Saturday 10 November saw the final sprint of the 2018 Season at Kirkistown and the Ulster Automobile Club had a second attempt to run their North Down House Sprint, after storm Calum claimed their first event when it was cancelled on 13 October.
On Friday evening, it appeared to the casual eye, that the North Down House Sprint was not going to happen again, due to another storm which passed through on Friday, but thankfully, someone in the organising club was owed a big favour from above and the rain stopped sufficiently early to allow the track to dry.
At 18:30 on Friday the track looked more like a venue for a regatta or even a fishing competition, and with gale force winds blowing across the un-sheltered venue, the water was blowing across the track like snow in a drift. Thankfully the heavy winds and Kirkistown’s WWII Airfield drainage system kicked into operation to deliver a circuit which was devoid of puddles on Saturday morning to allow a damp, but puddle free start to the event.
Drivers were greeted with the fact that this was the last MSA permitted sprint of 2018 so the event started with high expectations as everyone wanted to prove that the best had well and truly been kept to the last. Practice got underway around 10:00 and all of the 44-starters were met with a drying track which was greasy.
Everyone managed a safe first practice with conditions under tyre, which resembled something from dancing on ice. It was definitely a day where out and out horsepower was a disadvantage. Thankfully with increasing temperatures and some action, the track dried and a sprinters best friend, grip, started to make an appearance with a marked increase in available adhesion for the first of three timed runs.
John Stewart quickly stamped his authority on the event going fastest overall in the first run. Johns Mygale M12 combined its torquey engine, and what seemed like an endless supply of grip which seemed to gel very well with Johns smooth and precise driving style to allow him to go a mere 0.19secs ahead on Lee Kirkwood in his radical.
Lee has come on leaps and bounds this season as he finally comes to terms with his Radical SR3 and was a pleasure to watch through the middle section of the circuit where his throttle control showed a lot of self-discipline. Third after the first run went to Robert McGimspey who was out to play in son Rickys car.
Roberts years of experience showed as his negotiated a slippery track making it all look easy despite the lack of grip. After his first run he was third and only 0.17 secs behind Lee. Gerard O’Connell was back out again in his Escort. No not his iconic red Mark 2 known locally as STW, but his beautiful new RSR Mark 1 Escort.
Whilst Gerard didn’t maybe pick the best day to learn the cars high speed characteristics, he picked a perfect day to fine tune its suspension and to get a feel for its handling. Watching Gerard’s runs were a pleasure and his super successful season at the wheel of his Radical appears to have worked dividends for him as he set two blindingly fast runs in his Mark 1.
His neat and precise driving through the tricky and slippery infield section showed just how capable this new escort is and how well it handles. Of course a car is only as good as its driver and Gerard showed us all just how good he is behind the wheel having jumped from his radical, which he has driven all season, into this car which despite only driving it at 1 previous event, he was able to come 4th overall in it.
With everyone getting a dry first run, the second runs started off dry as well, however the rain started to spit about three quarters of the way through the second run. Initially it wasn’t heavy enough to make a big difference to the levels of grip available, but by the time the third runs started, the rain had got heavier, and rain mixed with the existing conditions meant that just over half of the competitors did a third run, with all but one driver going slower than their previous runs.
Looking at the times for the third runs its interesting to note that David Strain was only 0.33 seconds of his fastest run and only 0.25 seconds slower than his dry run. The rain seemed to suit those on road tyres with Graham Dines and Patrick Baird in their Clio’s, and Mervyn Johnston in his Mini Cooper S all ignoring the rain to set times which weren’t too far off their dry run times. Great also to see Chris Dunne in his MG ZR setting his fastest time of the day on the third run. Is Chris going to prove to be a wet weather maestro?
In terms of the overall results, Robert McGimpsey aka Da, set a blinder of a second run to take the lead after John Stewart had an impromptu spin at the bottom of the circuit. From the bit I saw of Roberts run, it reminded me of a famous line from the iconic 70`s film Convoy where the lead character “rubber duck” when asked why his name is duck replied “my daddy always told me to be just like a duck. Stay smooth on the surface and paddle like the devil underneath”……., and boy did Robert make it look smooth.
Lee Kirkwoods first run time was sufficient to give him third overall with Gerard O’Connell fourth and Steven Gault fifth in his Reynard 903. I was speaking to Steven after his first run and could not believe how cold his tyres were after his run. They were literally stone cold with no heat in them at all.
Steven reported that he simply could not get any power down or even contemplate any late breaking, so to finish up 5th overall shows just how committed Steven was and I still tip him as a man to watch next season.
In terms of the Categories, Andrew Robb took the road going honours in his BMW //M3 in conditions which were not really suitable to that kind of car. Fair play to Andrew for a gutsy and fast drive which netted him a class win and a time which gave him ninth overall.
Andrew has proven to be a great addition to the road going class this year and adds yet another dimension to what is proving to be a brilliant class on both the sprints and Hill climbs. It would be interesting to see the class 2 King of the Hills – Mr David Gibson, go head to head with Andrew Robb and Chris Rogan (who is this year’s class 2 and road going category winner) next year to see who really is the king of class 2.
The modified saloon category win went all the way to Dungiven with Gerard O’Connell taking the honours. Sadly Oliver Cormican suffered clutch issues in his Mitsubushi Evo so only managed 1 run which he completed with almost no clutch. Oliver will be back next year to defend his modified saloon category win and if Gerard continues to use his mark 1 escort this will be a very exciting category to watch unfold next year.
The historic category honours went to Karl Johnston in his little Midas. Today was a super successful day for Karl as not only was he the Historic Category winner but he also won his class – class 16a, but most importantly he headed the most anticipated category of all – the battle for the title of Fastest Mini From the West.
This unofficial class has surely been the most contested class all year and has been great to watch. It also shows how much craic is to be had amongst the sprint paddock between competitors. !! Karl Johnston took the honours in his Midas with Gary Milligan second.
Sadly Gerry McGarrity didn’t make it to the event, although I’m sure he has, by now, been on to congratulate Karl on this prestigious class win and also to further wind Gary Milligan up. Gerry If your reading this we know you only run 10 inch wheels.
Lastly, I’d like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you all next year ready to beat some records!
Words: DAVID EVANS – #154 | Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY (stock images from 2018 events)
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