Magnus Technology Hillclimb and Sprint Championship 2008. Report after Limerick Hillclimbs at Old Mill and Broadford. By Senan O’Connor

I suggested after the Clare Hillclimbs that Simon McKinleys’ then distant second place could become a lot more threatening if he chose to utilize some of the faster cars from the McKinley Motorsport stable. In Clare he had swapped from the usual Mk2 Escort to Rory Stephen’s Radical sports car and promptly landed a second overall behind then championship leader and reigning champion, Paul O’Connell. Simon does preparation work on Rory’s car and borrowed it again at round 7 and 8 in Dungarvan after the Escort gave trouble once more. He was second to Seamus Morris’ Darrian T90 on Saturday by a mere 5 hundredths of a second and won on Sunday outright. That was a bad weekend for Paul O’Connell. Third was the best he could manage with persistent electrical problems in his car. He didn’t run on Sunday. Suddenly O’Connells lead after six straight wins at the beginning of the year had evaporated and the two were tied with 67 points each in the championship.

McKinley could smell blood and arrived at the Limerick Motor Club Hillclimb Weekend with his fathers extremely potent Lant RT2 in which he has enjoyed great success in Libre Racing. He has also won a number of hills in the car on the rare occasion that he’s chosen to use it instead of the Escort. Simon was one step ahead of Paul all day on the Saturday hill as both driver’s pace increased and he won by over a second on the short Old Mill hillclimb near New Castle West. A hard pill to swallow for O’Connell on his home event. His response on Sunday was fierce. McKinley lead for the first three runs. But the local driver managed to turn the tables on Run 4 with a 35.26 to 35.71 for the Dubliner. Paul O’Connell dug deep on the fifth and final run and went over a second faster than the previously established pace, but the well was deeper for Simon McKinley who slashed his best time by over two seconds and won the event by 1.01 seconds.

Simon McKinley now leads the Magnus Technology Hillclimb & Sprint Championship by two points, but drivers will only be able to score there best 10 scores from the 14 rounds. To get a more realistic idea of how both drivers are standing its best to drop there four worst scores from the points they’ve already collected. Based on that calculation O’Connell is effectively still leading on 60 points to McKinley on 57. With just 4 rounds to go that means we’re in for a real showdown between these two rivals. Historically McKinley has always done better than O’Connell in Donegal so the pressure will really be on for O’Connell at the MEC’s rounds on the 23rd and 24th of August.

In Class 1 Pete Ray in a Mini is really stretching his lead after a further two class wins for him in Limerick. Ian Quinn is second, also in a Mini, ahead of his friend Paul Doyle that he introduced to the sport a number of years ago. Paul had enough of being a spectator and got behind the wheel for the first time this season in a Civic and is heading a tight battle for third in the class. Trish Daly in her second year on the hills is just 2 points behind him in her Fiesta. Class 2 is getting intense. On the face of it John Bradley has a big lead, but when the Drop Score system is applied, the same as for the Overall Championship, Tommy Murphy would actually be 3 points ahead after clocking up seven wins in the class this year. Tommy had actually finished ahead of John on all the rounds he had contested up until the second day in Limerick. This will be another battle to watch as the season draws to an end. Fiona Cullen is third in her Fiesta, but Brendan Gleeson is closing on her rapidly. Drop scores would actually put them at a dead heat at the moment.

Fiona Cullen’s brother Mark is heading class 3a in his Darrian T90 ahead of Rory Stephens in the Radical and the Johns, Whitley and Laffey in a Golf and Chevette respectively. Seamus Morris has been left to dominate Class 3b since Mckinley started swapping steeds. Trevor Cullen is second at the moment in his G3 Escort ahead of Denis Hogan’s BMW M3. This is another tussle that would be flipped around by Drop Scores, so once again it’s all to play for here if McKinley stays away. Its tightening up in historic Class 4 between John Farell’s Escort, Jerry Freeman’s Anglia, Matt Clarke’s Marcos and Ed Cassidy’s Tiger.

Class 5a has been scintillating since rookies Colm Dunphy and Siobhan McCann started beating class stalwart Ger O’Connor. Colm did it on the first four rounds. Siobhan then did it in Colm’s absense in Co. Clare. Colm did it again on Day 1 in Dungarvan. Ger struck back on Day 2 beating both of them. Siobhan got him on Saturday then on Limerick Day 1 he was back on top on Day 2. This one will go all the way to the wire. Officially Gerard leads from Siobhan, Scott Milligan and Colm Dunphy but with Drop Scores applied, Colm would be leading on 58 points to Gerard and Siobhan tied on 56. Brendan Keane in a Magnum leads James Doherty in a Delta in Class 5b after a first and second place each in Limerick. Championship sponsor Darryl Ramsay, OMS, leads class 6 from Adrian McCallions Normandale.

There is some consolation for Paul O’Connell in that he leads his class 7 from Brendan Harpur in another Delta. Paul has a much better chance than McKinley of winning his Class and the overall championship. Simon McKinley now faces the dilemma of whether to go after the overall win against Paul using single seaters and sports cars or the class win against Seamus Morris using the Escort, a battle that is also very close to his heart. This is not to say that he wouldn’t be trying for overall results in the Escort but surely the lighter cars would be a safer bet if he’s to win his first overall championship.