Saturday 6th November saw the SW Adair Tyres Northern Ireland Sprint Championship paddock assemble for the last time this season as the final round of the year took place at Kirkistown. With rain forecast for mid-morning it was destined to be an interesting day for competitors and spectators alike.
With this being the sixth round of the championship dropped scores were going to be a major factor as many of the class and category championships still had to be decided and therefore a good day’s sprint was guaranteed.
Practice runs were greasy as the circuit dried after an early start. The officials on the day kept the event going quickly so as to try and get as many dry runs in for the competitors before the impending rain came through.
After two practice sessions which seemed to go in very quickly the timed runs started on a now almost dry circuit. With the arrival of a driver’s best friend, grip, times were good right from the off as everyone tried their best to get a dry run in before the incoming rain came. Despite a few drips and some very very light showers everyone managed 2 dry timed runs at least. Sadly, the rain came just as we lined up for the third runs. As the first car on the track for the third run, I can confirm that the lightest covering of rain turned the circuit from grippy to greasy in literally the time it took to complete the first lap of the circuit. There are photos from Colonial to prove this.
At the top of the time sheets Alan Cassells suffered mechanical gremlins on his first practice run and had to pack up early. Gerard O’Connell took over the mantle from Alan and just disappeared into Debtors from the start line like a man on a mission. His first timed run was also his fastest, however, his second and last timed run was also sufficient to win the event. Second place on the day went to Tony Greenan who has been a fabulous addition to the paddock in his F3 Dallara. Despite being slightly down on power to Gerard his car is a lot smaller, lighter and massively more nimble especially in the corners and tight infield section. Tony ran Gerard a close second overall and just ahead (0.61secs) of third placed John Donnelly who really has got to grips with his Pilbeam. Fourth went to Trevor Roberts who finally had a trouble-free day in his Force T2. As predicted earlier in the season, Trevor will be a force to reckon with when he gets the feel of this little pocket rocket. Fifth overall went to Patrick Roche who really mixes it amongst the class 14 cars in his OMS Sports car.
During the morning we also had the first-year students from the South Eastern Regional College level 3 Motorsport engineering course in attendance. The first-year group of students had a busy and active morning planned including a session on Scrutineering and motorsport safety which was taken by the vent scrutineers on the day Gillian Magee, Stephen McKeegan and Paddy Haveron. They also had a comprehensive session on aerodynamics and car set up with established motorsport engineer Stephen Colbert. Stephen gave them a very informative lesson on aerodynamics, car handling etc using Gerard O’Connell’s World Series car. Obviously, his lesson worked as Gerard took FTD in the car. They also looked and worked through the paddock visiting other cars and drivers during the course of the morning and had a hands-on session using Tony Greenans ex F3 Dallara as well. I wish I had been one of these students! I just wonder how long it will be until we see one of these students in an F1 pit lane or with their feet hanging out below a WRC car as they change a gearbox at a WRC event. We also have an ex-student from this course who also competes with us on occasion, Ben McKee, so there is proof that this course encourages participation.
Other notable drives on the day include Stephen Colbert who guest drove in Gerard`s RSR Mk1 Escort. Despite never having seen the car before, never mind driving it Stephen drove the escort to 6th overall!! Stephen also took 15th overall in the family sunbeam he dual drives with his father Ken in class 6b – another impressive result.
Catherine Donnelly pulled a belter of a second run to take third in class 14 and finish 10th overall. It’s great to see Catherine back in the paddock again having taken some time out at the beginning of the season to cycle from Paris to Termon, outside Carrickmore for charity. This is a slightly different type of pedalling hard for Catherine.
We also can’t not include Dan Campbell when discussing drives of the day as Dan once again drove his father Garrys Toyota Starlett and again beat him in it. This time Daniel also managed to finish 11th overall in a car he’s not used to which is a tremendous going. Daniel and Garry were 1 of 3 father and son battles on Saturday. Stephen Colbert beat his father Ken in their family Sunbeam which both drivers have pushed hard all year. We also had Norman and Stephen Harvey in another family battle in their escort Mk2 with son Stephen also taking the win here. Does anyone else notice a trend here? In terms of family battles there were also 2 father daughter battles as well. Sheryl McBride dual drove her little global GT with her father Colin McBride and managed to beat him convincingly and Kathy McDade went head to head with her father Jimmy Heaslip but Jimmy bucked the trend and turned out to the be the fastest father having beaten Kathy by a mere 4.37 seconds, although Kathy did indicate that she let him win …… One last family battle was a brother’s battle in 6A where Andrew Strain pipped Jonny Strain in Andrews 205.
So, in terms of the championships so far, all results are provisional as per Motorsport UK championship guidelines so everything from now on is based on provisional results. However, after 5 rounds Alan Cassells won the overall SW Adair Tyres Northern Ireland Sprint Championship from Gerard O`Connell with Steven Gault third and John Donnelly fourth. All these results were provisionally achieved after the previous round.
However not all the championships were so easily determined Indeed there are a few that go down to countback on previous results to determine who wins. This is the case in the Road Going saloons category where Phillip Cardy and Conor Hamill were tied on 23 points each after 6 rounds. Neither could be separated as Phillip won 3 rounds and was second on 2 rounds and Connor won 3 rounds and was second on 2. Third in the road going category went to Aaron Vance who had a cracker of a year in his little Clio 197.
In the modified category Oliver Cormican took another class win a mere 1.28secs ahead of Ryan Murray in their similar class 12 cars. Daniel Campbell was the third modified car home on Saturday in the Toyota Starlett. Interestingly the top 3 modified cars were all in the top 11 places overall so that shows you just what kind of pace the modified men were on. Stewart Strain who was the early modified category winner finished fourth on the day. Referring to the provisional final points Oliver Cormican has provisionally won the Modified Category from Ryan Murray with Stewart Strain third just ahead of Dan Campbell.
With the main protagonists all opting out of Saturday’s event Paul Forsythe took the category win ahead of himself. Well done Paul. With none of the leading specialist category drivers out on Saturday there was no points amendments and therefore Trevor Allen provisionally wins the specialist category from David Hawthorne and Richard Munnis third. With David missing three rounds this year he did superbly well to finish second.
In the ladies Championship Kathy McDade pulled off her second category win of the day narrowly pipping Catherine Donnelly by 0.37secs on corrected time. Third went to Sheryl McBride a mere 0.10secs behind Catherine and fourth went to Emma Campbell who finished 0.01secs corrected behind Sheryl. The top 4 were separated by only 0.48 secs with second third and fourth only separated by 0.11secs. Fifth went to Olivia Coulter who made a welcome return in her Anglia. Hopefully this was a shake down for a full season next year?
The last and most important category is the unofficial fastest mini in the West. Once again Karl Johnstone took the honours there finishing ahead of his only rival Gerry McGarrity. With Gary Milligan not there it throws the whole fastest mini in the west competition up in the air, as no one knows exactly who won it this year. It would be a fair assumption that Karl Johnston is the overall winner but the battle between Gerry and Gary is a whole different argument that I’m not going to get involved in.
After 6 rounds of this year’s championship, I’m sure you will all agree with me that we had a stonking year of sprinting. Congratulations to all the competitors who won awards from the overall title of sprint champions through all the classes, category winners and the ladies Challenge Trophy.
Massive shout of thanks must go out to all the organising clubs who organised our events. To all the marshals, official’s timekeepers, rescue, and medical crews ate who officiated at all our events. Without you all no event would be possible, and we salute you all.
Lastly the biggest thank you goes out to all the competitors who participated and made the championship happen thank you all.
Words: DAVID EVANS #154 | Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY