A compact programme provided spectators with plenty of exciting racing at the Five Hundred Motor Racing Club of Ireland’s July meeting at Kirkistown.
The opening race was a combined affair for Saloons, GTs and Mazda MX5s. Dungiven’s Gerard O’Connell was the only GT and he duly set off at a blistering pace in his RSR Ford Escort, never to be headed. In the Saloons, Peter Baxter, from Lurgan, took the lead from Matt Lyness, from Banbridge and Donal O’Neill, from Nutt’s Corner. In the MX5s, Gregory McMillan, from Ballymena, led off the line, just ahead of Derry’s Gavin Kilkey.
On the second lap, Baxter’s Seat Supercopa expired on the exit of the Crosslé Chicane. He managed to roll to a safer place, half way down the straight and a Safety Car was avoided. Meanwhile, Lyness and O’Neill were having a mighty battle, with each having the advantage at different areas of the circuit. Ralph Jess, from Ballynahinch, was a lonely third in his BMW.
Kilkey was still keeping McMillan honest in the MX5s and Ballywalter’s David Cousins had gone from last to third in this class.
O’Connell lapped the field, such was the speed of his Escort.
The battle between Lyness and O’Neill continued until lap Eight, when the former pushed his Renault Clio Cup car too hard on the exit of Colonial 2 and spun. O’Neill managed to squeeze his Seat Cupra past and was away into the lead of the Saloons. Lyness recovered without losing any further places and continued in second place. On lap thirteen, McMillen, who had now broken the tow from Kilkey, caught and passed Jess for fourth on the road.
The final standings in the Saloons were 1st, O’Neill, 2nd, Lyness and 3rd, Jess. In the MX5s it was 1st, McMillan, 2nd, Kilkey and 3rd, Cousins.
The second race of the day was for Ginetta Juniors. These are 14 to17 year old drivers and there is usually a broad range of experience. Lap One saw a lot of shuffling, with Ben McFall, from Bushmills grabbing the lead ahead of Sean McGovern, from Sandyford. Strangford’s Ethan Campbell was third and Sé Óg Martin, from Ballymena, who had had an uncharacteristically poor qualifying, passed Charlotte Fenton, on her race debut, for fourth. Kallum Graffin, from Toomebridge, demoted Charlotte a further place. By the end of the second lap, both Martin and Graffin had passed Campbell. From lap Four to lap Six the battle for second, third and fourth was intense. On lap Seven McFall was still leading but he was being caught. McGovern was tenuously holding on to second. Martin was third and Graffin was fourth. On lap Ten, Martin made a successful play for the lead, only to lose it again a lap later. However, he did maintain second to the end. The final standings were 1st, McFall, 2nd, Martin and 3rd McGovern.
The third race of the day was for Formula Sheanes. It was a processional affair, with the first three places unchanged throughout the race. First was Philip Sheane, from Wicklow, 2nd was Derek Roddy, from Dundalk and third was Chris Dunne, from Bray.
Anyone who has been reading my scribblings this year knows that I have been pointing out the steady improvement of Megan Campbell in the Fiesta class. This Strangford driver has paid her dues over the past few years and is ready for success. Her reward arrived in the first Fiesta race but she had to fight for it! She had qualified fourth but by the end of the first lap she was leading. The Stewart brothers, Mark and Paul, from Belfast, were hot on her heels. For the first six laps she was leading a five-car group which included Colm Barrable, from Dublin and Michael Graham, from Portadown, as well as the two Stewarts. On lap Seven, Mark Stewart had managed to shake off Barrable long enough to have a successful stab at the lead. However, Campbell took it back a lap later! These two swapped again, twice, before the end. The other three, Paul Stewart, Barrable and Graham were also swapping constantly. In the end, Campbell held her nerve to win by 0.198 seconds from Mark Stewart. Paul Stewart shaded Barrable by 0.2 seconds for third and Graham came home a relatively clear fifth by 4 seconds. Sixth in this fifteen-car field was Dan Keelan, from Ashbourne.
Twelve cars took the start of the first Roadsports race. A tight race was expected between Jim Larkham, from Newtownabbey, and Niall Fitzsimmons, from Downpatrick, since both were driving Radical Pro6 machines. However, Larkham had a different plan. He led from start to end, eventually finishing 33 seconds ahead of Fitzsimmons! The latter was beginning to come under a little pressure towards the end from John Benson, from Holywood, in his Crosslé 37S. Benson was just over a second behind at the flag. A lot of interest centered on Arnie Black, from Banbridge, who was driving a Mermik1. This car has an interesting history and most spectators had little idea what to expect of it. Arnie is a great driver with massive experience, so anything could have happened. What did happen was that he rose from sixth to third on the first lap before spinning on the third lap and then working his way back up to fourth by the end. Dublin’s Bernard Foley started his Crosslé 42S from fifth place and that is where he finished, although he did make it difficult for himself, dropping as low as seventh for a few laps. The unexpected loser in this race was Greenislsnd’s Maurice McClay, who having outqualified Fitzsimmons for a second-place grid slot, eventually dropped to sixth in the race.
The first half of the programme was completed by the FF1600s and what a race this turned out to be. Jordan Dempsey, from Mullingar, had qualified on pole. Beside him on the front row was The Randalstown Rocket, Alan Davidson. Ballymena’s David McCullough was third beside Brandon McCaughan, from Ballycastle. Ballina father and son duo, David and Robbie Parks, filled out the next row.
When the lights went out, it was Davidson who shot into the lead, closely followed by Dempsey. David Parks had muscled his way into third place and McCullough had dropped behind McCaughan into fifth. On the next lap McCullough demoted McCaughan. On lap 4 he further demoted Parks and set off after Dempsey. However, on the next lap Dempsey took the lead away from Davidson and the positions remained static until McCullough’s engine went sick on lap Eight. One lap later The Randalstown Rocket regained the lead and Dempsey found himself defending from Parks. Meanwhile Robbie Parks had passed McCaughan for fourth place. On lap Twelve, McCaughan retook fourth from Robbie Parks and on lap Fifteen David Parks passed Dempsey for second place. That was how it finished with Davidson 1st, David Parks 2nd, Jordan Dempsey 3rd, Brandon McCaughan 4th, Robbie Parks 5th and Kildare’s Robbie Allen 6th.
The first race after the lunch break was the second encounter for Saloons, GTs and Mazda MX5s. Once again, Gerard O’Connell disappeared into the distance in his space-frame Escort but not before Donal O’Neill held onto him for a couple of corners, which, in turn, enabled him to get an important lead over Matt Lyness. Effectively, barring any setbacks, that was the Saloon race decided. Meanwhile, the MX5s were having fun with a reversed grid! David Cousins took the lead from Gavin Kilkey with a marvellous pass on the outside of Maguire’s hairpin on the first lap. Gregory McMillan was chasing hard and on lap Three he, too, passed Kilkey. One lap later, he passed Cousins with a daring move round the outside of Debtor’s Dip. That was most of the passing done. At the finish, O’Neill won in the Saloons, from Lyness and Ralph Jess. McMillan won the MX5s from Cousins and Kilkey.
The second Ginetta Junior race was really frantic on the first two laps. Sé Óg Martin went from third to first on lap One. Sean McGovern went the opposite way. However, on lap Two he passed Ben McFall for second and went after Martin. On lap Six he took the lead, only to lose it again two laps later. Martin and McGovern tussled for another five laps before McGovern made a move for the lead stick on the final lap. Martin finished 2nd and McFall was 3rd.
The second Formula Sheane race was frantic in the early laps. Philip Sheane and Derek Roddy were battling hard while, behind them, was a four-way tussle for third between Chris Dunne, Richie Adams, Tom Foley and Mark Keenan. By the end of lap Two, Sheane had taken the lead from Roddy. Navan man, Keenan had established himself in 3rd. Wexford’s Tom Foley was fourth. Adams from Ballyboden was fifth and Dunne was bringing up the rear. On lap Twelve, Sheane went out and this moved everyone up a place, where they stayed until the finish.
Race Ten was the second Fiesta race. The first three from race One carry success ballast into race Two, so Megan Campbell was running heavy. From the start Colm Barrable took the lead. Michael Graham, who found himself on pole for the first time, suffered from his inexperience and he plummeted from first to eighth during the first two laps. Paul Stewart, Mark Stewart and Neville Anderson all jumped Barrable on lap Two and Megan Campbell dropped a place to 5th. Between lap Four and lap Seven Paul Stewart dropped to 4th, Anderson bulldozed his way into the lead, demoting a bruised Mark Stewart to 2nd and Barrable recovered to third. He and Paul Stewart continued to battle cleanly all the way to the end but Stewart could not get past. Meanwhile the battle at the front would have been better suited to a PlayStation, where damage is not real and the biggest risk of getting hurt is repetitive strain disorder. To be fair, Mark Stewart was the victim and not the antagonist. However, when the race ended and the cars returned to the paddock, Stewart had a heated and slightly physical confrontation with Anderson. The result was that he was disqualified for what was effectively bad behaviour and Anderson was disqualified for driving in a manner incompatible with general safety. That meant that Barrable was the surprised winner, Paul Stewart inherited 2nd and Campbell got a 3rd to add to her previous win! German driver, Timon Dohnke got his best result of 4th. Michael Graham got another 5th and Dan Keelan another 6th.
For her results, Megan Campbell was awarded “Driver Of The Day”.
The penultimate race was the second Roadsports encounter. This time Niall Fitzsimmons was determined not to let Jim Larkham escape and he actually had the lead at the end of lap One. However, Larkham passed him again on lap Two. On lap Three Fitzsimmons hit the barriers hard at the Crosslé Chicane. Before the Safety Car was deployed two laps later, both John Benson and Arnie Black got past Larkham and, indeed, Black also passed Benson for the lead! After two laps behind the Safety Car, the broken Radical was removed and racing resumed, with Black leading the pack into Debtor’s Dip and the Colonial Complex. Unfortunately, on the exit from Colonial 2, Black missed a gear and buzzed the engine. The car immediately slowed and he retired at the paddock. Larkham was making a comeback and he assumed the lead with Black’s retirement. Benson finished second and Bernard Foley passed Banbridge driver Paul Thompson for third.
The final contest of the day was the second FF1600 race. On lap One David Parks went from fourth to first. Jordan Dempsey went the opposite way and there was nothing between Alan Davidson in second and David McCullough in third. By lap Three, McCullough had got into the lead and Dempsey had demoted Davidson to fourth. On lap Five, Dempsey took second place from Parks and on lap Eight The Randalstown Rocket relieved Parks from third place. On lap Thirteen Dempsey got past McCullough but one lap later the lead was back with McCullough. That is how the day finished. McCullough won. Dempsey was second. Davidson was third. Parks kept fourth. Brandon McCaughan had a lonely fifth and Chris Hillis took sixth.
The whole day was run brilliantly by clarks Chris Edwards and Dermot Quigley. The sun shone and the spectators were rewarded with some wonderful racing.
The next car race event is The Leinster Trophy meeting over Friday 27th and Saturday 28th August but before that there is the British Championship Sprint meeting on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th August.
Words: DONAL O’NEILL/500 MRCI Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY Images must not be used in any way without prior written consent of the photographer