Dromara’s Johnston dominates at Kirkistown

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

THE August car race meeting at Kirkistown Circuit was a packed affair, with 14 races in all.

The first race of the day was for Fiesta Zetecs.

Jonny Forsythe already has the 2017 championship won and he was absent, but the battle for second is very much alive and main rivals Daniel Conlon, from Dollingstown, and Mark Stewart, from Belfast, qualified first and second on the grid. 1.7 seconds covered the first seven drivers.

From the start, Conlon and Stewart were locked together, swapping the lead on numerous occasions. Paul Stewart, brother of Mark, had been with these two but an acrobatic manoeuvre at the Crosslé Chicane left him in a clear third position while, behind, a fierce battle for fourth involved Desi McGlade, from Belfast, Eórann O'Neill, from Nutt's Corner, Ricky Hull, from Newtownards and Roy Smyth, from Saintfield, who was having the drive of his life.

At the finish, Daniel Conlon was 0.276 seconds ahead of Mark Stewart. A further 2.6 seconds back was Paul Stewart. Eórann O'Neill, Roy Smyth and Desi McGlade crossed the line next, in that order, with one second covering them. Ricky Hull was a further second behind.

The second Fiesta Zetec race was shaping up to be a great affair before it was neutralised on the seventh lap by the safety car.

The race finished under those conditions but had been full of excitement prior to its appearance. Mark Stewart had been on pole, beside Daniel Conlon.

From the start, Conlon dropped to third behind Mark and Paul Stewart.

Meanwhile, Eórann O'Neill had jumped Desi McGlade for fourth. At the Crosslé Chicane on the second lap, Mark Stewart ran wide on the exit, allowing Paul Stewart into a lead that he would not lose.

On laps four, five and six, it all got hectic for second to fifth places. Conlon got back to second place while O'Neill, Mark Stewart and McGlade all held third at one point.

This was going to be a great battle before the safety car was deployed because of a car stranded in a dangerous position.

This left McGlade in third, Mark Stewart in fourth and O'Neill in fifth.

Ricky Hull had maintained sixth place throughout the race.

The first Formula Vee race, for B & C drivers had only six starters. Luke O'Faolin, from Tallaght had a commanding lead over Tadgh Sharkey, from Dublin and Ken Brown, when the race was red flagged after a big accident at the fastest part of the back straight.

The second Formula Vee race was more like what is expected from these racers. A long, high speed battle between Ray Moore (Dublin), Colm Blackburn (Dublin) and Dan Polley, thrilled the spectators.

After nine intense laps, Moore crossed the finish line 0.03 seconds in front of Blackburn who was a further 0.6 seconds ahead of Polley in third.

The title of "Closed Cars" was given to an amalgamation of Saloons, GTs, ASK Supercars and Seat Cupras. Thus was created an enormous grid of 21 cars for two races! To add even more spice in the first race, Mike Johnston from Dromara, in the only GT, started from the back of the grid.

Eoin Murray (Dublin) and Shane Murphy (Cork) ran first and second in their Seat Cupras for the first two laps but Johnston was on a charge, scything through the field with precision. By the end of lap two, he was in third place.

A lap later he was in second and on lap five he moved into the lead, where he would remain. Murray and Murphy held station in second and third, while Barry English (Malahide) moved to fourth in his Seat Cupra.

On lap three, Peter Barrable (Swords) brought the first of the ASK Supercars in to fifth place, where he would remain, ahead of Alan Dawson (Dublin) in a similar motor.

Meanwhile, Stephen Traub (Belfast) was leading the Saloons in his Honda Integra, from his father, Tony Traub in a similar car. Gilbert Yates was third in a BMW 330i. That was how they finished.

The second "Closed Cars" race had a depleted field, down to 18 after breakages in the first encounter.

Johnston had elected not to run in this one, saving his car for the final Roadsports encounter. Sam Mansfield (Saggart) took the overall win from Murray and English, all in Seat Cupras.

Barrible and Dawson were the first two ASK Supercars home, followed by Gary Corcoran (Kilcoole).

In the Saloons, the finishing order was the same as the first encounter.

The big story in the Dawson-WAM N.I.FF1600 camp was the mountain bike accident suffered by Kevin O'Hara, who had been lying second in the championship standings.

He suffered a broken elbow and damage to his other arm and, although in attendance, would not be racing during the weekend.

The second biggest story was about championship leader, Niall Murray, who would only be arriving at the circuit just before qualifying, having been in America testing an Indy Light car the day before.

Jordan Dempsey (Mullingar) set pole for the first race but Murray grabbed pole for the second race.

At the beginning of race one, Dempsey converted his pole position into the lead. David McCullough, from Ballymena, got a lightening start and was up the inside of Murray going into Colonial One.

However, he out braked himself and both he and Murray took to the grass.

Murray dropped to 12th and McCullough to 16th. As always, the Randalstown Rocket, Alan Davidson, was there to pick up the pieces and he shot into second place, harrying Dempsey all the way.

Meanwhile, Murray was putting in a champion's drive. By the end of lap two he was in eighth place. A lap later he had deposed David Nicholl (Markethill) from seventh. On lap four he passed Andy O'Brien (Dublin) and Stephen O'Connor (Dublin), who had made incredible progress as well from a starting position of 16th.

Now Murray was fifth, a position he improved on by passing Will Herron (Lisburn) on the next lap. Positions remained static until lap 10, when Davidson temporarily took the lead from Dempsey.

Lap 11 kicked off a massive scrap between Dempsey, Davidson, Murray and James Roe (Kildare), who had been shadowing the battle between Davidson and Dempsey up until then. Four laps later, Murray took an amazing win from Davidson, who had dropped to fourth, two laps earlier.

Dempsey was third, just ahead of Roe.

McCullough recovered to fifth and O'Connor was sixth. Less than half a second covered the first three at the end.

In the second race, Murray simply took off. He was never headed and won by over six seconds. What let him get so far ahead was the intense battle for second place between Davidson, McCullough, Roe and Dempsey.

McCullough held second tentatively for 15 laps, while Davidson was charging from a lowly starting position of eighth.

Dempsey and Roe were swapping places in the early laps until Davidson arrived amongst them on lap six. He fought with Dempsey, who repelled him until lap 14, when a lot of action took place.

At the end of it all, Davidson emerged in second place, from McCullough. Roe got up to fourth, just ahead of Dempsey.

Andy O'Brien came home in sixth place.

0.46 seconds covered Davidson, McCullough, Roe and Dempsey as they crossed the finish line.

The Formula Sheanes were another visiting class from the south. These single seaters, sporting slicks and wings, usually provide close racing and did not disappoint on this occasion.

In both races, the top three positions were filled by David Parks (Killaloe) in first place, Richard Kearney (Leighinbridge) in second and Mark Dunleavey (Dublin) in third. In race one they were covered by 0.4 of a second at the finish, while in race two it was a slightly larger 0.9.

The Roadsports races are usually won by Jim Larkham, from Newtownabbey, in his Radical, but this time Mike Johnston was making a rare appearance in his 2l Opel Tigra.

In the first race Larkham led for five laps while Johnston dropped to third behind John Benson (Holywood) in his Crosslé 37S.

On lap two, Johnston was back in second place and chasing Larkham hard.

On lap five Johnston got past but Larkham was not giving up.

On lap 10 he set the fastest lap of the race but overdid it on the next tour and spun.

However, such was the lead of the leading two, that Larkham could recover and still finish in second place, ahead of Paul Conn, who had moved his Crosslé ahead of Benson.

Maurice McClay (Greenisland) was fifth in a 2l Westfield SE1, ahead of Steve Morris (Welling) in a 2l Van Diemen Multisports.

The second Roadsports race was shaping up to be another thriller between Johnston and Larkham until Johnston's Tigra expired on lap four.

This left Larkham to defend from the slow starting Paul Conn. In the end Larkham had a 1.5 second advantage over Conn. Benson was third, ahead of McClay. John McCandless (Helen's Bay) brought his Crosslé 475 home ahead of Steve Morris.


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