“What a day, jeepers what a day.” This was a common comment to be heard around the paddock of Nutts Corner on 23 September where North Ulster Car Club had once again hosted one of their famously superb events to make up round 7 of the SW Adair Tyres Northern Ireland Sprint Championship.
With an entry of 80 cars the event started at 10am and with 2 practice runs and 3 timed runs completed the event was completed by 1530 on a day which had unusually superb weather and a great bunch of drivers all looking for a great days craic. Its testament to how good a day, and how popular our championship is when we can get 80 entries to an event at the end of September.
After a couple of small stoppages in practice, where a couple of drivers decided to test the skills of the marshals on the day the timed runs started around lunch time and like a delayed train making up time the event just motored on! It was a superb event to watch, and the craic and banter round the paddock was awesome. There were also many drivers who were fulfilling their marshalling duties on the day.
Amongst the entry there were potentially at least 6 people who could take top honours in their single seaters. There was also a superb entry of road going cars with 19 in total pushing hard to take the honour of fastest roadgoing car. Within this there were 8 Mazda MX5`s which is great to see bearing in mind that a couple of years ago this class was almost dead in the water.
Looking further down the entry list it was great to see Gordon Fogarty making a comeback in his Fiat X19 after a small engine rebuild turned into a much bigger project. Gordon is normally only seen competing in Hillclimb’s but decided to participate here and see what he could do. We also saw Stanley Orr making a return to the championship in his Micra Challenge car which he has built for the new Micra Challenge Rally class. Stanley is a class act behind the wheel and many years ago was untouchable on the roads and forests of Northern Ireland and beyond. He then took a bit of a holiday and retuned to the sport circa 10 years ago in an escort Mk1. Stanley did several sprints in this car before focusing on the British Historic rally championship in which he did superbly well. Stanley has decided that Historic Rallying is now too serious and so built himself this little Micra in which he pulled off a super drive. It shows that you can’t hide talent.
Another non normal entry on the day was that of Kells man John McDowell in his flying Escort Mk2. John is another Hillclimb genius who decided to come for the craic and he was superb to watch. John is usually very neat and precise on a hill, probably due to the proximity of banks, walls and even trees but on a sprint circuit he was able to drive the little escort like he stole it and he even gave Richie O`Mahoney a run for his money as the most entertaining driver of the day and that’s no mean feat!!
It was also great to see Steven Gault out again for his first event of the season and on a day of firsts Brian Crawford debuted his new MNR Vortex at his first sprint and Rodney White debuted his brand spanking new Sunbeam on its first ever event. This car can only be described as stunning. The attention to detail in the build is phenomenal and the car looked and sounded amazing. Rodney also gave us a tour of his beautiful new car which can be seen on the championship Facebook page.
We also had a few drivers making their championship and indeed sprint debuts on Saturday as well. Out for his event was Jonathan Gibson in his new to him Renault clio which some of us recognise as the car Amy Hawthorne was using to great success. Also breaking his” sprint duck” was Ben Woodside. Ben is no stranger to the sport as his father is Tim Woodside who proved to be the fastest man here today! After watching ben in his little Starlett, it’s obvious that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Watch out for Ben in the future. Next up in the line of “Newbies” was Tommy Towbar himself Tommy Murray who came out to play in a Civic Type R. Tommy advised me that he has ben drawn to the sport by the other Murrays who all compete, so its great to see another member of Clan Murray having craic in the paddock. These family battles are starting to mount up!
In terms of results Gary Milligan had a superb run to take class 6a honours in his little mini finishing ahead of Gordon Foggarty and Karl Johnston. Which was no meant feat. It all just seemed to click for Gary and he was going so well that it was joked that Gerry McGarrity was actually driving the car. There are even rumours that he was seen seeking some help from above the night before the event. Obviously, he made a good impression and the divine inspiration was channelled his way!! James Lightbody took a superb class 6b win narrowly pipping Seamus Murray and multiple Northern Ireland champion Ken Colbert. This was a superb result for James. James Graham took a super class 13 win in his little Van Diemen ahead of multiple champions Henry Campbell and Adrian Pollock. James was on superb form.
However, for me the drive of the day went to Downpatrick’s Noel Strain in his mini. Noel has had trials and tribulations since he traded his Nova and built this little mini. He has had a fire in the car and numerous gearbox issues but everyone could see the potential in the package and knew that when it clicked it would click. At this event it clicked and Noel took a superb drive to finish 2nd in class 11 which is the big rally car class in a car which was considerably under powered compared to those around him. Noel drove the socks off himself and the wheels off his car and for a man of so few words the look on his face when he completed his third run and was interviewed on his return to the paddock was priceless!! Well done Noel this result was very well deserved!!
Now the big talking point was the overall battle. As I said 6 drivers had the potential to win the event and the top 9 were separated by just over 9 seconds. Alan Cassells set the pace in the first timed run taking the lead with a 92.76s run which proved to be his fastest of the day. However, Tim Woodside and Gerard O`Connell had other ideas. Gerard was fighting for the championship and needed as high a finish as he could get to maintain his fight to be 2023 SW Adair Tyres Northern Ireland Sprint Champion so he set off after Alans time as did the hard charging Tim Woodside. Gerard pushed as hard as he could and left his braking to the maximum everywhere. Tim Woodside seemed to be on rails in his Pilbeam as both drivers chased the clock. Tim gave a masterclass in driving and set the FTD to take the event win with a 92.69sec run, just nipping ahead of Alan. Gerard did his absolute best and set a 93.49s to take third. Both drivers gave us a masterclass in single seater driving round Nutts Corner and it was incredible to watch this battle unfold. If ever anyone wanted to see how to drive a single seater fast, run 2 on Saturday was the place to learn. It’s safe to say that no one anywhere could have got any more out of either of these cars on that run. Both drivers carried immense speed right round the circuit, leaving their braking right to the max and being totally reliant on the grip form their tyres. It was as far from a drag race as you could ever be!! Anyone who watched these 2 drivers on that run knew that they had just witnessed something very special. Fourth in class went to Graham Thompson who was driving his home built GTR Turbo. Graham, who I was speaking to was simply out for a days craic. He was on very old rubber and just fancied a day out of the workshop and boy did he have a days craic finishing 4th overall and only 1.89secs off the win finishing fractionally ahead of Richard McGimpsey in his RMG. Ethan Faulker took class 14 honours and 6th overall in his little Jedi finishing just ahead, by only a tenth of a second ahead of Ryan McGimpsey in his Jedi who was seventh. It was ironic that Richard McGimpsey pipped Ryan today because Ryan has just been crowned 2023 NI Hillclimb Champion after marginally pipping brother Ricky to the title. Congratulations Ryan but Ricky is adamant that he`s winning next year!
Now in terms of the categories, the unofficial category of fastest mini in the west was clearly taken today by Gary Milligan. Gary drove the wheels off the mini and it was great to see everything finally clicking into place for Gary. Gary pipped Karl Johnston by 1.76secs which was incredible as both Karl and Gary were going hard. Sadly, Gerry McGarrity was not out to race against these 2 today as he was marshalling but Gary was going so well that there was a rumour circulating that it was actually Gerry in the blue mini and not Gary!!
The modified category win went to the very hard charging Jaye Nevin who was clean flying in his wee 205. Jaye finished 13th overall and a mere 1.53 secs ahead of his father Stephen who was second modified car home in his Escort Mk1. Third modified driver home was Raymond Johnston in his mark 2 escort a mere 0.17 behind Steven Nevin.
In the specialist category Richard O`Mahoney was the man to beat in his RSR Escort. Richie as always was full of craic and loving life and he has now finally got to grips with the escort. Second specialist driver was David Hawthorne who only had Brian Crawford for company with Brian being the third specialist competitor.
The Roadgoing category was a very closely fought affair with Conor Hamill taking the category win in his BMW M3 ahead of Crawford Ewing Jnr in his Meganne with Aaron Vance coming third in his BMW, At the end of the day there was only 1.32secs between the 3 drivers.
In the Heaslip Ladies Challenge Emma Campbell took the trophy win by a mere 2 tenths of a second on corrected time from Jenny Pollock. Amy Hawthorne was a mere 0.72secs behind Jenny in third, again on corrected time, so once again the Heaslip Ladies Challenge was a very closely contested thing.
The next, eighth and final round of the 2023 SW Adair Tyres Northern Ireland Sprint Championship is scheduled to take place at Kirkistown on 28 October, Halloween, and this event is hosted by 500MRCI. Entries can be found on WWW.rallyscore.net
Words: DAVID EVANS #154 | Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY [Images must not be used in any way without prior written consent of the photographer]