IRISH GRAND PRIX. TIPPERARY RACEWAY. 23.8.14
“Sometimes it’s about more than just about the racing….”
An apt summary of the weekend that was the inaugural Irish Grand Prix for the Classic Hot Rods. The weekend itself could be described as a triumph, particularly for Paraic McCormack, who for some years now had worked tirelessly to introduce the formula into the Republic of Ireland.
After motivating some fellow drivers to build or buy Classic Hot Rods in the close season, Paraic was given the green light by the Tipperary Raceway Committee to introduce the formula. Three meetings were sanctioned with a focus on this particular meeting to showcase the formula in order to give it a proper launch and encourage more drivers to join for 2015.
With the merging of the UK and Irish CHR pages on Facebook, further communication was established and it was soon realised that a core of UK CHR drivers would very much look forward to travelling over the Irish Sea to support this brand new championship.
In the run up for the meeting it was established that 144 Tim Foxlow, 8 Darren Owen, and 29 Stu Donald would be representing England. From Scotland, two drivers would be travelling, 247 Graham McCabe and brand new driver 806 Graeme Allister. From Northern Ireland we learnt that 965 Desie Howard would be making the long journey down. Competing with the visitors would be a quartet of drivers from the Republic: 53 Paraic McCormack, 100 Kevin Feeney, 156 Gerry Rothwell and 362 Austin Fitzgerald.
As the date off the meeting drew closer, Tipperary Raceway were very grateful for the poster that Dave Baldwin of Graphics by Dave made for the event and with plugging and contacts, more people from the local area were made aware of the event. The organisation brought on board sponsorship and local firm Weston Electrical who provided some magnificent trophies.
Some of the visitors, Daz Owen and family and Stu Donald and fiancee Shobian, decided to make a wee holiday from the event and travelled over on Friday. The Scottish duo of McCabe and Allister also travelled Friday and were at the Clonmel Park Hotel Friday evening, already enjoying the comfort and facilities in this excellent hotel.
Team Foxlow were travelling Saturday morning, to return Sunday and cram the whole weekend into 36 hours, but happily, the planning and travelling went like clockwork. Arriving at the Holyhead Ferry at 9am, the truck and trailer was easily loaded by 10 and the ferry departed at 10.30. A smooth crossing followed and by 12.50 the team were driving off the Ferry in Irelands port of Dun Laoighre. Once the ring road traffic of the outskirts of Dublin was negotiated, it was plain sailing down the central motorways of Ireland which proved to be delightfully light of traffic! By 3pm, 144 had arrived at Tipperary Raceway set in the beautiful Irish countryside a few miles clear of the little village of Rosegreen.
Foxlow was one of the earlier arrivals but a steady stream of hot rods arrived of various classes and by 5pm the pits were looking very congested indeed with drivers still arriving! Happily all ten Classic Hot Rod drivers who had booked in had arrived.
The drivers meeting prior to practice took place on the infield and the drivers drew lots for grid position for the first race. It was agreed that heat two would be a reverse grid and the points scored in the heats would determine the grid for the Irish Grand Prix Final.
Practice of course took place prior to racing and many of the visitors came off track with a clear smile on their faces. This was a track where their race cars could really stretch their legs! With long straights and sweeping bends, the 400 yard Tipperary raceway was a real Hot Rod track.
With all drivers quickly getting the measure of the sweeping Irish track it was time for heat one. Although advised of the rolling lap start which is normal in CHRs, this had not been communicated to the start marshall and the green was immediately given. Rising from momentary slumber, all ten drivers dropped the hammer and 144 Tim Foxlow took the lead getting round the outside of 53 Paraic McCormack.
With his engine not running perfectly, Paraic slowly dropped down the position s as the laps went by, but a great battle ensued between 247 Graham McCabe and 965 Desie Howard.
Desie was an unknown quantity to the UK drivers, having only raced in Northern Ireland in his Randall built Mk2 Escort this last few years, but he was clearly displaying his quality here sweeping round the outside of McCabe in his stunning Chevette and doing his very best to reel in Foxlow who was really getting his Spanker Crossflow to howl on this big track. Tim took the first race of the evening ahead of Howard and McCabe.
The returning 29 Stu Donald was fourth in Daz Owens borrowed older car. Having made arrangements with Daz in the weeks prior to this eagerly anticipated meeting, Stu took temporary possession of the older 8 car, did some repairs to it and his best to make the car fit him. “The car feels odd,” Stu reported after practice, “His driving position and steering wheel angle is different from what I was used to.” Donald however had certainly overcome the cars different feel come the first race. Having adjusted tyre pressures he wound the car up to great effect and beat Daz himself into fourth place. Stu certainly did not look like it had been over a year since he raced last!
806 Graeme Allister came home a superb sixth in this his very first race at the wheel of the Polley Anglia replica which he had purchased from Daz Owen just a few weeks earlier. Graeme’s turn of speed in the iconic Anglia was exception. True, Graeme had raced before in circuit racing, but as he was to learn in heat two, ovals are a completely different ball game!
Heat two saw the grid reversed with Allister selecting pole with Owen along side. This time the rolling start was adhered to but as the green dropped, Allister’s inexperience showed and he bogged the crossflow engine down in dropping the clutch. Those immediately behind took evasive action quickly and contact was avoided, all allowing outside row one starter Daz Owen to storm into a huge lead that he wasn’t to relinquish.
Owen was racing his long awaited brand new Classic Hot Rod. A fresh Ford Escort MK2, powered again by a two litre Pinto prepared by Toovey race engines and the post office red bodywork completed with clear bold sign work from Gary Chapman signs. The car looked every inch the winner it was.
Again 29 Stu Donald impressed by chasing doggedly after the flying Owen after overcoming Ulster’s Desie Howard who slowed towards the end of the race with electrical problems.
However this was nothing compared with the problem experienced by 806 Graeme Allister. The drivers had reported a slight dip into turn two that effected the balance and grip of the cars. At speed it could catch the unwary, and this is what happened to poor Graeme. At the limit of adhesion, the car went light, Graeme over corrected as the grip came again and the poor Anglia shot fence wards in the blink of an eye. The impact up the cambered fence flicked the car on its side causing immediate red flags. A very dazed Allister was extracted from the car, sore, but otherwise ok and the race then ran to its conclusion.
It is my pleasure to report how all the CHR drivers and mechanics rallied round Graeme immediately afterwards. While he was being checked over by the Irish Red Cross, Graham McCabe’s team and others showed incredible speed and efficiency in co-ordination with the tractor driver in loading the stricken Anglia back on the trailer and secured it ready for later. Allister himself was quite overcome with the help and support and one of his first sights immediately after the crash was the sight of Daz Owen’s young son James, aged six, who came running towards him anxious to find out if he was ok.
It was pitch dark but the time of the Irish Grand Prix Final. Grid positions were decided by points scored in the heats. This therefore saw Foxlow on pole with Daz Owen alongside. Row two comprised of Donald and McCabe. Then came Howard, 100 Kevin Feeney and 156 Gerry Rothwell. Alongside Allisters absence from the final, the other non starters were the Republic’s 53 Paraic McCormack and 362 Austin Fitzgerald who both were suffering engine issues.
Only seven cars made the final, but it was still a tremendous high speed spectacle which an unexpected twist in came in the form of a spectacular infield fire momentarily engulfing the Rothwell car. Gerry’s 100E suffered a cracked fuel pipe and the petrol was ignited by the carbs. Gerry of course was out of the car like lightning and the marshals quickly attended to watch could have been a nasty incident. Incredibly the 156 car did not look terribly scarred afterwards.
The race itself, either side of this firery interruption, was a smooth high speed chase. From the outside row Owen got the drop on Foxlow and the pace was such that 144 could do nothing about it. Donald once again impressed in the borrowed older Owen car, getting clear of McCabe and Howard to offer Foxlow a challenge for second. Behind McCabe and Howard was Kevin Feeney who although the last place finisher, was not too far off the pace.
8 Darren Owen took the inaugural Irish Grand Prix, but the real winner was Classic Hot Rods as a formula and Tipperary as a Raceway. The end of the meeting saw the presentation of some wonderful trophies for the heat winners and the top four in the final thanks to race sponsor Weston Electrical, and many fans and drivers from other formulae stayed behind to offer applause and appreciation for the great display of racing all the CHR drivers had put on.
Equally, the Classic Hot Rod drivers were at pains to express their heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the Tipperary Raceway Committee in including Dave McGee, Adrian Williams and Patrick Whelan for making all the visiting drivers feel so welcome. All had thoroughly enjoyed racing at such a tidy circuit where communication is clear and everywhere was clean and tidy. Even the grass was being mown prior to the start of the meeting!
The conclusion of the night saw the social aspect of the weekend reach its height as all the UK visiting drivers and two of the Irish, Paraic McCormack and Austin Fitzgerrald went to enjoy the facilities and hospitality at the Clonmel Park Hotel. Paraic had arranged for the Hotel staff to put on a late meal and the bar stayed open until everyone had had their fill at 3am!
As stated at the start of this report, “Sometimes it’s more than just about the racing.” Bonds had been forged and friends had been made. It was a very successful weekend and all were looking forward to their return visit in 2015, with the hope that even more drivers from the UK will visit next year.