Westward Engineering Sponsored Round 1 & 2 Reports
Poor start from Treacy but he leads championship.
Words: Paul Healy
Images: Paddy McGrath
Competitors could not have asked for better conditions for the first two Westward Engineering sponsored Irish Touring Car Championship with the sun splitting the stones at Mondello. Disappointment before qualifying though with news that class organiser, Brian Sexton, would be watching proceedings from the pit wall after the gearbox in his borrowed Peugeot decided it had had enough of live at a practice session the day before. Also missing from the race was Paul O’Brien whose VW Scirrocco suffered catastrophic brake failure at the same practice session and Mark Gilmartin meaning the Gilmartin Motorsport BMW M3 GTR would have to wait till the next round to make its debut.
With the split in classes between Touring and Supertouring the ITCC is separated with each class having its own qualifying session and race although the Touring class does have the Fiat Puntos and Unos for company. There was drama even before qualifiying started though with John Whelan, sitting at the head of the pits in his Peugeot 306, waving for help before the cars were released. The Bikez.ie car appeared to suffer gearbox trouble while being held at the line and it had to be pushed back into the paddock for some frantic work to begin. Out on track and with ideal conditions it was the main protagonists from last year, Martin Treacy and Barry Rabbitt, vying for pole position. Treacy was flying but it was the freshly rebuilt Honda CRX of Rabbitt which was the first car to dip below the magical minute, with a time of 59.432 to take pole.
Treacy would line up beside Rabbitt after clocking a time seven tenths slower while Phil Burdock struggled with the handling of his car to come home with the third fastest time. This was particularly frustrating for Burdock as he had been running sixty second laps in practice but tweaks to the settings had set him back and saw him work furiously on the car in between qualifying and racing. Stephen Maher in his M3 powered BMW Compact pushed him close, a mere tenth behind with a time of 1:01.592. Phil Brennan, also in a M powered BMW was only separated from the Honda Integra of Ciaran Timmons by two tenths and that would pretty much how they would remain all day. Timmons was campaigning the ex-Tuning Factory car run by Jonathon Brady last season after suffering problems with his ex-BTCC Peugeot but quickly got to grips with the Honda. Keith Campbell and Paul Ginelli rounded out Super Touring drivers.
With a magical cut off time of 64.5s being the cut off point between the Supers and the Touring class there seemed to be an element of sandbagging in the touring qualifying. Everybody on pit row appeared to be telling Gareth Hayden to slow down as he came around to complete what would be his fastest lap and despite weighing anchors he cut it mightily close finally registering a time of 1:04.502. Also cutting it close were the Civic of Francis Kearns and the supercharged Golf of Dave Clarke who were separated by 0.005. The Nissan Silvia of David Walsh lead ahead of a trio of B18 powered Hondas driven by James Mannion, Danny Calnan and Eric Carroll. James Collen in the Peugeot 306 was flying early in the session before having to settle for eighth ahead of series debutant Robert Savage. The Corrado of Anthony Murtagh finished behind the Civic of Brian Fitzpatrick but ahead of the Preludes of Tommy Holmes and Mark Lawless. The rear drive Subaru Impreza of Mark Nagle was sandwiched between Norman Fawcett and Fergal Bowes while Cian Carey (not even old enough to hold a driving licence), Keith Rabbitt and Philip Lawless battled amongst themselves and against the Fiats that they shared the track with not to take the final position.
A damaged engine mount meant Francis Kearns could not occupy the second position slot of the grid for the first Touring Class race. This meant David Walsh had clear track ahead of him in which to attack pole sitter Hayden and only the power of the Integra saw Hayden win the drag race into Honda corner and retain his position. Clarke was also flying from third place on the grid – possibly pushing too hard. A bit of off-roading after a few laps saw his drop back to fourth but the power of his VW Golf soon saw him regain the position. While pushing to regain ground though he breeched the magical barrier time with a fastest lap of 1:03.756 which would see him bumped up to the Super Touring class for the second race.
Behind him a great battle was breaking out between rally driver, Mark Nagle, in the Grp N Impreza that has been converted to rear wheel drive, the Corrado of Anthony Murtagh and the Prelude of Tommy Holmes. Lap after lap they lined each other up at Dunlop corner before starting a drag race down the straight – some times three abreast. All the battling was for seventh place with Nagle finally taking the slot behind the Integra of Mannion, Bowes in the 306 GTi and Savage in another Integra. After being stuck bumper to bumper lap after lap the front two of Hayden and Walsh were finally separated while overtaking backmarkers with Hayden building enough of a gap to ease off and take the win by 2.253s. James Collen was all set for a good finish until disaster struck in the dying stages of the race. Pushing hard to make up positions he caught the kerb at the outside of Mazda corner in his Peugeot 306. The resulting flip brought out the fire team and ambulance but thankfully James emerged from the car unscathed.
With Rabbitt and Treacy side by side on the front row of the grid it looked like the spectators who packed out the stand at Honda corner were set for the duel everybody had been looking forward to. But as the lights changed Rabbitt screamed off the line with Treacy remaining motionless only unleashing the RS500 after the field had passed him. This brought a flurry of comments from the commentary team in the control tower – was it a tactical move to give himself better position in the reversed second race? Had he dropped back to make things more exciting for himself? Unfortunately the real answer was not so exciting – Martin had been looking at the wrong lights when they changed and wisely choose to let the field pass rather than possibly causing grid line pile up. This meant that Rabbitt had an easy charge to his first race win, never once venturing close to his qualifying pace. Treacy though was on a charge and soon dispatched of Campbell and Brennan before getting caught up in the battle between Timmons and Maher.
Timmons Integra proved no match for the power of the Sierra but Maher proved a much more difficult task with the M3 engine providing the grunt to keep Treacy at bay for a while before he finally capitulated. Burdock appeared to have sorted the issues with his Civic during the break as he was managed to dip back into the 60s however under pressure from Treacy he hit the kerbs and damaged his manifold. Emerging out of Dunlop corner he just had no power to hold of the Cossie and Treacy raced past to reclaim his starting position of second place. The Tuning Factory team must have sent out the word to Rabbitt as he upped his pace just enough to maintain a healthy 7.766s buffer to take his first race victory in the ITCC.
A red flag at the start of the second Touring race caused some confusion amongst drivers with many lining up in the wrong positions when the drivers came back around for the restart. When the lights changed Anthony Murtagh got the fast start and led the pack into Honda corner with a lot of jostling for position behind him. Mark Nagle appeared to have trouble setting down the power in his Impreza as he went backwards off the line while race 1 winner Gareth Hayden was on a charge. The reverse grid policy saw him start from sixth but he was soon mixing it up with the front runners. This was brought to an end when David Walsh in the Nissan Silvia had a big off heading out towards Bridgestone corner bringing out the safety car.
The Mondello M3 circulated for two laps while the Silvia was removed and when it returned to the pits Murtagh dropped the hammer and opened up a gap over the rest of the field. As it turned out he was pushing too hard as a couple of trips to the kitty litter would show. He was not the only one to enter the gravel with Mark Nagle going off in spectacular style. The throttle stuck open on his Impreza as he headed into Honda corner in the middle of a tight pack. Once the experienced racer knew what was going on he weighed anchors and headed for the infield at Honda. Unfortunately at the speed he was traveling he emerged out the far side of the corner narrowly avoiding the EF Civic of Brian Fitzpatrick before finally coming to rest firmly buried into the tyre wall on the outside of Honda. He emerged from the car without a scratch and even managed to crack a joke with the spectators who had dived for cover at the sight of the oncoming Subaru.
When everything had settled down Robert Savage found himself in the lead and despite pressure from the hard pushing Hayden he held on to take a famous debut victory. Joining them on the podium would be Norman Fawcett who had a comfortable margin over James Mannion, Eric Carroll and Brian Fitzpatrick. After that the field was splintered with Tommy Holmes coming home a further twenty seconds adrift ahead of Danny Calnan, Philip Lawless and Keith Rabbitt – the final three inadvertently getting involved in the Fiat race that shared the track with ITCC.
The grid for the second race of the Westward Engineering sponsored Super Touring race was bolstered by Dave Clarke who was promoted from the Touring class after braking the 64.5s barrier and Brian Moore who managed to get a bit of shakedown in his Subaru Impreza during the break for lunch. With the top six finishers from the first race reversed it was Brennan and Timmons occupying the front row of the grid with Maher and Burdock behind them and the expected front runners – Treacy and Rabbitt lining up ahead of Campbell, Cinelli, Moore and Clarke. Phil Burdock was caught out by the lights as he had to come off the power just as the lights changed as his Civic was beginning to creep off the line and he did not want to get pulled for a jump start. His row-mate Maher though got off to a flyer and dived through the inside of Brennan and Timmons to take the lead heading into Honda. Also off to a flyer was Treacy with the power of the car meaning he was almost running four abreast before Brennan closed the door.
However it was the racecraft of Rabbitt that seemed to hold up the best as he bided his time for the pack to settle down before quickly dispatching the lot and moving off into the distance. Treacy did manage to use the power of the Sierra to make his way past the field, although Maher made it difficult for him down under the bridge before setting off Rabbitt hunting. There then followed a peculiar incident. Maher running in third, decided he did not like the newly renamed Bridgestone corner and completely bypassed it. Coming out of turn two he cut through the back of the circuit to rejoin at Mazda where he waited for the leading pair to pass before rejoining. The commentary team were convinced that this would result in an expulsion but the stewards did not see it like that as despite the move Maher had not gained any positions by cutting the corner. He did seem to gain a track advantage though as he reappeared further away from the battling Brennan and Timmons than when he had started. The debate still rages as I type on this one!
Back on track Burdock was the last of the late brakers into Dunlop corner to take third place from Timmons and set off in pursuit of Maher. With Rabbitt holding a three second advantage over Treacy the main battle was between Brennan and Timmons for fourth. And what a battle it was – Honda vs BMW, front wheel drive vs rear wheel, power vs weight. It was an enthralling fight with paint swapped on numerous occasions. Brennan in the BMW appeared to have the power to get past Timmons but he just could not compete with the handling of the Integra and began to get ragged and look more like a drifter than a racer. Amazingly it was one of these moves that finally paid dividends – getting fairly lairy coming out of Dunlop he found himself with a run up the inside of Timmons along the straight. Finally the power advantage the BMW held came into its own, although the Integra did not relinquish the position without a fight. Once past though Brennan began to pull away finally finishing two seconds clear.
At the front Rabbitt still maintained his lead but was obviously feeling the pressure of having the fearsome Sierra hunting him. Upping his pace he banged into the kerbs once too often breaking a CV joint and bringing an early end to his race. The DNF handed Treacy the race win and clear advantage in the championship over Phil Burdock in second and Stephen Maher in third after the first two rounds.
The ITCC heads across the waters for the first time with rounds 3&4 taking place at the Angelsey race track in Wales over Easter weekend (April 23/24th) before heading back to Mondello on May 15th where the drivers will get to stretch their legs on the International circuit.
Touring Round 1:
3. Dave Clarke (VW Golf)
2. Dave Walsh (Nissan Silvia)
1. Gareth Hayden (Honda Integra)
Super Touring Round 1:
3. Phil Burdock (Honda Civic)
2. Martin Treacy (Sierra Cosworth)
1. Barry Rabbitt (Honda CRX)
Rookie Award: Brian Fitzpatrick (Hond Civic)
Touring Round 2:
3. Norman Fawcett (Honda Integra)
2. Gareth Hayden (Honda Integra)
1. Robert Savage (Honda Integra)
Super Touring Round 2:
3. Phil Burdock (Honda Civic)
2. Stephen Maher (BMW M3)
1. Martin Treacy (Sierra Cosworth)
Rookie Award: Robert Savage (Honda Integra)