mulholland, from Newtownabbey. Derry driver, Chris Doherty, was a close third. These three were covered by less than a second at the line.
The second outing was a more normal affair. Michael Graham took the win after eleven laps, fractionally ahead of his father, Derek. Conor Mulholland was three seconds behind in third place.
In the first combined Libre Saloons/GTs/Modi-5-Cup race, Dungiven driver, Gerard O’Connell, almost lapped the entire field in his RSR Escort. Peter Baxter, from Lurgan, finished a minute behind him but crucially won the Saloons class to take the Championship. Kells driver, David McMinn, took his diesel Seat to an excellent second place. Downpatrick driver, Gareth Blaine, was third. Ballymena’s Gregory McMillen, who is the 2021 Modi-5-Cup Champion, made a welcome return. However his car is no longer within the regulations spec and he was not racing for points. He was the first MX5 home but the win went to Moira driver, Francis Allen. Ballywalter driver, David Cousins, was classed as second and Newry driver, Damian Moran, was third.
Peter Baxter elected not to run in the second race. As in the first encounter, Gerard O’Connell, disappeared into the distance. David McMinn grabbed second place and Dundonald driver, Peter Carvill, making his first appearance in a year, grabbed third place, on the road, on lap one. On lap eight Carvill took the lead of the Saloons from McMinn. Donal O’Neill, from Nutt’s Corner, came home third. In both races, Warrenpoint driver, Paul McAlinden, took second place in the GT class to secure the GT Championship. Gregory McMillen was over two seconds a lap faster than the other MX5s, in his higher spec car. David Cousins took the official win, from Francis Allen, with Damian Moran third.
The first NI Sevens race provided a brilliant spectacle with four drivers swapping places constantly until the end of lap five. At that stage the pecking order was set but it was still incredibly close. At the flag, Graham Moore, from Newtownards, was 0.638 seconds ahead of Richard Francis, from Donaghadee. His brother, Mark, was a further half second behind, with Banbridge driver, Paul Thompson, less than half a second behind him!
The second NI Sevens race was a bit less frantic. Once again, Graham Moore took the win. This time, Paul Thompson was second and Mark Francis was third.
Newtownabbey’s Jim Larkham turned the tables on his nephew, Steven Larkham, from Ballycarry, by winning the first Roadsports race. It wasn’t without incident, as Bangor driver, John Stewart, was in the mix until contact sent him spinning to the rear of the field. Crossgar driver, Niall Fitzsimmons, also troubled Steven, taking second place for two laps mid race. Banbridge driver, Brian Elliott had a great drive, coming from ninth to finish fourth overall. In the Global Lite class, Richard Finlay, from Larne, won by the tiniest of margin (0.016 seconds) from Peter Drennan, from Navan. Kilmacanogue driver, Charlie Linanne, finished in third place.
Jim Larkham had an issue at the start of the second Roadsports race and retired. John Stewart did not start. Steven Larkham had a straightforward win from Niall Fitzsimmons. Holywood’s John Benson had fought his way through to third before retiring on the final lap. This allowed Mike Ward, from Youghal, to take the final podium place. This time, in the Global Lites, it was Jack Finlay, from Ballyclare, who took the win from Richard Finlay. Linnane was third once again.
In the Superkarts, Newtownards driver, Alan Witherow, had mixed fortunes, taking two wins in the 250cc class, with one non-finish. Craigavon driver, Brian Jones, finished second to Witherow both times and slotted into first place on the third occasion. Moira driver, Liam Fox, took third in the first two races but was demoted to fourth in the final. In that race, it was Bangor veteran, Colin Menary, who chased Witherow and Jones home. Stephen McAdam, from Richhill, was the other podium finisher, taking second in race two.
In the 125cc class, Ross Witherow, from Newtownards, was unbeatable! Danny Hyland, from Ballinasloe, chased him home on each occasion. In the first two races, Gilford driver, Scott Greenaway, took third place, while in the last run it was Hillsborough veteran, Noel Lindsay, who completed the podium.
On the day, the weather was kind, the racing was exciting and the trophies were won by deserving victors. Now we have to wait to March 2023 to start all over again.
None of the racing would happen without the marshals and officials, who are all volunteers, and the 500MRCI, who promote the racing and own Kirkistown, are extremely grateful for their continued support.
The annual awards dinner and celebration will take place in the Beechlawn Hotel in Dunmurry on Saturday 7th January 2023. If you want to meet and mix with the 2022 Champions, you are very welcome. Tickets can be purchased from the 500MRCI office at kirkistown.
Words: DONAL O’NEILL | 500 MRCI Photos: JIMMY GRAHAM