CORRY CORNER It’s joy on the double for super Sweeney
THE East Coast Racing Festival, sponsored by Carole Nash, finished off the 2017 road race season, and it was a weekend that saw local rider Micko Sweeney take his first ever double at a national road race, and his first ever 600 win on the roads.
The weekend also saw the Dunlop name on the top of the podium in the 125/Moto 3 race when Gary Dunlop, son of the legendary Joey Dunlop, took his first ever road race win, and it was an emotional day for the Ballymoney rider. There were a number of Irish champions also crowned on the day.
Practice and qualifying was held up on Saturday owing to a lack of flag marshals, but just as the riders came to the grid, the rain came down in torrents, so the first few practice sessions were under control of the travelling marshals, but thankfully the sun came out and the club got a number of the sessions run before they ran out of time.
The weather forecast didn’t look good for Sunday, and with three practice sessions still to run the club got everything going on time, and despite a few red flags they kept the day running until the wind and rain took control. The last four races had to be dropped, which was unfortunate, but a wise decision.
The first race of the day was the 600 non championship, and it was a great start for the local fans as Micko Sweeney took the lead on lap one, and despite the efforts of Derek Sheils on laps four and five to get past the Skerries rider, Sweeney seemed to be spurred on by this and the fans who were cheering him on.
Despite Sheils setting the fastest lap of the race on lap five at 106.013 mph, Sweeney broke the tow and took the win by 3.951 seconds from Sheils, with Paul Jordan taking the final step of the podium, well adrift of the leading pair.
Joseph Loughlin had already clinched both the Irish and Southern Centre Championships prior to the weekend, and once more he totally obliterated the opposition, taking the win in the Senior Support race by almost 25 seconds from Skerries rider David Howard, who also finished second to the Castleblayney rider in both championships. Jonathan Gormley took a fine third place.
There was local joy in the 350 Classic race when Sean Leonard took the Irish and Southern Centre Championships.
The Portrane rider knew going into the race that he only needed to finish in top seven to clinch the championship.
Barry Davidson has taken three wins this season and led the race from start to finish, but the experienced Leonard rode a steady race. Sean was second for the first three laps of the 3.6-mile course, but he was passed by Freddie Stewart, and yet he still fought back to second despite his cushion of points to finish 14 seconds adrift of Davidson, with Stewart in third.
English rider Richard Ford took both the Irish and Southern Centre 250 Classic Championships to break the possible record of Phillip Shaw, who had won seven Irish Championships in a row.
If he had won the championship he would have become the only rider ever to do this in the history of road racing in Ireland, but it was not to be.
Ford has ridden so well all season, and he set the fastest lap of the race at 83.971mph to finish 44 seconds ahead of Brian Mateer, with Gary Hutton third.
The Superbike championship race was next, and this had an intriguing finale, as it was between Derek Mcgee and Derek Sheils.
Mc Gee had made a miraculous recovery from the double break in his femur that he received at the Ulster Grand Prix.
We also remember that Sheils wasn’t allowed to start at Armoy as he had not signed on and practiced on the Friday, owing to his job as best man at his best friend’s wedding, so Mcgee only had to finish in the top six to claim his third Irish Championship of the year.
Derek Sheils’ sponsor Burrows Engineering had recruited the services of the classy English rider Davy Todd to ride his Superstock machine, and this could have put another rider in the frame to keep Mcgee lower down the field.
Unfortunately this only lasted two laps as Todd retired while dicing with Micko Sweeney for second place, and Sheils went on to take the win by over 15 seconds from Micko Sweeney on the MJR BMW, setting the fastest lap of the race at 111.294mph, with Mcgee third.
So Mcgee took the Irish Championship, but Sheils had the constellation of taking the Southern Centre Championship. Duleek rider Alan Connor finished in eighth place.
The finale of the 400 championships was one of the closest of the season, with just six points separating the top three in the Irish, with a little more in the Southern, as it was still between three riders - Paul Gartland, Callum Laidlaw, and Seamus Elliott.
Elliott took the lead at the first corner and was never headed, but there was a great scrap going on behind between Laidlaw, Howard and Gartland.
As the riders went out on their fifth lap Howard’s lower fairing dropped down, and he was in trouble, but then the red flag went out and the results were declared from the previous lap, that saw Elliott take the win from Gartland, with Howard third and Laidlaw fourth.
This result meant that Gartland finished as Irish champion on 107 points, to Elliot’s 106, with Laidlaw back in third. Gartland also took the Southern Championship from Laidlaw and Elliott.
The 250 class only attracted three entries, and it was combined with the 400s, and John Ella took the win from Vic Allen, with John Mcallister retiring on lap three.
The Moto3/125 class came to the line next, and once more it was between four riders - Nigel Moore, Paul Robinson, Gary Dunlop and Sam Wilson- but the latter decided to give the race a miss for some reason, so it was left to the trio to slog it out.
Robinson led from the start followed by Gary Dunlop, Melissa Kennedy, Seamus Elliott, and Nigel Moore. As Robinson crossed the line to start his second lap, he slowed dramatically, and by the Man O War corner he had retired, leaving Gary Dunlop in the lead.
On lap five the red flag went out as Seamus Elliott crashed out in spectacular fashion as he was flat out through Killalane village, in what looked like a seized engine that was the cause of the crash, but thankfully he walked away, and the result was taken from the previous lap, leaving Gary Dunlop in to take his first ever road race win.
It was an emotional win for Dunlop, and while Moore fin-
It was this close in the championship 600 race as Micko Sweeney leads Derek Sheils and Paul Jordan
A delighted Micko Sweeney indicates his double win at the East Coast Racing Festival, and is congratulated by his sponsor Eamon Mulligan as Paul Jordan looks on. Photo: Pat Nolan.