Nutts Corner 02 March 2019 Round 1 Review
Saturday 02 March saw the first round of the SW Adair Tyres Northern Ireland Sprint Championship at Nutts Corner and boy did the championship kick off in style.
The word of the day was “greasy” and the phrase of the week in sprinting circles is “its like driving on ice” however it is safe to say that everyone who left Nutts corner on Saturday afternoon did so with a wry smile on their faces knowing that they had taken on treacherous driving conditions and won.
The day started off dry but cold as first practice began. The North Ulster Car Club who were hosting the event had endeavoured to get both practice runs and at least 1 timed run done before the forecasted rain would reach Nutts Corner. They had a fair craic at it and managed both practice runs before the heavens opened but unfortunately mother nature beat them to the timed runs.
With the rain falling on the first timed runs it was Stephen Gault who mastered the conditions and set the early pace, whilst John Morgan scored a no timed run. John Morgan, who fought tooth and nail last year with Adrian Pollock, then pulled a blistering run out of the bag during the second timed runs and went ahead with Joe Courtney third in his Dalara F308.
As conditions worsened, with a heavy rain shower, it was down to the final run of the day. Steven Gault Lined up behind John Morgan on the line, John suffered a gearbox issue which meant he couldn’t start the third timed runs leaving Steven the option of settling for second or having a go for his first ever event win.
This was a challenge which he relished as he set a blindingly fast final run of 112.85 seconds to take the lead, the event win and fastest time of the day. John Morgan took second with Gerard O`Connell putting in a fantastic third run to take third overall in his Escort Mk1 which was 6.621 secs faster than his previous best time.
Yesterday marked the start of Steven Gaults 20th year of competing during which times he has campaigned Mini`s, Peugeots and the Saxo everyone knows him best in. During this period he has set numerous class records, some of which still stand, and has several road-going and modified championships under his belt. It was this experience which Steven used to guide his immaculate Reynard to his first ever fastest time of the day and event win.
The wet and greasy conditions favoured the brave as those in saloons reaped the benefits of a roof and windscreen. Gerard O`Connell put his beautiful Escort MK1 firmly on top of the Modified Saloon Championship with a third overall finish. Oliver Cormican kept his momentum up from last year and stormed his Mitsubushi Evo to a whopping 5th overall and 2nd place in the Modified Saloon Category.
Sixth place overall and 3rd modified saloon was taken by David Strain in his flying class 6a Peugeot 205. David Strain who has competed for several years put in a very committed run in atrocious conditions. David’s Peugeot was easily instantly recognisable on the circuit as it sounds divine as it accelerates away from you.
In the battle for Road-going honours Andrew Robb set a blistering second run time of 125.72 secs to take 15th overall as well as the category and class win from last year’s road going champion Chris Rogan. This was a blistering run from Andrew Robb when you consider that he was driving his powerful BMW M3 on road tyres in such wet and greasy conditions.
In the hotly contested battle for the Fastest mini in the West Gary Milligan who started his 33rd season of motorsport in the same car took the honours from Karl Johnston in his Midas. Sligo`s John Golden, who is a newcomer to the battle took third. The main protagonist in this award, Gerry McGarrity wasn’t out yesterday but rumour has it that he has purchased a lightweight Mini as he has set his sights on winning the 2019 fastest mini in the west title.
Gerry still hasn’t announced which size of tyres he will run the new mini on but with him being adamant that his smaller 10” wheels were a disadvantage to him last year I’d expect to see the new mini on 14`s or maybe even 15`s as he tries to catch the flying Gary Milligan.
The 2019 Championship looks set to be a classic with Steven Gault now well and truly throwing his hat in the ring. 2018 Champion Adrian Pollock still hasn’t got his car completed after a winter rebuild but he will be returning to the series with the intention of retaining his title. John Morgan is also keen on winning this year’s championship to add to his previous 2013 title.
Joe Courtney who has won 3 Irish Hillclimb Championships has purchased a new Dalarra F308 which he double drives with Rory (Grandad) Stephens has also registered for this year’s championship as has former 3 times Sprint and 2001 Hillclimb Champion Simon Woodside. Of course Gerard O`Connell is also in the mix as well, and as was seen at Nutts Corner it doesn’t matter what car he drives Gerard will be quick and he is also keen to add more titles to his existing Sprint and Hillclimb Championship wins.
It’s also great to see an influx of new names on the entry list as well such as, Emma Campbell, Brain Hutton, Thomas Lowry, Jonathan Strain and Stephen best. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.
Words: DAVID EVANS #154 | Photos: Gary Craig Motorsport Photography