Review of the first four rounds of the Magnus Technology Hillclimb & Sprint Championship 2008 for the Frank Keane Trophy. Including the Galway Hillclimbs at Ballyryan and Ballyallaban, in Co. Clare on 19th & 20th April. By Senan O’Connor

It’s four wins out of four starts for Limerick’s Paul O’Connell in this years National Hillclimb and Sprint Championship sponsored by Magnus Technology. O’Connell’s ‘08 campaign began just three weeks ago in Wexford where his main opposition from ‘07, Frank Byrnes, crashed out after initially setting the pace on a wet Run 1. Byrnes’ crash happened on a drier Run 2 while Paul stamped his authority on the event leading after that run and going even faster on the final Run 3.

O’Connell was chased home by Simon McKinley in the Warrior Escort who finished just over a second behind him. McKinley had a mighty battle with local driver James M Stafford in the Escort’s nemesis, a Darrian T90. Stafford was nearly a second and half quicker on the first run. They both improved on Run 2 but the gap was now barely over a second. Then on the final run Mckinley turned the tables to beat the Wexford rally driver by half a second. Dubliner Brendan Keane was fourth in his Magnum winning his class 5B and  just ahead of another fast local, Peter Dwyer, who took the award for Class 7 in his Reynard Opel Lotus.

One Run on the second day was enough to give Paul O’Connell the win before he stopped on Run 2, when an oil pipe came off. Peter Dwyer realized more of the potential of his car and took second on Round 2 after an excellent Run 3. McKinley managed to stay ahead of Stafford all day to collect third. Stafford must have been buoyed by the fact that he edged out local star and rival, David James, in the Focus World Rally Car which finished fifth, 11 hundredths of a second behind the Darrian.

And so the drivers came to Clare for two more days of competition organised this time by the Galway Motor Club. The organisers had a tough day having to cement the road several times after cars dumped oil all over the route and several drivers may have failed to reach their full potential with so few goes at the hill. Lee Stanworth a winner of events last year may have been one of these drivers. Mechanical problems hampered his progress, but his father who shares the car with him scored an excellent second overall just seconds behind Paul O’Connell who reined supreme.

Simon McKinley again divided the single-seaters in the Escort, third overall just ahead of Peter Dwyers Reynard. Best of the local opposition was Sean Cannole in the ex-Syllvie Mullins Ralt. This was a fine result from the former Civic driver on his first hillclimb in the car. McKinley’s saloon supremacy was threatened again on Sunday by his long time rival, Seamus Morris, in another one of those Darrians. Ulsterman Morris went ahead of the Leinster driver, McKinley, on the first run up the torturous Ballyallaban in his pristine sports car. A wild effort from McKinley was aborted when he was balked by another competitor. We’ll never know if Simon was going to make it, he was all over the road when the red flags came out, on the corner that claimed John Farrells Mk1 Escort on an earlier run. His second attempt at Run 2 was tidy and so was the time, almost a full second ahead of Morris. He too had been pushing it on the approach to the car park, halfway up the climb he was completely sideways over a crest. Later in the paddock they were seen to shake hands. Could you ask for a healthier rivalry?

Simon McKinley’s time was good enough for second behind Paul O’Connell who, as in  Wexford, only managed one run on Sunday. This time the fault was rear suspension that callapsed from the vigorous bumps of the Burren. Seamus Morris was third slightly ahead of Peter Dwyer. He was followed by our two British friends, father and son team, Russell in fifth and Lee Stanworth in sixth. Fastest locals were Declan McNamara and Sean Cannole sharing a Ralt. They were seventh and eighth ahead of championship sponsor, Darryl Ramsay in an OMS. Galway driver Dean Laffey rounded out the top ten on Sunday in another Reynard.

Paul O’Connell is streaking ahead in the championship now on 40 points. Simon McKinley has 34 and former championship Sponsor Peter Dwyer has 30 in the Premier Machine Tools Reynard. In the class championships, Pete Ray used his home events to move into the lead of Class 1 in his mini after a win on the Saturday hill. He’s one point ahead of last years Class 1 champion Ian Quinn and five ahead of another Galway man Ray Cunningham who won both days in Wexford and Sunday in Co Clare. Tommy Murphy leads class 2, John Whitley 3A, Simon McKinley 3B, Ken McAvoy Class 4, Colm Dumphy 5A, Niall Kennedy 5B, John Mahon Class 6 and Paul O’Connell Class 7. The next two rounds are back in Clare again on the 7th and 8th of June, hosted by the Clare Motor Club. The drivers are allready looking forward to the challenge that the road across the unique Clare landscape present.