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10th November Sprint Report by David Evans. Photo by Leslie McMullan.

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10th November Sprint Report by David Evans.  Photo by Leslie McMullan.

Saturday 10 November saw the final sprint of the 2018 Season at kirkistown.

The Ulster Automobile club had a second attempt to run their North Down House sprint after storm Calum claimed their first event when it was cancelled on 13 October. On Friday evening it appeared to the casual eye that the North Down Sprint was not going to happen again due to another storm which passed through on Friday, but thankfully someone in the organising club was owed a big favour from above and the rain stopped sufficiently early to allow the track to dry. At 1830 on Friday night the track looked more like a venue for a sailing regatta or even a fishing competition, and with gale force winds blowing across the unsheltered track the water was blowing across the track like snow in a snow drift. Thankfully the heavy winds and Kirkistowns world war 2 Airfield drainage system kicked into operation to deliver a circuit which was devoid of puddles on Saturday morning to allow a damp but puddle free start to the event.

Drivers were greeted with the fact that this was the last MSA permitted sprint of 2018 so the event started with high expectations as everyone wanted to prove that the best had well and truly been kept to the last. With a drying track practice got underway around 10am and all of the 44 starters were met with a drying track which was greasy. Everyone managed a safe first practice in with conditions under tyre which resembled something from dancing on ice. It was definitely a day where out and out horsepower was a disadvantage. Thankfully with increasing temperatures and some track action the track dried and a sprinters best friend, grip, started to make an appearance with a marked increase in available grip for the first of 3 timed runs. As a result times started to fall.

John Stewart quickly stamped his authority on the event going fastest overall in the first run. Johns Mygale M12 combined its torquey engine, and what seemed like an endless supply of grip which seemed to gel very well with Johns smooth and precise driving style to allow him to go a mere 0.19secs ahead on Lee Kirkwood in his radical. Lee has come on leaps and bounds this season as he finally comes to terms with his Radical SR3 and was a pleasure to watch through the middle section of the circuit where his throttle control showed a lot of self-discipline. Third after the first run went to Robert McGimspey who was out to play in son Rickys car. Roberts years of experience showed as his negotiated a slippery track making it all look easy despite the lack of grip. After his first run he was third and only 0.17 secs behind Lee.

Gerard OConnell was back out again in his Escort. No not his iconic red Mark 2 known locally as STW, but his beautiful new RSR Mark 1 Escort. Whilst Gerard didn’t maybe pick the best day to learn the cars high speed characteristics, he picked a perfect day to fine tune its suspension and to get a feel for its handling. Watching Gerard’s runs were a pleasure and his super successful season at the wheel of his Radical appears to have worked dividends for him as he set two blindingly fast runs in his Mark 1. His neat and precise driving through the tricky and slippery infield section showed just how capable this new escort is and how well it handles. Of course a car is only as good as its driver and Gerard showed us all just how good he is behind the wheel having jumped from his radical, which he has driven all season, into this car which despite only driving it at 1 previous event, he was able to come 4th overall in it. Hopefully this car will be seen more often next year as it definitely has a lot of promise and will be great to watch on a warm dry circuit.

With everyone getting a dry first run the second runs started off dry as well however the rain started to spit about three quarters of the way through the second run. Initially it wasn’t heavy enough to make a big difference to the levels of grip available but by the time the third runs started the rain had got heavier, and rain mixed with the existing conditions meant that just over half of the competitors did a third run with all but 1 driver going slower than their previous runs. Looking at the times for the third runs its interesting to note that David Strain was only 0.33 seconds of his fastest run and only 0.25 seconds slower than his dry run. The rain seemed to suit those on road tyres with Graham Dines and Patrick Baird in their clios, and Mervyn Johnston in his mini cooper s all ignoring the rain to set times which weren’t too far off their dry run times. Great also to see Chris Dunne in his MG ZR setting his fastest time of the day on the third run. Is Chris going to prove to be a wet weather maestro?

In terms of the overall results Robert McGimpsey aka Da, set a blinder of a second run to take the lead after John Stewart had an impromptu spin at the bottom of the circuit. From the bit I saw of Roberts run it reminded me of a famous line from the iconic 70`s film Convoy where the lead character “rubber duck” when asked why his name is duck replied “my daddy always told me to be just like a duck. Stay smooth on the surface and paddle like the devil underneath”……., and boy did Robert make it look smooth.

Lee Kirkwoods first run time was sufficient to give him third overall with Gerard O’Connell fourth and Steven Gault fifth in his Reynard 903. I was speaking to Steven after his first run and could not believe how cold his tyres were after his run. They were literally stone cold with no heat in them at all. Steven reported that he simply could not get any power down or even contemplate any late breaking, so to finish up 5th overall shows just how committed Steven was and I still tip him as a man to watch next season.

In terms of the Categories Andrew Robb took the road going honours in his BMW M3 in conditions which were not really suitable to that kind of car. Fair play to Andrew for a gutsy and fast drive which netted him a class win and a time which gave him ninth overall. Andrew has proven to be a great addition to the road going class this year and adds yet another dimension to what is proving to be a brilliant class on both the sprints and Hill climbs. It would be interesting to see the class 2 King of the Hills – Mr David Gibson go head to head with Andrew Robb and Chris Rogan (who is this year’s class 2 and road going category winner) to next year to see who really is the king of class 2.

The modified saloon category win went all the way to Dungiven with Gerard Oconnell taking the honours. Sadly Oliver Cormican suffered clutch issues in his Mitsubushi Evo so only managed 1 run with he completed with almost no clutch. Oliver will be back next year to defend his modified saloon category win and if Gerard continues to use his mark 1 escort this will be a very exciting category to watch unfold next year.

The historic category honours went to Karl Johnston in his little Midas. Today was a super successful day for Karl as not only was he the Historic Category winner but he also won his class – class 16 a but most importantly he headed the most anticipated category of all – the battle for the title of Fastest Mini From the West. This unofficial class has surely been the most contested class all year and has been great to watch. It also shows how much good fun and craic is to be had amongst the sprint paddock between competitors. !! Karl Johnston took the honours in his Midas with Gary Milligan second. Sadly Gerry McGarrity didn’t make it to the event, although I’m sure he has, by now, been on to congratulate Karl on this prestigious class win and also to further wind Gary Milligan up. Gerry If your reading this we know you only run 10 inch wheels.

In terms of the classes, James Schofield took his maiden class win in Class 1 road Going series production cars up to 1700cc .in his Honda Civic with Jim Davidsons mazda MX5 second infront of Daniel Murphy in his 106. I always look enviously at James`s Civic as, back in the day, I always had an inkling for a Jordan Civic. Well done James on your first win in only your first season of competing.

Class 2 Road going Production Cars over 1700 cc. This was the largest class of the day and saw Andrew Robb in his BMW M3 take class honours from Nicholas Bassetts Honda Civic with Michael Clarke guiding his Lotus Elise to third in class. As I’ve said before this class is on the up and up and its great to see. Another enjoyable thing to watch was this years TSCC Club champion Ben McKee making his father work very hard for family honours in their dual driven Maxda MX5. On the day Wallace’s experience won over Bens youthful enthusiasm, but only just…….

Class 3 Specialist road going. Gardiner McIlwaine took the class honours on his first run with a 126.37 sec run. Gardiner had a lonely run to the class honours today but even still it didn’t stop him trying as he pedalled his pinto engine westfield to class victory.

Class 6a Modified Series production cars 8v. This was going to be a mammoth battle from the offset. Not only was it a battle for the honour of the fastest 205 but also it was the final chance for David Evans and Gary Milligan to go head to head as they have done all season. Class honours went to David Strain in his Peugeot 205 who set a blistering 118.31 second run. Over his 3 runs David Strain proved to be super consistent and his third and slowest run ( which was set in the rain) was only 0.34 seconds off his fastest timed run!! He also finished 12 overall !! Second in class went to David Evans with Cathal Graham taking third respectively in their 205 gti`s. This was also Cathals first sprint so well done to him. Hopefully he will do some more events next year. Stephen Harvey narrowly pipped Gary Milligan to fourth with only 0.23 seconds between them. Should Ken Block ever decide to retire Stephen Harvey is a shoe in to replace him as his flambuoyant tail out style was brilliant to watch especially when coming from the infield section back onto the front straight. Stephen definitely wins the award for most entertaining driver. This has been a fabulous class to watch ( and compete it) all season with the top 3 places rarely separated by very much.

Class 6B Modified Production cars 16v – Colin Dines took class honours by a comfortable 1.51 seconds from Declan Murrays Vauxhall Astra with Andrew Kernohan third in another Clio. These little clios have been brilliant all season and are definitely an affordable way of going sprinting, competitively in ether the road going class or in a modified production class.

Class 7 modified Specialist Production cars – Alan Davidson took the class honours with a 114.59 second run which gave him 7th overall second in the final standings. Second place today went to Jonathan Beattie in his Dutton Melos. Jonathon is another driver who is new to the sport this season and who hopefully will male more appearances.This was a superb drive for Alan who is normally to be found at the wheel of Hugh Reid’s Mondiale Formula Ford 1600. Indeed Alan was runner up in this year’s Kirkistown Formula Ford Championship in a car that was 29 years old!

Class 8a Sports Libre – Lewis Dunlop took the win today in his beautifully prepared Mini Cooper. This is another class win for Lewis who also took the class title for 2018 in the same car. Lewis has also recently done a couple of Historic races in a Lotus Elan with some outstanding results for the Donaghadee man. Hopefully next year we will see some more entrants into what has been a bit of a sparsely populated class of late. However what it has lacked in quantity, this class has more than made up for with quality.

Class 9 Sports Libre – Lee Kirkwood took the win in class 9 with a superb drive in his Radical SR3. Lee has been threatening a win for a while now and has finally secured it which is great to see for this quiet but popular member of the paddock. Second in class went to Gerard O’Connell in his Mark1 Escort which was the talk of the place all day. Third in Class went to Gordon Buckley who has been a bit of a stranger of late around the paddock. Gordon has taken some time away from competing in sprints to do some auto tests as both a competitor and organiser as well as many other activities . Hopefully Gordon will become a more regular competitor again in the sprints as his humorous approach is most welcome around the paddock.

Class 10 Sports libre Rally Cars – Event sponsor Nicky Caughey guided his recently rebuilt Escort Mark2 to a solid class win ahead of Lee Burke in another Mark2 Escort. This is only Nicky`s second sprint as he only started competing at the turn of this season when he entered the Bishopscourt stages for his first ever event. It was also good to see Lee Burke back out competing again after a recent sabbatical.

Class 11 Sports Libre Rally Cars over 1650cc multi valve – Seamus Murray had a fun run to take the class honours in his little Honda Civic with a run that gave him 13 overall. In this instance 13 was lucky for him with a class win.

Class 12 4wd libre cars – Oliver Cormican again took the class honours in class 12 even though had a clutch failure which ultimately meant he only got 1 timed run in. Oliver was another driver who was having a rather lonely day in their class. Thankfully Oliver reports that his other Evo wasn’t too badly damaged after his little “flymo moment” at the final round of the Championship 2 weeks ago and that it will be back raring to go at the start of next season. Hopefully all of Oliver’s bad luck is now used up.

Class 13 Formula Racing cars. Ryan Campbell upset the applecart today with a fabulous drive to beat his father Henry Campbell by 1.87 seconds. Ryan`s first and fastest timed run put him 8th overall and with a stunning drive. Henry Campbell was second and Ian Maple took third in class in his Mondiale. It’s great to see Ian Maple finally getting to have some fun in this car after some early teething problems which now all appear to have been redressed. Ryan Campbell has also had a great season racing in his formula ford and has always been at the sharp end of the action all season. A class win at his last event of the year is like the icing on the cake for Ryan and will ensure he has the bragging rights all winter for being the fastest Campbell in the family! Until next year.

Class 14 for the smaller race cars. Catherine Donnelly took the class win today which I believe was also her first ever class win as well. Catherine has come on leaps and bounds over the course of the season and has been getting steadily faster as the season progresses which makes this class win, at the last event of the year even sweeter.

Class 15 for the larger race cars saw Robert McGimspey take the class win from John Stewart with Steven Gault third. A more detailed run down of this class can be found above but it was worth noting that the combined age of the class winner and his deputy today would be somewhere north of the fastest speed recorded through the speed traps today!! It just goes to prove that experience really does count in this game and neither of these 2 gentlemen are lacking in experience.

Class 16 A – Karl Johnston took class honours from Trevor McIlroys Sebring Sprite. Karls run put him 21st overall as he revelled in the damper conditions.