Image Gallery & Race Report: Round 1, Bishopscourt 12th/13th May

Getting a new racing series off the ground is tough business, much tougher than I expected and especially so in Ireland where the pool of potential competitors is extremely small by comparison to our next door neighbors.  

The Open Endurance Series, supported by Yokohama was born from the desire to try something different and something new. We wanted to offer a new format,  a new challenge and most of all provide value for money and unrivaled seat time. We wanted to remove as many barriers to entry as possible and we wanted to get cars out on the grid that had nowhere else to race. This weekend at the fabulous Bishopscourt circuit we managed to achieve all of those goals and the foundations for an exciting new series that we can now build on were laid.

With 12 fully paid up entries and further 2 confirmed for round 1 we were happy enough with the numbers as a starting point, unfortunately on the day we had a couple of last minute drop outs which left us with 9, but still enough to race.

As the guy championing this new class I figured I ought to put my money where my mouth is and decided, with just a few weeks till race day that I should enter the series myself. My buddy Niall Maher and I had a mk2 Mazda MX5 track car sitting there and with the help of some great people, namely Kev Gillespie from Gillespie Retro Race & Repair and Darran OHara from 99 Red Balloons we had ourselves a race ready car, with just hours to go, that passed scrutiny first time!

The rest of the grid was to be made up of SEAT Supercup cars, a Radical SR8, Turbocharged Honda Locost, Global Light, Fiesta ST’s, a Golf GTI and Mazda RX7.

Practice & Qualifying:

Testing and qualifying were on Saturday with the race on Sunday. Team MX5 managed to miss all of the available 30 minute test sessions due a rear suspension issue that took forever to fix. Everyone else managed to take advantage of the extra seat time and put it to use, learning the super-fast and flowing circuit.

In qualifying, Sam Mansfield in his brand new Radical SR8 should have taken pole easily but was suffering with alternator failure and just managed to limp the V8 powered sports racer around for the mandatory 3 qualifying laps – (he later went on to set a new outright lap record – not bad in a car he’d never driven before!)

Eoin Murray put his SEAT Supercup on pole with a blistering lap, a whole second ahead of his rivals. Rod McGovern & Shane Murphy claimed 2nd and 3rd making it an all SEAT front row.

Even with the electrical issues, Mansfield put the Radical ahead of  John Murphy and Damien Smith in their locost and Global in the Sports, GT and invitational class and unsurprisingly, with myself and Niall Maher never having driven the track before qualifying, Niall Mcfadden put his Fiesta ST ahead of us in the up to 2ltr class.

Race Day:

With the sun splitting the stones again (a rare occurrence 2 days in a row according to the locals!) race day was set to be a cracker! Despite myself and Niall in the MX5 only being out for a bit of fun, the nerves had well and truly set in by the time we arrived at the track on Sunday morning. Our race was scheduled for 1.50pm so we had quite a while to wait, fettle the car and think about how we would deal with the pit stops, although the sum total of our fettling consisted of 2 clicks firmer on the shocks,  a lot of faffing about and a good wash!

Other teams were deep into suspension geometry changes to limit tyre wear and fuel calculations, especially the turbocharged SEAT’s with concerns running high over consumption. As it turns out there’s a special knack to getting the full 72 litres of fuel into these cars that involves rocking the car to dislodge trapped air in sections of the tank. Sam Mansfield also had concerns that he’d be marginal on fuel, despite a 70 litre tank in the 450bhp Radical.

Just before our race was called we had time to watch Brian Sexton in a barnstorming drive from dead-last to first place in the 1st of the Future Classics races. Awesome stuff!

As our cars lined up in paddock assembly and were dispatched on track for the warm up lap, we were 1 down, the Tohill pairing in their Southside Motor Factors Supercopa, just got the car back together in the nick of time and just about caught up with the field by the time they crossed the line for the rolling start.

Eoin Murray in the pace setting Murray Motorsport Supercopa had contact at turn 1 which damaged the splitter and sliced the front left tyre which ended in a puncture, he pitted and with the aid of the air jacks and some slick work from the team he was out in no time at all and due to the long format race, was still in with a chance of a podium finish. 

The first to pit was John Murphy in his Locost, but as I was later to find out it was an unscheduled stop due to a black flag for track limit infringements, the first of many throughout the race for a number of drivers.

By this stage my nerves had more or less settled and I was just keen to get going. We gave Niall the Pit board, I got the helmet on and got into position behind the white line. The 1 minute minimum pit stop rule is actually a great idea and it takes a lot of pressure off, it’s just enough time to change drivers, exchange info and get belted in safely. I think if it wasn’t there, mistakes with harnesses would be made at some stage and that’s not something anybody wants.

One of the big challenges of being in the slowest class (up to 2 litres) is keeping out of the way of the quicker stuff and it can make putting in consistent times very difficult, still, I went 7 or 8 seconds faster than i did in qualifying and there was still a couple of seconds left in me and probably a couple in the car too, so I was happy enough with that.

That said it, was apparent that I was extremely rusty, having not raced anything for a few years. in some ways the longer race was a real help as it gave me time to learn the track, it seemed to take a long time for it all to sink in and I was very inconsistent in terms of lap times. My lack of fitness was also apparent and was very glad to be sharing the car and only doing half the race! Although it’s the best motivation i’ve had to get myself back in shape.

Even doing half a race, maintaining concentration is big challenge and with just 5 minutes left on the countdown clock, something clicked and I realised i needed to get the head down and try and put in some consistent laps. As it transpired my last lap was the quickest, by some margin, which begs the question, what was I at for the rest of the race!

Regardless, I really really enjoyed being back in the driving seat and the additional challenges that came with the endurance race and pit stops were the icing on the cake!

Bar some gear selection issues and a random bit of smoke which seemed to fix itself the little MX5 ran flawlessly all weekend.

We’ll be back in a fortnight’s time to do it all again at Kirkistown on the 26th May!


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