by John Kenny
The new Mondello Park car circuit racing season cracked into action last weekend, with some comparatively decent grids including the newly upgraded Formula Sheane, which had a grid of 16 cars, a series that looks like making a real breakthrough this year.
Formula Sheane cars, built by Sheane Engineering in Wicklow, are capable of speeds in excess of 150 mph and can accelerate from 1-100km/h in under five seconds. They race at Mondello, Kirkistown and Bishopscourt in Northern Ireland and the Phoenix Park race weekend.
The series recently announced a link up with The Make A Wish Foundation Ireland. This link, the first of its kind in Irish Motorsport, will see the race drivers, their friends and families, raise funds for the charity through a number of novel initiatives.
The first of these is a sponsored walk around Mondello Park, the Kildare venue where the Wicklow built cars race most regularly. At 6pm on 9 June, they will assemble at Mondello, line up on the grid and when the lights turn green, the walk, and the fundraising begins.
All of these initiatives are important as Mondello Park hasn’t been immune to the downturn like much of the Irish leisure industry, and over the past few years fewer and fewer drivers and riders have taken out Motor Racing licences to compete in the various Irish championships.
The circuit has also lost all of their visiting UK classes with the British Rallycross, British Superbikes and British Formula 3, which graced Ireland with their presence in the last decade, no longer using Mondello as part of their championship calendars.
The Irish track has had to rebuild but there apparently are positive signs.
Their Motor Racing School, track and corporate days have shown an upturn in recent months and 2012 is showing some early promise that drivers are contemplating returning to racing.
“I would be very confident that we have consolidated and that things are looking up” said Morris
“The initial entries for this weekend are good and we have also confirmed the Adelaide Masters Motorbike series for this year which will run a round at the Bishopscourt circuit in Downpatrick in August for the first time”
While bike racing has held up for the most part in Ireland and Rallying is showing a tremendous return to form, car racing has been decimated.
Ireland no longer has a premier racing class and Formula Ford, so long the breeding ground for our “young lions” has no series in the Republic, although a small Northern Ireland series remains.
There is some speculation that the Irish Formula Fords will run a number of 'trophy' race weekends with a view to a full return in 2013.
New initiatives have also included the introduction of the Irish Touring Cars (ITCC) which targeted drivers who had run their own cars on Mondello track days while the Ginetta series is a series designed for drivers aged 14 to 17 years old.
Irish car racing IS showing tentative signs of a rebirth and if one digs deeper; there are drivers out there now willing it seems to go racing again.
Bishopscourt will host a car racing weekend in May for the first time in 44 years, and together with Kirkistown in the North, coupled with Mondello Park and the returning Phoenix Park motor races in August, circuit racers are now spoilt for choice as regards choice of venues this year.
Mondello Park however remains the focal point and Morris is confident of bigger grids this season.
“We are running seven car racing weekends this season due to the fact the fact that Bishopscourt is back on line and the Phoenix Park is running as well.
“From what we can gather the likes of the Globals, ITCC and Formula Vee’s have shown a marked increase in drivers registering for their respective 2012 championships.
“We will also be running the likes of Formula Libre, Historics and Fiat classes but at this stage it’s difficult to gauge what kind of grids we can expect from those series."
Mondello now has a rival in Bishopscourt who will run a car race meeting for the first time since 1968 on the weekend of 12/13 May.
The meeting will feature all the main classes currently racing in Ireland and will be promoted by Leinster Motor Club, who actually organised the last car racing event held at the track the late 60’s.
In 1992 the circuit was bought and made into a permanent motorsports facility and in 2001 the present owner took over the site and made improvements to the layout and safety of the Circuit.
In 2011 the complete resurfacing of the track was finished, giving 3 alternative layouts and the race meeting in May will be on the National track measuring 1.85miles.
Morris however has welcomed the decision of the Leinster Motor Club to run an Irish Car racing weekend at Bishopscourt in May.
“We see Bishopscourts return as a real positive and indeed we are running a round of our Adelaide Masters series there ourselves (Saturday, 18 August).
“In the not too distant past drivers complained that Mondello was the only real venue they had and some classes raced in the UK just to bring a variety to their championships.
“Now there is no excuse. We have the venues for 2012, it’s up to the championship classes and the drivers to get back out and race.
“We have to rebuild our own because the International and UK classes not in a position currently to tout for drivers or series to come here.
“At present no-one in the UK is interested in racing here so we need to consolidate.”
The Kildare track had hoped that the British Rallycross series would return to our shores this year, but they have decided to only race in the UK in 2012 while the Mazda MX 5 series showed an initial interest, but after consulting with their drivers, a decision was reached not to race in Ireland.