The final car race meeting of 2023 at Kirkistown Circuit took place on Saturday 21st October. Although there were only eleven races, the competition was excellent.
Because of a cancelled race earlier in the season the Libre Saloons and GTs had three races. Thus, they opened proceedings, had a race in the middle and then closed the meeting. In qualifying, one of the favourites and a title challenger, Peter Baxter, from Lurgan, suffered an engine compartment fire and withdrew from the meeting. Race one caught out many drivers on slick tyres when a shower of rain came on at the start. Paul Parr, from Newry, had anticipated the rain and had wets on his Seat Supercopa. He duly ran away from the field. Patrick Corbet, from Castlewellan, in a similar machine finished second. Gareth Blaine, from Downpatrick, took a careful third place in another Supercopa. This was enough to secure the 2023 Championship title. Joe Yates, from Holywood, was the first GT home.
In the second Libre Saloons and GTs race, the results were exactly the same, in both classes, as race one. In race three, although the Libre Saloon result was the same as the previous two, the battle at the front between Parr and Corbett was intense, with Parr just shading it by 0.237 seconds at the finish! John Newport, from Armagh, was the first GT home.
The Randalstown Rocket, Alan Davidson, won the first Formula Ford race, after Ballymena’s David McCullough was excluded for a technical infringement. This left the championship more open. Going into race two, Davidson was 16 points behind McCullough with 21 on the table. However, McCullough made no mistakes, leading from start to finish, to win the race and the 2023 championship.
The Kirkistown Minis fielded 12 cars and provided two excellent races. In race one Darren Gilmore, from Lisnaskea, had a race long battle with Peter Bennett, from Tandragee, with the decision going in Gilmore’s favour. Ben McFall, from Bushmills, battled his way through from sixth place to take the final podium spot. In race two, the results were reversed, with Bennett taking the win from Gilmore. Paul Stewart, from Belfast, was third.
The Modi-5-Cup Mazdas fielded a record equalling ten cars, which bodes well for next season. They ran with five Kirkistown Fiestas. In race one, already crowned 2023 Champion, Francis Allen, from Moira, dropped down the order in the first three laps from first to fourth. Rob Kennedy, from Crossmaglen, rose up the order from fourth to second to challenge the leader, David Cousins, from Ballywalter. These two swapped places right to the flag, with Cousins less than one second ahead. Newry man, Damian Moran, took third place. In the Fiestas, Megan Campbell, from Strangford, spun out of the lead on lap two. However, over the next seven laps, she fought her way back to the front to win from Helensburg driver, Stephen Walker, and Paul Larkham, from Carrickfergus.
The Modi-5-Cup reverse the grid for the second race. It took David Cousins eight laps to pass Francis Allen for the lead. Rob Kennedy also passed Allen a lap later but lost the place again on lap twelve. He was also passed by Damian Moran, who took another third place. Megan Campbell took another win in the Fiestas, from Stephen Walker. This time Henry White, from Richhill, took third place.
The Roadsports only had seven entrants over two classes but the racing was mighty, particularly between Stephen Larkham, from Ballycarry, and his uncle, Jim Larkham, from Newtownabbey, These two swapped places for the lead throughout race one. In the end, on the final corner, Jim made an audacious move around the outside of Stephen and then won the drag race to the finish line. Mike Ward, from Youghal, took third place. In the N.I.7even class there was a great battle between Ethan Campbell, from Strangford, Allen Millar, from Loughgall and Brian Crawford, from Lisburn. It, too, was resolved on the final lap in favour of Campbell. Crawford was second with Millar third. In race two, it took six laps for Stephen Larkham to establish a lead, which he would extend to the end while his Uncle Jim and Mike Ward were tripping over each other. At the finish, Mike Ward took second place ahead of Jim. It was genuinely good to see Crossgar’s Barney Casement finish in fourth place. He has had little luck in 2023. In the N I 7evens, Allen Millar won, ahead of Brian Crawford, with Ethan Campbell third.
It has been a good season at Kirkistown. This weekend’s Sprint on Saturday 28th brings the car competition to a close.
The 500MRCI would like to thank all the marshals, medics, officials, competitors and spectators who attended the circuit this year. We all look forward to a cracking 2024 season.
The Championship Awards Evening takes place at the Beechlawn Hotel, Dunmurry, on Saturday 6th January 2024. This isn’t just for the winners. Everyone is welcome. Tickets available from the 500MRCI.
Words: DONAL O’NEILL/500 MRCI Photos: JIMMY GRAHAM & STEVE HAWTHORN [Images must not be used in any way without prior written consent of the photographer]