TIPPERARY. 12th September 2015
THE IRISH GRAND PRIX
Classic Hot Rod racing in Ireland truly came of age on Saturday 12th September as thirteen drivers, representing, as rugby fans would describe as ‘all the Home Nations,’ congregated at Ireland’s number one oval Motorsport arena to compete for the pinnacle championship meeting in the Emerald Isle.
To say that this meeting was eagerly anticipated was quite an understatement as the build it to had been taking place all year with visiting drivers arranging ferries and hotel bookings. The interest in the meeting was equally reflected in the Irish drivers’ preparation and the registering of interest that fans were making.
Arrival at the track perfectly illustrated both. The crowd, according to the SORA officials, was bigger than normal and the car presentation by the Irish drivers was spot on. 25 Trevor Cusack had got a new engine in the Black Mk2 and she wax topped off with golden wheels. The cars of 100 Kevin Feeney and 156 Gerry Rothwell were polished up. But the car of the meet if the remarks from the other drivers and the way the car was crowded over with plenty of admiringd glances. Was that of 362 Austin Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald had received a lot of credit for his home build Mk2 CHR which bordered on perfection with its attention to build quality and detail but in the days prior to the meeting, Austin had arranged the decals for the car at a great price and the result was stunning. Clearly pleased with the comments Fitzgerald was heard to remark, “Less is more!”
Of the visitors present, defending Irish GP champion Daz Owen was back to once again enjoy the speed and challenge of racing on the big track and so too was Scotland’s Graham McCabe. The 247 pilot has made no secret of his love of racing at Tipperary. “I would love to race here as often as I could. The place reminds me of racing at Newtongrange, especially when racing under the lights!” It was a delight to have first time visitors too. Steve Lumley and Hughie Weaver had made the long long journey from Bury St Edmunds and Hailsham respectively. Budget racer Mick Caton was accompanying Owen with both cars loaded up banger style on the flat bed of the truck to restrict the cost of ferry travel! From Wales came Mike Oliver who in the past has raced quite often at Tipp in the past, taking full advantage of the Fishguard to Rhoslaire route. Scotland had another representative in the form of Keith Chesher. The former 2 litre hot rod racer had chosen to make the switch to Classics this year to take a more relaxed approach to his racing, and with the McCabe built Mk2 Escort liveried as a tribute to his late great father Malcolm, Keith had chosen the Irish GP to make his debut with many nostalgic fans in Scotland wishing him well.
At the pre race drivers meeting, it was agreed that the format that was employed last year would be repeated, namely, a drivers draw to determine the grid for heat one. The grid would be reversed for heat two and the points accumulated in the heats would determine the grid for the Championship race itself. Naturally, all present would love to take the win and adorn the roof of their race car with the green and gold chequers to show their status as Irish GP champion, but most of all, the drivers wanted to put on a good show for the fans!
To the delight of the Irish fans, local hero Trevor Cusack was awarded pole position for heat one but with England’s Hughie Weaver alongside, Cusack knew he would have his work cut out! Two installation laps to warm up the tyres prior to the rolling lap start had surprises in itself as Weaver managed to spin himself out and Cusack sheared the flywheel and coasted to the infield! The rolling lap for the race proper commenced once Hughie had got himself sorted out and he took them all round at a very steady pace. Once the green flag dropped, It came as no surprise to see the 67 year old veteran racer, at the wheel of his super fast Mk1 Escort prepared by Sonny Howard, quickly assert itself and make the break. The battle for second was immediately intense as both Oliver and Owen sought a way past Lumley with Irishman 175 Andy O’Donnell easily matching their pace. All four were soon past Fitzgerald and Chesher and the quartet sought the outside line round Rothwell in 156. Suddenly the race cracked off unexpectedly with 100 Kevin Feeney spinning out up onto the infield and 159 Mick Caton and 156 Gerry Rothwell accidently tangled just as they were going pull-Mel into turn three. With the steering ripped from their hands both cars impacted with the concrete wall with a sickening crunch which immediately hastened the yellow flags. Catons car had come off worst in the impact and Mick was able to get out the car unaided but was in some clear discomfort. This was later diagnosed as a badly bruised collar bone and cocsiqqes. With the sadly damaged cars removed from the track the restart saw Hughie continue where he left off doing enough to maintain the lead of a few car lengths ahead of Moke Oliver, Steve Lumley and defending champ Daz Owen.
Heat two was a far better race. With the grid reversed, the heat one winner was this time presented with a far greater challenge. Kevin Fenney led them away but it was the Ulsterman, 937 Kenny Wilson who came out the trap fastest with that highly tuned Crossflow of his screaming it’s heart out. The Crossflow can be a temperamental little beast at times with Kenny forced to retire in heat one. A change of coil and the 1700cc engine was singing sweetly with Kenny doing his utmost to holding out the growling two litre powered cars of Oliver and Owen. It was a fascinating contrast in power bands as the two types of engine power fought it out. Wilson, faster through the corners and out onto the straight, Oliver and Owen eating up the straights and bearing full pressure on the Northern Irishmen as they entered the corners. It was so close to call for lap after lap and the battle allowed Hughie Weaver to close on them after he had made his way through the middle order traffic and fought his way past 175 Andy O’Donnell, but ultimately the pressure forced Wilson Wide and the Welshman and the Englishman were through. Oliver took the win ahead of the defending champion. Wilson, lost of his high speed rhythm, succumbed to Weaver and O’Donnell and in the end had to be satisfied with fifth.
With the points toted up it revealed that 57 Mike Oliver would be on pole position with 210 Hughie Weaver alongside. 8 Darren Own was on inside row two with the first on the home boys, 175 Andy O’Donnell joining him. 58 Steve Lumley was unable to take his place on row three due to track rod and wheel damage incurred when he clipped the wall in heat two which resulted in Scotsman 247 Graham McCabe being the third row’s sole occupant. Row four was made up of Wilson and Fenney. Row five saw the delightful Fitzgerald car and Trevor Cusack, whose team it must be mentioned had worked so hard to get Trevor out for heat two, re drilling the flywheel and refitting it with the car resting on its side in the pits! Incredible dedication. Keith Chesher in 162 made up the field. Chesher was off the pace due to wrong gearing but he was still enjoying the occasion having some great private battles with Fitzgerald.
Caught in the atmosphere of the Tipperary lighting, the cars looked even faster than before as they got underway in this thirty lap final. Oliver got the drop on Weaver and a fantastic four way fight for supremacy was fought lap after lap as Englishman Weaver, Irishman O’Donnell and defending champion Owen sought to challenging the flying Welsh Wizard. In a fascinating scrap the fortunes ebbed and flowed. Owen got past Weaver and hung on to Oliver’s back bumper lap after lap. In a battle for third first O’Donnell past Weaver, only for Weaver to recover his momentum and in a second wind and powered past the local man on the outside. Sensing his speed Hughie launched his challenge on the top two only to mis time his corner and accidently spin the defending Champion. Incurring damage Weaver tried to dive for the infield just as the middle order pack arrived on the scene. Trevor Cusack had to race across the grass to avoid contact but 247 Graham McCabe was unable to avoid the retiring Weaver and glanced the 210 machine. Incredibly Owen recovered in lightning time and was off after the pack. Clearly buoyed by his opportunity, Andy O’Donnell with the home crowd audibly willing him on, closed the gap on Oliver, the thirty lap event clearly tiring the old cars and drivers, but as the Welshman’s tyres went off so too did the Irishman’s brakes and Oliver did enough to cross the line first and become the 2015 CHR Irish Grand Prix Champion. The chase to the line still had the crowd cheering as 25 Trevor Cusack crossed the line a hair’s breadth ahead of the recovering Owen! It was a fantastic race and the Irish fans knew it! Do-nutting his orange Mk2 in flamboyant style, 57 Mike Oliver received a warm reception from the crowd at Tipperary.
In the awarding of the magnificent trophies thanks to Weston Electrical, who had again been proud to associate with the success that Classic Hot Rod racing is clearly becoming in Ireland, Oliver, Owen and Cusack enjoyed the warm reception afforded to them and in the post meeting celebrations that went on at the Park Hotel Clonmel late into the following morning, all drivers from every country were in no doubt that racing at Tipperary is a superb experience where everyone enjoys the track, the welcome by the SORA staff, the camaraderie at the race track and the brilliant craic to be enjoyed socially afterwards. Once you race at Tipperary, you will always want to come back!