RAIN AND SHINE AT BISHOPSCOURT
Like football, motor racing at Bishopscourt seems to be a game of two halves.
Just like last year, the fourth running of the annual event at Northern Ireland’s ‘other’ circuit produced yet another two-part affair. Saturday’s activity took place on a wet track, while long-awaited sunshine arrived midway through Sunday to change everything from grip levels to the general mood.
A 20-race programme for the BARC-RUN event made it a busy weekend but despite the early rain and a few red flags, the meeting ran to time – a credit to all.
With both races scheduled for soggy Saturday, FF1600 got the worst of the available weather, but from the start of practice it seemed that Alan Davidson had got the best deal. Having claimed a brace of pole positions in Hugh Reid’s ’89 Mondiale, he beat off an early challenge from Noel Robinson’s Van Diemen to establish himself in front. It didn’t last though, and a spin at around half distance left him struggling to escape the clutches of a gravel trap, while Robinson romped on to an eventual win. Davidson did regain momentum, setting fastest lap on the way to second place but he never got a chance to get back on terms.
Making no such mistakes in the (slightly) drier second race, Davidson grabbed a deserved victory while NI Championship leader Robinson took the runnerup position. In both races, young Jordan Dempsey was a confident and unchallenged third.
The rains held sway when the Saturday BOSS race came to the grid, and it came as no real surprise when red flags flew after a handful of laps as Tim Buckley’s F3 Dallara slithered into the Turn 1 gravel.
Early leader Noel Robinson, driving Stanley Watson’s Formula Renault this time, led away from the restart only to find himself in the gravel at the other end of the circuit a lap later, bringing those flags out again and calling a temporary halt to proceedings.
Eventually, after much deliberation, Robinson was declared the winner on the basis of his lead in the first part of the race. That was an outcome that didn’t appeal to runner-up Barry Rabbitt (Frenault), an unhappy bunny…
Sunday’s dry race was much simpler – and longer – but this time it was Cian Carey who set the pace with his younger Frenault. Once he had dealt with poleman Robinson, the Dubliner remained in control, and while Robinson got very close on several occasions, Carey hung on to the end. Rabbitt took the final podium place ahead of the de-gravelled Buckley.
Global GT Lights provided arguably the best race of the day at the very close of proceedings, with Peter Drennan heading a squabbling train across the line after 15 minutes of frantic fun, just pipping James Thompson by 0.4s. Earlier, Drennan had won the first Global encounter from Mark Braden by an even smaller margin, and finished runner-up to an on-form Ivor Miller in the second.
Not to be outdone, the ASK Supercars and Strykers also produced very close results. Among the former, Andy O’brien and Peter Barrable produced most of the excitement to emerge with a victory apiece, while Alan Watkins and Dave Griffin also shared out the honours among the Strykers, circulating side by side for long periods in both races.
Among the Irish Touring Cars, Grzegorz Kalinecki and his VW Golf GTI proved unbeatable, running away from the BMW M3 of top Northerner Andrew Armstrong in the first race and handing out similar treatment to Martin Duffy’s M3 in the second.
More dominance was displayed in Formula Vee where Dan Polley’s Sheane took a brace of victories to head the Leastones of poleman Kevin Grogan and Mark Reade over the line in race one. Colm Blackburn might have been in the mix too, starting his Leastone from the front row – except that he didn’t. He stalled and instead had to fight back to fourth. He also headed the pursuit of Polley in race two, relegating Grogan to the final podium place.
A small grid of SEAT Leons also had two fairly frantic outings and, after various track limit-related penalties had been applied, the first fell to Rod Mcgovern from Eoin Murray, while Murray took the second from Erik Holstein, whose car had undergone extensive repairs after a practice off when the rain was at its worst. Rob Butler and Barry English took a third place finish apiece.
Jackie Cochrane’s Sunbeam Tiger was the unsurprising winner of both the HRCA Historic encounters, although Bernard Foley’s rapid MGB led for a while in the first race before the Tiger got its claws into the slippery Bishopscourt Tarmac and forged ahead. Foley placed second in the first race ahead of Tommy Doherty’s Capri, but neither appeared on the grid for race two, leaving Clive Brandon’s Lotus 47 to claim the runner-up spot from Val Thompson’s unusual Tmc-costin.
Team Sherardize’s Peter Belshaw and Jay Shepherd came out on top of a late three-way sort out to take the Fun Cup victory over Eco Racing.
Belshaw had run strongly from the start of the four-hour encounter, but the first hour featured a duel between JPR Uvio’s Graham Roberts and Racelogic’s Julian Thomas, with numerous exchanges. A battery fault put JPR Uvio out contention in the third hour and brought out the safety car for their recovery.
The whole field made their penultimate stop under the safety car, which handed David Denyer the lead for Racelogic, from Paul Turner’s Eco Racing, Chris Hart’s Track Torque/2 Rent Dominoes and Tim Wheeldon’s Team Honeywell.
Before the race went green again, Hart was in trouble. “The engine just cut out and wouldn’t fire up again, I kept trying and finally it did,” he said after dropping out of the top 10.
Turner and Belshaw both got passed Denyer before another short safety car interlude.
Hart made the most of the opportunity to close up and, by lap 80, he was third. At the same time, Belshaw went for the lead and emerged with his nose ahead exiting Old Hall. Wheeldon was also up to fourth at Denyer’s expense, but there were still six cars in contention as the final pitstop window arrived.
Paul Abraham pushed hard at the front for Eco Racing, but couldn’t stop Shepherd making the decisive move at Cascades six laps from home to seal the victory for Team Sherardize.
Abraham just held off first round winners Track Torque/ 2 Rent Dominoes’ Henry Dawes by 0.214s to retain second.
Jon Tomlinson brought the Racelogic car home fourth after demoting Neil Plimmer’s Team Honeywell car, while Track Focused trio of Sean Cooper/ Michael Mccollum/neil Smith completed the top six.
Luke Williams ousted the fast starting Reynard of Jamie Jardine at Cascades on the opening lap of the Northern FF1600S to give the new RFR chassis its first win. Jardine retained second and won the Pre-90 class, with Martin Short’s Van Diemen holding third from Old Hall on lap three and James Roe fourth in his RFR.
Greg Speight’s XR2 was a double winner in the XR Challenge. Ralph Fernihough led race one initially from Speight and Steve Poole. Michael Heath joined in after Poole pitted but Speight nosed ahead as they completed the third lap, leaving Fernihough to just keep Heath at bay for second.
Heath had just managed to split Speight and Fernihough into Old Hall in race two when the race was red flagged. Ex-porsche racer Ben Eacock was a double winner too, in the concurrent Puma Cup.
With poleman David Tomlin’s 308 GTB penalised for a jump start, Tim Mogridge’s F355 headed the Ferrari Formula Classic from the start. Having climbed to third on lap five Lee Moulden’s F355 took three more laps to gain second, before heading home Mogridge from Cascades three laps from home. Gary Culver was third.
Mogridge led at the start of the second race too, but had to settle for fourth at the flag after Tomlin and the 328 GTBS of James Cartwright and Culver took the flag line astern, covered by only 0.640s.