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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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