Since our last visit to the Pike, for the 2017 championship finals, we’d missed two non-championship events, the St Stephens Day meeting and the 2018 season opener on 21 January. Travel logistics and clashing commitments kept us away from those two days, although neither enjoyed ideal conditions and attracted smaller than usual turnouts. Deteriorating weather on St Stephens Day meant that the traditional annual Demolition Derby was postponed to the March meeting – an always popular event for its novelty value in Ireland although we have to admit that the novelty factor doesn’t apply to us as we could see two DDs every fortnight at Standlake Arena!


However, nothing was going to keep us away from the first 2018 Championship day – the forecast dire weather moved back into the following week, so despite the prospect of the “Beast from the East” and “Storm Emma” colliding to lock-down most of Ireland, race day at the Pike was dry and even sunny, although bitterly cold. Not for the first time, we escaped Ireland before the weather moved in, and didn’t see a spot of snow until we pulled in at Alconbury on Monday evening!


A February start to the championship season doesn’t seem to deter the Pike regulars and an excellent field of 54 cars was lined up on the top straight before the drivers’ briefing, with 63 drivers signed on – equalling last year’s second best entry. With a few regulars missing, there was an encouraging number of new cars and drivers.


There was no shortage of action on track, although the races did feature a record number of red flags and rather more bent cars than we like to see at any stage of the season. Most of the mishaps could be attributed to the arctic conditions preventing anyone from getting any heat into their tyres – although it was noticeable that the Juniors had far fewer problems than anyone else!


The JUNIOR ROOKIES kicked off the day, with a 6-car grid after a few of last year’s field had moved up a class. Brian Scannell ended the day on two wins and took a close second to Liam Kiersey after coming through from the back in his second race. Abby Hewitt had an impressive day, leading lots of laps before coming home with two thirds and a second, while Conor Fitz and Toby McGuire both looked on the pace as they entered their first full season. Newcomer Jenny Moran showed well in her first outing in a borrowed car.


The JUNIOR PRODUCTIONS brought out an impressive 13-car field although Luke O’Donovan was out of luck, having replaced his Starlet with a Micra, but not getting as far as the track after cut-out switch problems. Despite some ultra-close racing though the field, the races were incident-free until one coming together in the closing stages of the last race. Aaron Patterson got away from the battling pack in the first heat with Eoghan Burke, Aidan Heney and Joey Dilworth glued together behind him. Aidan found a way past Ben Furlong to win the second race with Aaron closing up in third. Evin Harding then made it three winners in three races, being chased by Ben Furlong, Aidan, Aaron and Eoghan when the reds came out after earlier leader Ben Dunlea had problems and was collected by Pike newcomer and Rosegreen regular Lisa Nelson. Aaron took the overall win from Aidan and Ben Furlong, while three Rookie graduates,  Darragh Walsh, Tadgh Foley and Darragh Healy all did well. A convert from Wexford grass racing, David Browne’s tidy Micra dropped out after the first heat.


A smaller grid of five cars for the JUNIOR MODIFIEDS provided their usual high speed action. Jack Hickey won the first heat before Shane O’Shea, on his return to the Pike, fought past Ronan Foley to win the second.  The final race saw Cian Deasy lead all the way from the evenly matched Shane, Ronan, Jack and Mark O’Connor’s Starlet. Shane just took the overall win from Ronan and Jack.


Five LADIES lined up, with the three former Wexford dirt racers, Katie and Jamie Egan and Chantelle Wallace, joined by Anita Pollard’s Nissan-powered Starlet and Anne McGuire, making a very welcome return in a Class 1 Micra. Katie narrowly beat Chantelle in the first two races, with Chantelle doing a great job of hanging on with a flat rear tyre in the second heat. Anne looked more and more confident as they day went on and come the third race nobody could catch her as she took an impressive win over the closely matched Katie, Jamie and Chantelle. Anita’s car had a few problems and she finished the day thanks to the generous loan of Mark O’Connor’s Starlet.


The senior class racing changed format a few times as cars fell by the wayside – so you might find our photo galleries a bit muddled! CLASS 1 saw Michael Baldwin with a fight on his hands; Michael took close wins over Alan Houlihan (sharing Anne’s Micra) in the first two heats but Alan won the third race. Ronan Coughlin, having his second outing in the boxy Starlet he debuted on St Stephen’s Day, had a good run to third overall. We unfortunately lost former Thurles racer Tom Ryan’s Starlet after the first heat, but he’ll be back.


CLASS 1b brought out six cars including Cork Autograss regular Paddy Walsh with his boxy Micra. Kevin Healy led the first race for all but the last few yards, when Johnny Patterson came through. Johnny had another win in the next race with birthday boy Willie Heney fighting off Joe Fitz for second. Johnny again headed the third round, missing out on the close action behind which saw Willie grab second round the outside in the last corner, from Joe, Kevin, Declan Heney and Paddy Walsh. Johnny won overall from Willie and Joe.


Stephen Healy had an exciting day in CLASS 2, launching himself off the inside bank in the first race but recovering to second behind Eddie Baldwin’s Micra. Stephen also had a couple of moments in the second race, but claimed second behind Kenneth McCoy, who was making a spectacular debut in the ex-Nicky Banville Starlet. For the final round Kenneth was in Anne McGuire’s Micra and chased Stephen home in second ahead of Eddie Baldwin and Michael Coughlin’s double-driven Class 1 Starlet. Ger Joy’s immaculate 1.25 Zetec-powered Fiesta made a promising debut while Junior graduate Jack Pollard went well before the Starlet expired. Stephen took the class trophy from Eddie and Kenneth.


CLASS 3 laid on a fast and furious first race with Ronan Waters’ Starlet-Honda chased home by James McCoy, double driving with Kenneth, and Alan D’Arcy. Ronan took another win in round 2 and then featured in the best race of the day, battling through the final round with the bigger-engined Honda Starlets of Andy O’Brien and Andy Foley. Ronan was of course the overall winner from Alan and James. Daniel O’Sullivan’s Starlet broke down early in the first race. Josh Wallace improved all day on his first outing in Chantelle’s car and Gavin Mullally was the unluckiest of all. After the clutch went in his Micra he borrowed Tom Ryan’s Class 1 Starlet only for it to inexplicably snap into the wall when returning to the line for a restart.


CLASS 4 started the day racing with 5 and 6, but the race was then split for a rerun after the first heat got a bit fraught.  Brian Weston’s newly acquired Opel 8-valve powered 205 got caught in a first run pile-up; Peadar Wall’s 206 went out with a broken front corner and newcomer Kieran Cooney, yet another Wexford racer taking to the Pike, ended up as the only survivor in his Micra.


CLASS 5, otherwise known as the Wexford class, saw a day long battle between Andy O’Brien and Andy Foley, with Pat Power’s new Civic proving well on the pace of the two Starlets. Andy Foley won the first two races but Andy O’Brien won the final round, when the duo fought a spectacular battle with Ronan Foley’s Class 3. Andy Foley was the overall winner from Andy O’Brien and Pat Power, with fourth going to the new Starlet of Keith O’Brien, Andy’s brother, who we last saw in an ex-Autograss special at Ballymitty.


CLASS 6 featured two Outlaw Hot Rods, Martin Fitz’s familiar Colt joined by Davy Wall’s newly acquired 206CC, racing with former Stock Rod man Colm O’Sullivan, looking for testing miles in the first Legend car on Irish soil. Martin and Colm both hit problems leaving Davy the unchallenged winner.


The weakest entry was surprisingly in the STOCKS with some of the regulars having moved on to other classes – hopefully there’ll be more newcomers to replace them. Paul Weston’s now tangerine-flavour Mazda and Martin Redmond’s Alfa each had a breakdown in the heats, with Paul, after finishing the second race on three wheels, taking the overall verdict from Martin in the third round.


An entertaining day despite all the interruptions – the action continues, maybe in slightly warmer conditions, with Round 2 of the Driver of the Year series on 25 March.