Sunday, 7 April 2019

Hat Tricks for Ryan and Irwin on Mondello Masters Day Two

Both figuratively and physically, a heavy cloud lay over Mondello Park on day 2 of the opening Dunlop Mondello Masters meeting, as news of injuries sustained by Philip McNally and his passenger Hugh Smith in sidecar qualifying yesterday filtered through the paddock. We can only hope that they get well soon. Ironically the action got underway with the sidecars, with Derek Lynch and his passenger Anthony McDonnell picking up from where they left off yesterday by taking a lights to flag victory over Peter O’Neill and Brian Butler. At the flag the gap was a massive fourteen seconds and the winners also took fastest lap to make two victories in a row for the Dubliner. The second sidecar race provided a much closer battle between Lynch and O’Neill and Denis Cusack, who got the holeshot at the start and led for the first lap. It wasn’t long before both O’Neill and Lynch got and then battled it out for the win but sadly the race was red flagged after Frank Clarke and passenger Paul Clarke crashed their oufit. Thankfully though, both were ok.

Peter O’Neill and Brian Butler, LCR Kawasaki, on his way to winning Sidecar race three at the first round of the Mondello Masters.

Supertwin riders got their second race of the weekend away and a close battle between Ross Irwin on his Kawasaki ER6 and Michael Sweeney on his Kawasaki ER6 from the off gave spectators plenty to get excited about. While yesterday’s race was a walk in the park for Sweeney, Irwin wasn’t going let him have a repeat of it this time round. Sadly though, Sweeney pulled in after lap four.

Ross Irwin, Kawasaki ER6, leads Michael Sweeney, Kawasaki ER6, on his way to winning Supertwins race one at the Mondello Masters.

This left a clear run home for Irwin, who claimed his first ever race win on short circuits- proving that he too can win just like his brothers. The battle for second made up for it though, as Eoin O’Siochru, Vinny Brennan and David Halligan battled race long for the other two podium spots with Brennan and Halligan finishing second and third. The third race was much closer but fresh from his maiden win, a confident Irwin held on to his lead but had to work for it, only finishing 0.112 seconds clear of David Halligan.

Caolán Irwin, Yamaha R6, leads Raymond Casey, Kawasaki ZXR6, on his way to winning Supersport race two at the Mondello Masters. Dunlop Mondello Masters Rounds 1,2&3, Mondello Park, Donore, Naas, Co. Kildare. Photo Barry Cregg

The sun stayed out for the second Dunlop Supersport race of the weekend and the man everyone had to beat was runaway winner of the first race, Caolán Irwin. It was business as usual as he lead the field off the line and again never looked back. Raymond Casey did keep him honest for the early stages of the race with Maurice Kiely not far behind in third. Like the first race though, once Irwin got into his groove, he pulled away with ease finishing four seconds ahead of the field followed by Raymond Casey and Mike Browne. The third Supersport race was a repeat of the second with Irwin completing the clean sweep to complete his hat trick. This time Luke O’Higgins finished in second and Darryl Sharkey in third. It will be hard to see him being beaten this year after this weekends performance.

Rhys Coates, Kawasaki 300, leads Scott McCrory, Yamaha R3, on his way to winning the Junior Cup and Young Guns race two at the first round of the Mondello Masters.

The Junior Cup and Young Guns second outing of the weekend provided one of the best races of the weekend with the top three covered by 1.5 seconds over the entire race. Alex Duncan on his Kawasaki 300 led from start to finish but was put under pressure by both Scott McCrory and Rhys Coates until they swapped places- giving Duncan a bit of breathing space on the final lap. A race to the line between McCrory and Coates settled the final two podium spots with McCrory finishing second and Coates third. Their third outing of the weekend saw again only 1.5 seconds covering the top three but by the finish it was a delighted Coates who crossed the line first by 0.5 seconds over Duncan and McCrory.

Mark Culleton, Yamaha R6, on his way to winning Pre-Injection race two at the first round of the Mondello Masters.

In Pre-injection race two, Mark Culleton made the break from the start to lead the field into turn one. He began to build on his lead in the opening laps and pulled a second clear of Darryl Sharkey and Colin Murphy. Sharkey and Murphy initially held each other up by battling for the next three laps before Sharkey broke clear and set upon closing down Culleton who by now had a 1.5 second second gap. Victory looked assured until the final two laps where the charging Sharkey began to reel him in rapidly. By the start of the last lap, Sharkey was on his back wheel but Culleton had his lines covered.  A drag race to the line only just went in his favor though, hanging on to take the win by 0.05 of a second. In the third race Sharkey repaid Culleton and won by 1.6 seconds with Colin Murphy in third.

Richie Ryan, Yamaha R1, on his way to winning Superbike race three at the first round of the Mondello Masters.

The second Dunlop Superbike race got the afternoon underway where again one man was a benchmark for the rest. They say you can’t win a race in the first corner but Richie Ryan wasn’t told that as he pulled a four-bike length lead over the opposition by turn two! Luke Johnston was only able to keep with him for a short time but couldn’t close the gap any further. The battle for third between James Kelly and Peter Moloney kept the large crowd entertained with Moloney coming out on top. With Ryan starting from row two for the third race, it could have given others a chance to make a break early and hope that he would be stuck in the pack. A great start from Kelly had him leading the field for the opening two laps but it did not take long for Ryan to make his way past Johnston, and Moloney. Ryan yet again made it an easy victory for the third time this weekend to make it a hat trick of wins for the Kilkenny man.

Richie Ryan, with his Yamaha R1, celebrates his hat trick of Superbike race wins at the first round of the Mondello Masters.

Overall it was a very good weekends racing and thankfully the weather although a bit cool at times stayed fine. What has emerged from the weekend is that in the two main championship classes there is two main title contenders that look very hard to beat already. Both Caolán Irwin and Richie Ryan have their bikes dialed in perfectly for Mondello Park and their riding is also on another level to the rest at the moment. It still is early days though with a lot of racing left to be done. The large spectator attendance was encouraging to see and hopefully it continues throughout the year. The Mondello Park staff put on a good display for spectators away from the racing and entertainment for children and should be applauded for their efforts. Hopefully we can see more riders from the north out again soon which would add to the competiton. Also a special mention has to go out to the hard working marshals and ambulance crews who as ever did a superb job all weekend. On to the next round in May and to see if anyone can stop Irwin and Ryan dominating their respective classes.
Photographs: Barry Cregg

Caolán Irwin, with his Yamaha R6, celebrates his hat trick of Supersport race wins at the first round of the Mondello Masters.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Mondello Masters Entertains on Day 1

The new Southern motorcycing season got underway today in Mondello Park in County Kildare, with the first round of the Dunlop Mondello Masters series. A cool cloudy morning greeted the competitors but as the action began, the sun burst through and basked the circuit into spring sunshine for the rest of the afternoon . Although a cool breeze remained, the track temperature did not drop to a dangerously low level, causing riders grip problems as in previous years.
The much anticipated return of the series got underway with the Supersport race for 600 cc machines. With some riders moving to the UK to race, and last year’s champion Emmet O’Grady moving up to Superbike, the class is now wide open for a new champion to emerge. Donegal’s Caolán Irwin, who showed great form last year, on his Yamha R6 grabbed pole position and led the field into the first corner as race one of the weekend began. The Cork duo of Raymond Casey and Mike Browne, both on Kawasakis, pushed Irwin hard for the early part of the race but his outright pace was to much for the men from the rebel county. Irwin pulled clear as the laps counted down and by setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 6, crossed the line five seconds clear of the field.

                                      This is all the rest of the Supersport field saw of Caolán Irwin’s R6 today.

In the Superbike class, last years champion Richie Ryan, again riding his Yamaha R1, was the clear favourite and the man for everyone to try and beat. If the recent test weekend was anything to go by, they had their work cut out as Ryan finished that weekend quickest overall. True to form, and clearly carrying over last years confidence with him into qualifying, he set pole position by 0.401 seconds. As the field emerged from turn one, however, Ryan found himself down in third behind Luke Johnston on his BMW S1000RR and James Kelly on his Suzuki GSR1000.

James Kelly, Suzuki GSXR 1000 leads Luke Johnston, BMW S1000RR, Richie Ryan, Yamaha R6, and Peter Moloney, Suzuki GSXR 1000, during the Superbike race at the Mondello Masters today.

After Johnston passed Kelly, he led the field for the next two laps but as he did, Ryan was also on the move and set about chasing the Ulsterman down. He was past by lap six and never looked back pulling clear and stretching his lead to over two seconds as the chequered flag was waved. Another victory for the Kilkenny man adding to where he left off last year and leaving the rest scratching their heads to find a way of stopping his dominance of the series. It may only be the first round and the first race under their belts but it is hard to see anyone in the current field stopping him.

Luke Johnston, BMW S1000RR leads, James Kelly, Suzuki GSXR 1000 and Richie Ryan, Yamaha R6, during the Superbike race at the Mondello Masters today.

In the support classes, Alex Duncan did the double in the Junior Cup races. Roads specialist Michael Sweeney ran clear of the field to win the Supertwins race. Colin Murphy was another runaway winner of the first Pre-Injection race and Chris Campbell did the the double in both Classic Superbike races. The Moto 400 races went to Stephen Tobin and Damien Horgan.

Derek Lynch and Anthony McDonnell, Windle Suzuki, lead Peter O’Neill and Brian Butler, LCR Kawasaki, on their way to winning the Sidecar race at the Mondello Masters today.

The sidecars had their first race also with Derek Lynch and passenger Anthony McDonnell (above) taking the honours in another entertaining race as they were pushed all the way by Peter O’Neill and Brian Butler. The sidecars have a much boosted grid for 2019, and lets hope it continues as they were one of the most entertaining classes of last year. Tomorrow’s action is sure to be even more entertaining with riders and teams having a race now under their belts. Will it be the same winners or will their be a surprise? Only time will tell. Action gets underway at 10.30 am with paddock shows and exhibits on all day for fans to see.

Phototgraphs : Barry Cregg

Tin Top Master

While some drivers have a clear idea and path they want to take in racing, with the ultimate goal of making it their profession, some purely just start off with the idea of it only being for fun and for it to remain that way. The latter certainly the case with Irish motor racing legend, Gordon Kellett.
A man who has raced every form of saloon car or “Tin Top” for over forty years with tremendous success, he has managed to take race wins in every class he has competed in over the years, bar the current Ford Fiesta ST class, as he only made a comeback to racing last year, but it would be a brave man to rule him out entirely this year.
Originally from County Cavan, but having lived in Dublin for the last forty years, it’s safe to say he is regarded as a “Dub” by now. It was another well known racer from days gone by, the late Norman Williams, who introduced Gordon to the world of motorsport by bringing him to Mondello Park and the Phoenix Park in Dublin, as he competed in his 3 litre Production Saloon Ford Capri at the time.
“I used to go along with Norman to the Phoenix Park and Mondello too, then I built a midget car and got involved with the Dublin and Wicklow Motor Club, where they held events in fields all over county Wicklow. So that’s how I really got into motor racing.”
The move from the grass to tarmac inevitably followed, but not in the safe confines of a purpose built circuit. Gordon’s first race on the black stuff was in the 1983 Phoenix Park Motor Races in Dublin!! From that day on, the farmers’ fields in Wicklow were safe, as he had caught the racing bug and a long and  illustrious career began. A Ford Escort XR3i was bought for the 1984 season to compete in the Irish Saloon Car Championship. It was very different from his days on the grass but as he continued into the 1985 season in the same car, he got to grips with circuit racing and started to move up the field.
“Believe it or not my first race was in the Phoenix Park of all places! You wouldn’t get away with it now, as you have to have so many races under your belt before you could race there but I had done the few midget races so they said it was grand so off I went! The midgets were great though as you learned great car control from driving on the grass where there’s not much grip.”
The Escort was rebuilt into an RS Turbo which put him into the 3 litre and 3.5 litre class along with the mighty Ford Capris. It also meant he would be out with, of all people, his old friend Norman Williams! Gordon had immediate success with the Turbo, with his competitors having no choice but to follow suit and switch to similar machines. For the 1989 season. John Burns, Reg Tuthill and even died in the wool Opel competitor Frank O’Rourke all appeared with the turbocharged Fords to provide some classic saloon car battles to delight Mondello race fans!
At the the beginning of the next decade, the iconic Ford Sierra Cosworths were brought into the Irish Saloon Car Championship. These were the racing equivalent of Group N cars used in rallying at the time, by the likes of Bob Fowden and Frank Fennell- unlike the British Touring Car series in the UK where the spec was much higher, but make no mistake these were still very quick cars and the racing was superb. Battles took place week in week out in the summer months of the early 1990s between Gordon, Peter Faulkner, Helmut Holfeld, Mick Leonard, Frank O’Rourke, Michael Cullen, Reg Tuthill and Derek Walsh- to name but a few.
“The racing was so so close then, but it was great and we had some fantastic battles. I missed out on the Sexton Trophy by one point in 1991 but it was a strange championship as they put the up to 2 litre class cars out with us in the over two litre cars, Tomás O’Rourke won it. It’s more about the fun you get out of it than anything else though. You could race hard and people around you were tough competitors like Helmet Holfeld or Michael Cullen where you weren’t worried about having to put a door on a Cosworth or maybe a bumper but that was all. There was great respect for one another.”
A break in racing came after that to concentrate on his garage business for the next couple of years, but like anyone who has competed in racing before, it’s very hard to keep the itch to go back at bay. By 1995, a two litre limit had been imposed and the car to have was an Opel Astra. With help from Castrol Oil, Gordon acquired one and resumed his saloon car racing in the front wheel drive German hot-hatch. It was more of the same over the next few years, battling with his toughest adversary Michael Cullen, who was in similar machinery. Every weekend both would be dicing for the top step of the podium but sadly for Gordon, Michael was pretty much untouchable in those days winning a string of championships in the last decade of the 20th century.
Again a sabbatical was taken until 2002, when the Fiat Punto 1400cc class came calling and then the Fiat Abarth class which took over massively as the top production class at the beginning of the new millenium. They had full grids back packed full of young hopefuls out to scalp the old warriors and of course, Gordon was the in the thick of it. There was no love lost in the class and the panel beaters and spray painters were kept busy in between races. A brief stint in the Dunlop RT2000 class, including a win at his favourite track, Kirkistown as highlight of his time in them but they weren’t a car he was that fond of.
“They were more of a single seater than a saloon car and they way you had to set them up was more like a Formula Ford. I never really had an interest in racing single seaters, I like them and respect the drivers competing in them, but they were something I never really gelled with.”
When you speak with Gordon you wouldn’t think of him as a man who would be one for driving a car fast let alone race one, as he always seems laid back and never in a rush. So I wondered was there ever an ambition to try and become professional?
“I got a drive in a Lotus Esprit to do a 24HR race in Japan around 1990/1991, and that was just amazing, it had 600bhp and I shared the drive with a Japaneese driver Tamiko San. It happened all by fluke, when I was over in Silverstone at the British Grand Prix when I bumped into a chap called Hugh Chamberlain in the paddock and he was looking for a driver to do this race. He had heard of me through David Kennedy and we got a package together with help from DHL, the courier company, and went and did the race. I couldn’t get over the reception I got over there, I was treated like a king!”
Gordon has seen a lot of changes in racing in Ireland over the years and in his beloved ‘Tin Tops” so what would be the main ones and the difference between when he started and nowadays?
“I don’t see a lot of differences- or maybe I’m lucky enough to be in that window of opportunity now that I’m racing with drivers that I had raced against in the past. The likes of Michael Cullen and Dave Maguire for example. I think we have to be grateful and that we are very lucky to have a track like Mondello Park that we can race at and support it as best we can. That’s what I do and what I have always done.”
Again like so many other people, the Phoenix Park Motor races is the one event he would love to see back. “It had to be the ultimate experience to drive and I’m sure it could be brought back again and there is no reason why it couldn’t have armco (barrier)  the whole way round. Before I retired, my company had tried to do something with Red Bull, they didn’t say no but their budgets work three years in advance so it didn’t come off.”
While he admits to not having the interest in wanting to try other disciplines of the sport he still has the same love for production cars after all these years.

“ It doesn’t really matter what type of car you’re in, but when all the cars are equal you get more of a driving experience from it as you only get the performance from the car with what you put in. I find the Fiesta ST a very nice car to drive and it does what it says on the tin. When I think back on the Abarths we had, they were quite expensive and not a good racing car, even though at the time we thought they were, but the ST is a more balanced car.”
That 24hr race in Japan was his furthest trip away to compete in but there was the few visits to the UK but only when the Irish championship visited their shores. I guess you could say Gordon is probably a real home bird in racing terms and to be fair why not? A lot of people come and go briefly in this sport as they try and make a career, until all their money is spent and have to stop and ultimely end up with nothing at all, be it a career or a hobby. I think people should have a similar outlook to racing in Ireland, as Gordon has had since he started, go out and enjoy racing and do it for the fun of it and get the kick out of it by doing just that.
He made a comeback to racing yet again last year and is now retired in professional life, so with more time on his hands to go racing, how long more can he keep going?
“ I will keep going as long as I am enjoying it, and the day I don’t, I’ll stop” he laughs.
Well let’s hope he does keep enjoying it and we can see him battling for more wins and now that he has a season in an Fiesta ST behind him who knows- maybe another title?
Photographs: Barry Cregg