Graham Thompson kept his cool on Larne Motor Club’s Cairncastle Hillclimb, despite the melting road surface during the recent heatwave, to conquer one of the countries best stretches of road, and remain ‘King of the Hill’ for the second year running.
As excitement gathered around the Laird Grass Machinery – Cairncastle Hill Climb Festival, one of the most popular rounds on the Millers Oils sponsored Northern Ireland Hill Climb Championship, Larne Motor Club quickly realised that the recent spell of hot weather had potential to dampen the hard work that had already been carried out.
Dampen it couldn’t though, as thanks to TOC Utilities, who sent the club a small roller, the club managed to keep on top of the melting closed-road course, right up until the last car finished on the Saturday.
A record entry for both days of Cairncastle quickly increased the excitement that always gathers for the event, with ‘King of the Hill’ Graham Thompson hoping to keep his crown whilst Gerard O’Connell and Rory Stephens arrived to battle in their Radicals and Derek McGeehan in his WRC Mini were just some of those hoping for the crown.
Unfortunately, there were some noticeable absences this year, some of whom were the ever exuberant Davy and Mark Francis, fearless Roger Gage and current championship leader, Ricky McGimpsey.
With hundreds of spectators coming to the Mid & East Antrim Borough for this popular event, Friday afternoon saw the drivers complete their practice runs and with the Clerk of the Course having to manage the scorching road surface, it was agreed the road was holding up and everyone set into the timed runs.
Class 1, sponsored by Complete Lifting Solutions, saw Dennis Watson in his Citroen Saxo take the honours on Friday but Saturday saw Ray McClurg’s Citroen AX take the top spot from Dennis with a small margin of 0.31 seconds.
The ever popular Valentino’s Pizzeria sponsored Class 2 saw drama after day one when class winner David Gibson had mechanical issues and with a little help, the Escort sparked to life around 23:00. This class always provides a great battle and David once again overcame the starter trouble to take the points for both days.
Paul Montgomery was the man who couldn’t be caught in the O’Hagan Crane Hire Class 3 and it was the same for Gardner McIlwaine in the Rock Motor Works supported Class 4 who held off an attacking Simon Nicholson from Lancashire, both driving Westfields.
The Northern Automation sponsored Class 5 saw the honours split, regular Cairncastle visitor Geoff Kidd took the top spot on Friday whilst newcomer Godfrey McCartney took first in class on the Saturday, setting his best time of the weekend on his final run to the top.
A&R Autoparts who sponsored Class 6a would have been pleased to see the determination from class winner Stephen Harvey who, despite his efforts, was unable to take the class record this year but will be happy with top spot on both days despite Gordon Fogarty’s best efforts in his Fiat X1 9.
The TOC Utilities Class 9 was one of the greatly anticipated classes of the weekend as the two amazing Radicals of Gerard and Rory went screaming to the top. It was Gerard who not only took class victory for both days, but beat Rory’s class record which he held since 2014.
Unfortunately it wasn’t an enjoyable weekend for anyone in a single seater as the hot road and soft tar made the conditions for each competitor very tricky and on the Saturday most decided to only complete one timed run.
However, one man in his GTR, once again was a joy to watch up the 1.65 mile course and although his own outright hill record remains unbeaten, Graham Thompson continues to be the man to beat, taking overall victories on the two day, Laird Grass Machinery Cairncastle Hill Climb Festival.
Other class winners were Alan Cassells in his mighty 106, Brendan Flynn, Conor Lavery, David Hawthorne and David McClurg.
Larne Motor Club would like to thank all the competitors for their support and understanding on what was a difficult weekend, the marshals and officials, St John Ambulance and all the event sponsors, but the biggest thanks must go to the residents of Cairncastle – everyone plays a huge part in putting this great event together.
2018 ANICC MILLERS OILS N.I. HILLCLIMB CHAMPIONSHIP CALENDAR
14 April: Croft Hillclimb (Holywood, Co. Down) 28 April: Drumhorc Hillclimb (Laurencetown near Banbridge) 05 May: Craigantlet Hillclimb (Craigantlet Hills above Belfast) 26 May: Spamount Hillclimb (Castlederg, Co. Tyrone) 29 June + 30 June: Cairncastle Hillclimb Festival (Larne, Co. Antrim)
11 August: Garron Point Hillclimb (Carnlough, Co. Antrim)
25 August: Eagles Rock Hillclimb (Magilligan, near Coleraine)
15 Sept: Knockagh Hillclimb (nr. Carrickfergus)