On Thursday, 2nd November, most of the Kirkistown track was underwater. It had been like this for a few days. However, the rain had stopped, and the storm drains were shifting water at capacity. The problem was that the land adjacent to Kirkistown was also flooded, and that water was coming into the circuit. Both had to clear before it would be possible to run a track day.
On Friday, 3rd, the track was still unusable, but the waters had noticeably receded. The call was made, with fingers, toes, arms, and legs all crossed, to run the event. By Saturday, 4th, there was almost a dry line all around the circuit, and by Sunday morning, the sun was shining, and the track was perfect!
Andrew Bates was first on track in his Hyundai i30N. This is a real Q car, in that it is much quicker than it looks. Joining him were Gavin Fraser in a Toyota Yaris GR, Craig McKeown in a Suzuki Swift, and others. Craig’s Suzuki is a great track car for the money. Ryan Hogg was fast off the blocks in his Kirkistown Mini. He has been racing for the last half of the season and is no slouch around the circuit. Chris Woolsey’s Golf GTi was not hanging around either.
Trackskills were running four groups in the pre-lunch sessions, and it was in the second session that the first of the day’s misfortunes took place. Godfrey McCartney’s beautiful Lotus Elise chose this session to break the left rear shock mount, dropping the body onto the tire. Godfrey had the whole family with him, so he confined his activities for the remainder of the day to being the Paddock Bar-B-Que King! Yes, it was that pleasant a day! John Lyttle and Raymond Grimes had their somewhat fragile GM3 out in the group. It went well and came back in one piece. Eric Fulton brought his Spire this time. This is a nice car and is up for sale. Clive Harte was the third bike engine driver in his yellow Westfield. Clive travels up from Kildare to play at Kirkistown.
The third session was exclusively for new drivers. It is designed to let them get a feel for the track without being hassled by the more experienced users. It was a small group consisting of Paul Woodhead in a tidy Civic Type R, Barry McFall in a red Lotus Elise, Alex Little in a 1.6 Mini, and Andrew Boyd in an Audi S3. All four went very well as they gained confidence.
The fourth group was back to experienced drivers and included some cars with shared drives. Notably quick were Mike Curran in his Mini, both Ewings, Crawford Snr. and Jnr. in Renault Meganes, and Gary Dowzell in an Audi S3. Quickest of all was Gavin Kilkey in his racing Seat Supercopa.
All four groups were run a second time before the lunch break. Unfortunately, the last of these was curtailed when Zach Halliday’s Clio con rod decided to exit through the side of his block at Colonial One. The resulting oil slick caused some scary moments before the red flags went out. Unfortunately, Zach had driven the errant Clio from Derry, so arrangements had to be made to get him a lift home. The Clio was picked up a few days later.
After the lunch break, the groups no longer applied, but sessions continued on the treated track. Apart from one or two cars heading into the flooded grasslands and almost needing the Coastguard to retrieve them, the afternoon continued without incident, right into the almost dark. Oscar Atlason was a victim of the brake-eating gremlins who live at Kirkistown, but he got plenty of track time in his Nissan 350 Z before gently heading home. David Gibson, Nathan Hogg, Philip Quale, and Ian McFetridge all got loads of quick laps in their respective, super-reliable Mazda MX5s. These really are great track cars. A number of assorted BMWs also ran without fault. Keith Armstrong, Curtis Gilmore, Grant Quinn, and Ben Pourshadi all put in loads of fast laps.
Unfortunately, the GM3 developed yet another small issue that prevented it from running in the final session where brake disks glow in the slowing zones.
All too soon, the day was over, but there were smiles all around. Sunday, 4th February 2024, will not be long coming round!
Trackskills would like to thank all the marshals who attended throughout the year, the photographers who took many wonderful pictures and posted them on social media, the medical team, Kirkistown staff, and, of course, all the drivers who form the Trackskills Community.
Words: DONAL O’NEILL/TRACKSKILLS Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY [Images must not be used in any way without prior written consent of the photographer]