By John Kenny
It was a call out of the blue from Colin Dowling, organiser of the new budget Honda Civic RX Irish Rallycross class, that led to me sitting behind the wheel for last Sunday’s final round of the 2013 championship.
Rallycross, a series of short sharp saloon car races run on tarmac and gravel, invented in the 1960s, came into its own in the 1970s due to the world-wide oil crisis which curtailed Rallying.
It was embraced in Ireland and the likes of Dermot Carnegie won multiple British championships while Dubliner Derek Tohill won this year’s European Touring Car Rallycross championship in his Ford Fiesta.
But it has been a series in decline in Ireland over the last few years.
It was thought that with the downturn in the economy drivers would give up rallying and move to Rallycross and there were moves to get the likes of Austin McHale, a five-time Irish Tarmac Rally champion, to switch to Rallycross.
It never materialised and this year, there was a real danger of it being cancelled altogether as the numbers did not make economic sense for Mondello Park in County Kildare.
With the last couple of years seeing a fall off in competitors taking part in the Irish championship, new measures are being introduced aimed at turning around what was at one stage, a series that was well-supported here.
A return to a calendar year format, the reintroduction of the Superfinal, the removal of the overseas round and changes to the event format have all been agreed in consultation with competitors.
The championships' organising committee say they are confident that these changes, along with the introduction of the Honda Civic RX challenge and another, more powerful, one-make series, should see a boost in competitor numbers when the new championship commences in February.
Barry Rabbitt, winner of this year’s Leinster Trophy at Mondello had a run in the Honda Civic RX recently and last Sunday it was my turn.
Three Hondas were entered into the budget Stockhatch 8 Valve class which ensured a practice run, then four heats, the timings from the best three of which would determine one’s place in one of the afternoon finals.
I raced single-seater Formula Vee back in the 1990s and indeed have won a Rallycross race, albeit a ‘celebrity’ event as part of the European series which at one stage attracted crowds of 10,000 to Mondello Park.
I have also done the odd bit of Rallying, as a driver and navigator.
I, however, had not raced for around 12 years when I competed at Mondello last February in a Peugeot 205, where I failed to finish and indeed ended up stuck in a ditch.
Mondello invited me to race at the Leinster Trophy in September where I ran in the new Fiesta class and last Sunday came my run in the Honda.
Practice was okay on a slippy track but the first heat was a disaster – 21 seconds off the leader! Time to put the head down. I got quicker as the day wore on and made it to the back of the B Final for Stockhatch machines.
I was up to fourth when the clutch packed in. I finished but with no revs, some way back from the leaders.
It mattered not.
The Honda is an easy car to drive and it will be a great introduction to Rallycross for those thinking of a relatively cheap way of competing in the series.
Colin Dowling is the organiser of the new one-make class and he can be contacted at email@example.com.
So get your motor racing licence. Rallycross is a brilliant day out. Even the boys at Top Gear can tell you that.
By the way, I am sticking to my clutch story.