Wexford Motor Club were again given the honour of starting the Connaught Competition Engines Hillclimb and sprint championship and as the Hillclimb and Sprint season got started for 2012, few could have believed what a cracking weekend was ahead.
Saturday began in a new venue Ballyhouge. This course was very fast with two chicanes and due to the absence of the Celtic Tiger, a bumpy surface. It presented a challenge to tame the fastest machinery in the country on good old Irish tarmac, surely even Sylvie Mullins doing his first event outside of Ballyvaughan in years in his 600bhp v8 Gould single seater would struggle to stay ahead of more seasoned campaigners such as Simon McKinley, John Byrne and returning Paul O’Connell?
As the day got under way and the practice run over it was Mullins who shot from the traps quickest with a time of 28.96 a mere .12 seconds ahead of McKinley in the Lant. O’Connell was further back on a 30.77. John Byrne was flying in the Jedi but even his use of the force could not stop him hitting the cones in the chicane as he shot through them leaving him without a time recorded until the 3rd run.
As the day went on, Mullins ratcheted up the pressure dropping his times consistently to finish on a 27.53 as McKinley endured some gearbox woes and hit a chicane on his last run and finished 0.92 behind.
John Byrne managed to rocket the Jedi through the chicanes penalty free on his last two runs and recorded a fantastic time of 29.49 just under 2 seconds behind Mullins. Joe Courtney from Galway was a model of consistency in his OMS Hornet and finished on a 29.91 behind his fellow motorcycle powered competitor Byrne. O’Connell ran into persistent electrical problems with the Pilbeam and failed to score on the last 2 runs leaving him 5th overall. Perhaps the Pilbeam becoming too accustomed to life in the garage over the last 12 months! 6th overall was Rory Stephens in the Turbo Radical. Rory hit the pace early on but struggled to improve the times as the day went on. 7th overall was Neil Anderson in the lime green Ward sports car. Neil showed tremendous pace to live with the single seaters so well. 8th overall was Eanna Carroll from Loughrea in his Turbo Civic. Another tremendous achievement in a self-built front wheel drive car with over 450bhp on tap. 9th overall was the infamous John Mahon in his DJ Hayabusa. John finally seems to be getting some trouble free runs from his car and is getting quicker and quicker the older he gets! 10th overall in his Connaught powered Reynard was Dermot Nolan. The affable Dubliner showed great consistency in what is probably the hardest worked car in Hillclimbing!
The Class winners on Saturday were the lovely Elaine O Reilly in the Mini in Class 1, Class 2 Declan Cundelan in the rapid Ford Escort Mk2. Class 3(a) was won by Ian Quinn in the MiniBusa just ahead of returning Peter Bogan. Class 3(b) was won by Rory Stephens in the Radical Turbo. The fastest class 4 Historic was Mick O’Shea in the MGB. Class 5 was won by Killian Connole in the formula Ford. Class 6 was won by John Byrne in the Jedi just ahead of Joe Courtney. Class 7 was won by Sylvie Mullins in the Gould Judd. Class 8 for 1600 Rallycars was won by James Bradley in the Honda Civic and Class 9 for bigger engined rally cars was won by Niall Fortune in the Ford Escort Mk2.
Sunday dawned and saw the return of the Barntown Hill on April fool’s day. This was a much smoother surface venue with a paddock kindly provided by C+D providers for the single seaters right at the start line. The day saw a large number of spectators at this easily accessible location who witnessed a titanic battle for overall honours.
Mullins drew first blood on the smoother Barntown course finishing the first run in 39.61 just over four tenths faster than McKinley. O’Connell managed a time well enough for 3rd after a huge effort from half the Paddock to diagnose and fix his electrical problems on Sunday morning including fellow competitors John Byrne, John Mahon, Simon McKinley, Brendan Harpur and more. Indeed John Byrne was smelling blood in the water after the first run with an eye on again beating the big Pilbeam having finished just behind it after the first run.
As the second run unfolded there was a long delay after Killian Connole had an off at the final bend. He was quickly attended to by the Rescue team and Doctor and was taken to Hospital as a precaution. Killian who was travelling with Mullins from Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare will be hoping to be fit in time for his home event in two weeks’ time. Upon the restart McKinley took the lead in the Lant slashing his time to 39.28 a full four tenths faster than Mullins who was failed to improve on his first time. The rest of the field were starting to bunch up with another casualty in the form of Rory Stephens’ gearbox. This put Rory out for the rest of the event.
As the day was drawing to a close there was just time for one last run. McKinley was eager to ratchet up the pressure on Mullins but made a small mistake in the first series of bends and failed to improve. The pressure was indeed on Mullins as he left the line and despite cooler conditions and slightly less grip he improved to snatch back the win from McKinley with a 38.93 run 0.35 ahead of McKinley’s best.
O’Connell improved on his return to Hillclimbing consolidating third with a 42.04 a half second ahead of John Byrne in the Jedi. There remains a bit of set up work to do to the Pilbeam to bring it back to its best after the smash in Donegal. John Byrne finished highest motorcycle engined car although he will be hoping for better in Galway as he bids to return to the podium positions with the nimble Jedi. Joe Courtney had no answer to Byrne in his Hornet this weekend but will surely be out for revenge next time out at his home event. The evergreen John Mahon in his DJ Hayabusa beat Neil Anderson in his Ward to 6th place overall. Eddie Power in a beautiful Toyota Corolla WRC car was highest placed 4wheel drive saloon in 8th overall. Rory Stephens despite only finishing one timed run still managed a time well enough for 9th and a useful haul of points. Dermot Nolan in the Reynard put in a solid days work to round out the top ten.
Class winners on Sunday were in Class 1 Elaine O’Reilly in the Mini who takes a perfect 20 class points from the weekend. Class 2 was won by James Doherty in his potent Toyota Starlet. Class 3(a) was won by Peter Bogan this time beating off the attentions of Ian Quinn’s MiniBusa. Neil Anderson’s heroics in the ward were good enough to win class 3(b). Mick O’Shea was again fastest historic in the MGB. Class 5 was won by Liam Howlett who put in a great performance in a formula Vee. Class 6 was won by John Byrne as consolation for missing out on the overall podium. Class 7 was won again by Sylvie Mullins in the Gould Judd. James Bradley managed to fend off all comers again to win Class 8 in his Honda Civic while in the other rally car class 9 Niall Fortune took the honours in a Mk2 escort.
An honourable mention must go to Aidan Courtney and Neil Bradbury in the Fiat Cinquecento who were spectacular to watch double driving in the little fiat. Surely one of the cheapest ways to compete in any motor sport!
It’s just 2 weeks now to wait till the next instalment of Connaught Competition Engines Hillclimb action. The circus travels to the other side of the country to Ballyvaughan Co. Clare to the famous Corkscrew and Ballyallaban Hillclimbs. It promises to be a thrilling encounter!
Article by: Paul O’Connell