Open Endurance Series: Round 3. Mondello National. 7/07/2018

We returned to Mondello Park for round 3 of the Open Endurance Series supported by Yokohama, this time on the familiar national circuit. This round would form part of the Formula Vee festival, in aid of Laura Lynn which is always a popular and well supported race weekend.

Although it might not appear to be the case from the outside, as grid sizes have remained largely static for the first 3 rounds, the Open Endurance Series continues to grow in numbers and attract new drivers. 

For this round we welcomed no less than 4 brand new drivers to the series. David Hamilton in a rented Fiesta ST would make his racing debut, as would Emma Dempsey in a Rover 25. Also joining the Irish racing fraternity for the first time was Conor McAnally who usually spends his time racing MX5’s in the US, he would share the Trackdays.ie MX5 with Colin Lewis, who made a welcome return to Motorsport after a 12 month break.

Due to mechanical problems, holidays and event clashes we were missing quite a few of the series regulars but still had enough for an interesting race with 9 entries,10 cars and 13 drivers in total.

Qualifying:

Given that i’m taking part in the series as well as organising it, my accounts of qualifying and the races can be a little one sided and i have to piece together the info from the other drivers! 

The SEAT Supercopa’s were as close as close can get in qualifying with Shane Murphy in the Tervas Gas car and the Murray Motorsport pairing clocking an identical time of 57.736 seconds. Murphy got pole because he set the time first. Rod Mcgovern in the Medical Banks car took 3rd  and Barry English in his Winthrop supported machine just missed out by 0.003 seconds!

Damien Smith and John Murphy qualified in 5th overall in their turbocharged locost and Global light.

In the up to 2 litre class, overall series points leader Niall McFadden had bolted a fresh set of slicks on to his Fiesta ST in an attempt to fend off the King/Maher MX5 which, unrestrained by regulations from other series was starting to be developed at a rate of knots and was closing in on the more powerful Ford. This weekend the MX5 was on loan to the McAnally/Lewis pairing and it would take some time for the two to get to grips with the new car, now also on slicks, albeit a fairly average 2nd hand set!

McFadden would start on pole with a 106.415. Yours truly & Emma Dempsey were sharing the ex Brian Sexton Rover 25 which is a well developed car but one that i had never driven before qualifying so was delighted to be in 2nd with a time of 107.533. Hamilton in the other ST, a car he had only sat into the day before, qualified 3rd in very respectable 108.281 and Lewis & McAnally qualified 4th with a time of 108.950

 

The Race:

I would start the race on the pit wall as my team mate Emma, in her very first race decided she was going to go first, deal with the heat sat in assembly, the nerves and also the rolling start – another first! So fair play to her! As the pack rounded Southside corner the SEATS had already made a break for it, with Shane Murphy getting the jump on the rest of the grid. However with Eoin Murray in 2nd it wasn’t long before he was right on Murphy’s diffuser. This would turn out to be Murray’s downfall as the outside temps were so high, with Murray following so closely, his SEAT Supercopa couldn’t get the airflow it needed and subsequently overheated and went into limp mode. Murray pitted immediately, knowing what the issue was. Brother Niall then took over but had to manage the temps carefully throughout the race and with the car going into limp mode a further 2 times during the race, couldn’t push as hard as we’d normally expect.

Barry English took advantage of the Murrays overheating issues and lapped extremely consistently for the entire race in the 59’s, only dipping into the 60 second mark towards the end of the race as his tyres started to go off and perhaps the heat started pay its toll on both car and driver. Interestingly, the actual brake pedal in these cars starts to get extremely hot during an endurance race as heat transfers up through the Tilton pedal box from the brake fluid!

Rod McGovern in the Medical Banks car also had a very consistent race, lapping slightly quicker than English for most of it but an off track excursion towards the end of the race left him 3 laps down at the chequered flag to finish 4th. The Murrays would finish 3rd, English 2nd and Murphy first.

Damien Smith and John Murphy had a largely uneventful race without any major issues and finished 5th.

In the up to 2 litre class, Mcfadden got the jump on the rest of the class at the rolling start and went into the first corner with a solid 6 car lead, followed by Dempsey, Hamilton and McAnally.  The trailing trio would stay in close contention for the first 10 laps or so but then Dempsey in the Rover 25 got the head down and and started to pull a gap. McAnally in the under powered MX5 looked like he had the measure of Hamilton on the brakes and through the esses but on the straights the more powerful Ford was able to keep him at bay.

As the pit stops approached, McFadden had pulled a 26 second lead on my team mate Emma in the Rover, so we were going to need to reign him in at about a second and a half a lap if we stood any chance of catching him. This is one of the things I love about the endurance race format, there’s still time close gaps or if you have an issue, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of the running.

Our driver change was spot on and as we were counted down to zero the belts were just tightened in the nick of time, bizarrely what I hadn’t realised in the process was that the engine had stalled! The lumpy cams mean the car won’t tick over when its hot and it wouldn’t restart on the button, disaster! Anyway, a quick bumpstart from the team and we were off, with perhaps another 15 seconds lost.

We had made some tyre pressure adjustments prior to the race in the hope of dialing out some understeer and it did seem to work. Having the Solo lap timer in the car was also a massive help and without traffic i was able to get in to the 106’s so it felt as though catching McFadden might actually be a possibility. For the rest of the race I just concentrated on keeping the time in the 106’s, managing the understeer and trying to loose as little time as possible when getting out of the way of faster traffic. With 4 or 5 minutes to go on the clock McFadden’s ST came into sight! It was clear within a lap that he was visibly closer the next time around – there’s nothing like the prospect of catching your rival to spur you on and I put in some of my quickest laps of the race but was very conscious of not binning it after 45 mins of racing. With 2 laps to go we caught and passed the Fiesta, clearly sporting some battle scars. We were in the lead!

As it turns out, the ABS on Mcfadden’s Fiesta had failed which had caught him off guard and caused a huge flat spot on the front left. this only got worse and worse as the front left continued to lock on the flat, causing huge black lines into turn 1. Eventually he had an off into the gravel, despite driving straight out it still lost a bunch more time and allowed us to close in and take the win, he did extremely well to hang on to 2nd in the circumstances. 

The MX5 duo had got past Hamilton’s ST but hadn’t put enough fuel in the tank and were having fuel starvation issues for the last 10 laps or so. Other than that the MX ran well, following diff and brake issues the day before.

Hamilton in his first ever race also had issues to deal with and had to change a gearbox on the ST following Friday practice. The replacement box also started to give selector trouble during the race which hampered his progress slightly.

 

We’re always looking to bring new drivers and teams onboard and If you would like to get involved in the Open Endurance Series, please contact series organiser Rob King on 0866042184 or email rob@openendurance.ie

Images are with thanks to Michael Chester photography

 

 

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