By John Kenny
Alex Sinclair, the CEO of Motorsport Ireland, has responded to recent criticism that the governing body of the sport here isn’t doing enough to reinvigorate Irish circuit racing.
In the last few years, the amount of Ireland’s circuit Racing championships and drivers have dwindled alarmingly and the total number of Irish competing in the UK and indeed further afield has dropped to only a handful.
Back in the 1990’s Ireland’s circuit racing flourished.
Formula Opel was our premier class, backed up by a vibrant Formula Ford series in which young drivers could cut their teeth if they wanted to move through to international motor racing series.
The likes of the late Neil Shanahan, Tim Mullen, Matt Griffin, Johnny Kane, Michael Keohane, Damien Faulkner and Gavin Smith all moved through the ranks of domestic championships and onto a modicum of success abroad in different International classes.
With the demise of Formula Opel and Formula Ford as well as the short lived and unloved Formula Ireland, options have become limited for our Young Lions and Motorsport Ireland are now left to support a couple of drivers racing in the US, mainly Peter Dempsey and Patrick McKenna, winners of recent Young Racing Driver of the Year awards.
Now it seems as if Motorsport Ireland will not attempt to set up any new single seater classes in Ireland in the near future at least and will concentrate instead on continued backing of individual Irish drivers.
“After Formula Opel finished, we had Formula Ireland and we also tried to bring in Formula Renault into this country but it proved beyond our means as we got no support from Renault Ireland which was vital,” said Sinclair.
“There is no point in setting up a class that is not affordable and can only accommodate a handful of cars and drivers.
“The reality is that Irish drivers will have to move abroad if they want to persue a motor racing career.”
Formula Ford was also the main stay of Irish motor racing for decades. After its demise at the turn of the century there was an attempt to revive the class running older Kent 1600cc cars, but they haven’t run in the Republic for two years and there is no sign of their return.
“The market is not there,” says Sinclair. “Instead we will continue to support our young driver scheme and they will have to race abroad as part of our agreement.”
“Its not that we are throwing our hat at it, far from it, but there has been a move away from the one make categories into classes where competitors get as much fun out of preparing their cars and then racing them such as Formula Libre or the new Irish Touring car series.”
Motorsport Ireland supported by the Sports Council have set up a Young Driver and Rally Driver of the Year schemes in recent years and that is to be applauded as it gives six monthly winners the chance to aspire to a €50,000 support package.
Recent winners such as Dempsey and McKenna are racing abroad, but the quality of monthly winners is waning due to the lack of top classes in Ireland and the lack of Irish competitors racing in British championships especially.
“This isn’t a new issue because we did a survey of drivers back in 2004 who had taken part in circuit racing in previous years and during that survey, the primary reason (for not racing) was the cost and that’s no different today.
“The Motorsport Ireland race committee are now looking at a new survey to see where drivers are going in the future.”
The other problem is that Motorsport Ireland and Mondello Park haven’t enjoyed the best of relationships and Martin Birrane, the circuit owner was particularly annoyed that the lack of support for his Formula Ireland which lasted a mere three years.
Mondello Park has also become a racing club in 2011 and is now running its own race weekends as the clubs that used to organise the events are fading fast and the county Kildare circuit has at least got the knowhow and the staff on the ground.
But it’s also unlikely that Mondello will try to introduce its own new series as it seeks to increase the participation in the existing championship it hosts over the course of the summer.
“A number of the one make series have frankly become too expensive for drivers to compete in and I’m thinking here about the likes of UK Formula Ford. It’s also impossible to stop people spending money.
“If we control the costs then they will find some way to spend on the class. We would then have to bring in controls which are way outside the remit of a governing body,” added Sinclair.
Irish circuit racing is at its lowest ebb. It needs new thinking and a new policy to turn around its fortunes and return it to something akin to its former glories.