Click here for the Down event results

There was a new buzz about the All Ireland series as it kicked off the 2018 season, with much more active promotion behind the series and an intent to stick to the agreed rotation of rounds. With the series reduced to three rounds, each of the six clubs in Ireland can expect to hold a round every two years, giving all the clubs a stake in the success of the series, whether it’s their turn to host or not. 


A few other new innovations were evident. One that might end up being copied elsewhere was that each of the six clubs is required to put up two marshals for every round or be fined 200 Euros by the series committee. That wasn’t quite plain sailing but it proved a big improvement on previous years as every post was fully manned all weekend without too much begging for help.


Despite an unpromising forecast of the thunderstorms that had hit England and Wales being expected to move across Northern Ireland during the weekend, the storms decided to divert just far enough to the south and west, so although on Saturday it poured with rain twenty miles from the track, nothing interrupted the hot sunshine that bathed the green hills of County Down all weekend.


Down’s unique and challenging track, sadly now in its last year, was looking in its best state ever, rolled smooth and hard so, although the heat and lack of breeze meant that dust was continually hanging in the air, conditions were ripe for fast and furious racing. At times the water cart was on track between every race but the relaxed schedule could accommodate this and the Down team kept firmly on top of conditions. A respectable entry of 99 cars and 106 signed on drivers was ideal – not many by BAS/UKAC standards but very satisfactory for Ireland and enough to ensure competitive racing in every class without too much pressure to interfere with anyone’s enjoyment.


Racing kicked off with CLASS 1A, contested by a quartet of long distance travellers from Cork in their K10 Micras. John Shannon was never headed in the four heats and final, with Blaine Tanner, Paddy Walsh and Ciaran Tanner contesting the other places. After a couple of second places, Paddy struggled away from a watered startline in the final with Ciaran and Blaine then holding him off.


A seven car grid in CLASS 1 saw Ben Scott’s Mini almost unbeaten, although in Saturday’s third heat he was headed by the battling Micras of Jamie Thorpe and Aaron Darragh. Jemma McNeill’s Mini brought up the rear in the heats, but in the final Jemma got a flying start and then battled with Jamie Thorpe before taking an impressive second, a little way behind the winning Ben Scott. Jamie headed the Micra battle from Neilie Cronly and Eamon O’Brien, with Adam Cochrane’s Mini also in the mix and Aaron Darragh slowing in the closing stages.


A full grid of CLASS 2s produced hard fought racing and more than their fair share of reruns. The heats saw Craig Roche, Peadar Devlin and Gary Shannon mainly battling for the top three places, with the Cork man eventually taking two wins to one each for the Down drivers. At the other end of the scale Peter O’Grady was the unlucky one in most of the heats, ending up with a very bent Micra after being at the end of a chain reaction shunt in the last heat, which also resulted in Eamon O’Brien’s last minute purchase of the ex-Brian Smyth Micra looking very secondhand. The first two attempts at the final eliminated Michelle Cochrane, Damian Shannon, Eamon O’Brien and Peadar Devlin and it ended up a three car race. Gary Shannon just got the better of Craig Roche, with John Cashel in a good third.


With two cars in each class, CLASS 3 and STOCK HATCH looked an unlikely mix, but in fact proved a great match as the Stock Hatches got pretty close to the Threes at times. ARC registered Malcolm Graham’s Lee Almond-built Polo is rarely seen on his home ground, but this time took a clean sweep of wins after battling with Class 2 graduate Dylan Roche in the ex-Malc Lefevre Starlet – we’re surprised Malc parted with it, but it’s gone to a good home! Chris McCandless’ Corsa finished the final right on Malcolm Graham’s tail after getting the better of Keith Graham’s Saxo in the Stock Hatch battle.


Although there are plenty of CLASS 4s in Ireland only three made it to the first round. Kevin McNamara’s Saxo led each race away, but each time John Heffernan’s Micra was in front at the end, apart from the fourth heat when John broke a shaft. The final was close fought but John found a way past Kevin in the last three laps to win. Stephen Kearney’s Micra chased these two closely but went out when a shaft broke on the last lap of the final.


CLASS 5 had a ten car field although the furthest travelled driver present, Gareth Clydesdale (who only gets occasional chances to return from Canada to race) only appeared on Sunday and only managed half a lap. Heat wins were well shared out as Sean O’Connor, National Champ John Wilde and Conor Devlin took two each, with John Marley also taking a heat. Aaron Wilde dropped out early on and Maeve Devlin’s Pickup fell sick after a couple of good runs. The last heat deserves mention as Sean O’Connor led for all but ten yards – the last ten yards as he pushed on horribly out of the last corner and handed the race to John Wilde! Sean got out of shape at the start of the final, sliding in front of John Marley, but John Wilde was up and away, chased all the way by Conor Devlin. Sean O’Connor came in third from John Marley and Ricky Maguire, with Bill Martin slowing at the end and Sean Lambert pulling off.


A promising full eight car grid in CLASS 6 took little time to reduce itself to two cars, but fortunately some of the early casualties later bounced back, including Matt Jess who almost gave up on his ex-Craig Tovey Micra on Saturday, but did something to transform it on Sunday. Kildare drivers Sox Coyne and Dave Heffernan were the closest challengers to James Sinnott on Saturday, but the Wexford man won all the heats in fine style. The comeback of Causeway’s Joe Jackson, in a very distinctive Civic, only lasted one lap, Mark Burke’s Starlet also only managed a lap or so and Colm Bolger’s Micra had a variety of problems, including a coming together with the finish line marshals’ post. That left five cars for the final, where James Sinnott continued his domination – until the very last lap of the weekend when he pulled off with a broken throttle cable! That left a dash for the line between Matt Jess and Sox Coyne, with Matt just making it first but carrying a green flag, meaning Sox was the winner from Dave Heffernan, Matt and Andrew Greenaway’s Rover Turbo-powered Clio.


There was some wild and spectacular action from the CLASS 7s, although a seven car grid was reduced to six as Patrick Sheehy had an off in the short-lived first heat, Paddy then deciding he’d be better off dedicating the car to young Chloe for the rest of the day. Kevin Roche was back behind the wheel of his Pickup and broadsided and wheelied his way to wins in one heat and the final. Davy Curran in the Honda-powered Metro (still not selling and we hope it doesn’t!) looked like Kevin’s closest rival but various mishaps left Davy with just one win, while Paul O’Connor (in the ex-Patrick Sheahan Pickup) and Barry Smyth both also won heats. Davy Curran and Barry Smyth both lost out after bravely tackling Kevin in the final, but it was Howard Thomas who came good to race Kevin to the line in the final, just falling short as Barry took third from Davy. Ricky Houlihan made his debut in Paul O’Connor’s 2017 Seicento and came out of it better than the fences did at both ends of the track!


CLASS 8 had the biggest field of the weekend, with 13 cars, and also caused the most problems, with one of Saturday’s heats needing five attempts to complete, and a few other reruns along the way. When the dust settled, Joe McGrath, Martin Browne and Paul Moore all had two wins each, with one each for Kenneth Cashel and Niall O’Brien. A rather fraught start to the final saw Joe McGrath pulling a wheelie and coming down in front of Martin Browne, but Martin still managed to dive for the inside and come out of the first bend in third, while Paul Moore was hung out to dry on the outside and dropped to the back. Wayne McKenzie had been on great form all weekend in his ex-Russ Shepherd car and hit the front, then swapping the lead back and forth with Kenneth Cashel. Kenneth finally established himself in front and came home the winner with Wayne holding off Niall O’Brien, Martin Browne, Eoghan Cusack, Joe McGrath and Paul Moore, while Jessica Browne was in the thick of it before broken front suspension dropped her back to finish a lap down. The unlucky non-qualifiers were Shane Houlihan, Barry Leech, Gavin Coughlan, Causeway newcomer Ryan Wilson in the ex-Brian O’Mahony Backbird-powered car, and the ever unlucky Shane Smyth, who didn’t get a race finished.


A quartet of CLASS 9s battled closely all weekend, with only a first heat puncture for Ciaran Smyth in his ex-Marc Paskell car putting some points between them. John Fuller won three heats with Ciaran winning one heat and the final, while ex-Class 6 man Brian Nugent and Eamon O’Brien were always in contention.


CLASS 10 also had four cars, but quickly lost Keith McCammon’s smartly turned out ex-Martin Browne car, continuing to be plagued with drive failures. Jamie Lyons’ new Keating-built car was well in contention, but dropped out on Sunday leaving Derek Leech to complete a run of four wins in the final, while the first heat winner, Cian O’Mahony in the ex-Gareth Thomas/Gavin Tivy car, had a few excursions but still came home a strong second.


FORMULA 1200 continues to be part of the series, this time attracting three local drivers in solo-driven cars, alongside two shared Junior Specials. Trevor Culbert used Daryl’s car to win the first heat but for the rest of the weekend closely shadowed former Junior Champ Eoghan Cusack, again out in brother Cillian’s car. Jonny McCracken took third in what used to be his Class 9 chassis, with Gerard Darragh fourth after Brian Lammey had another troubled meeting.


A dozen JUNIOR CLASS 1s lined up, with four Minis pitted against eight Micras.  The Juniors rivalled the Class 8s for reruns, but nothing disturbed Adam Browne, who turned in a perfect score from four heat wins. A very impressive All Ireland debut came from Kildare boy John Gray, in his first Autograss season after starting at Ballyshannon in the middle of last year. John’s Micra took three wins, with Ruari Thomas’ Mini taking the remaining win. John Gray unfortunately had problems in the final, dropping to the back on the first lap and continuing at reduced pace to the finish, while Adam Browne continued to a clean sweep of five wins.  The local Micras of Jack Martin and Ross Graham held off the Minis of Ruari Thomas and Zara Percival in the second place battle, with the Micras of Kyle Mallon and Brad Bowman next up. The other Graham twin, Scott, was first of the non-qualifiers (unusually there was no B-final) along with Causeways Oisin Martin in a Mini, newcomer Emma O’Riordan, who made impressive progress leading to a third place in her last heat, and the unlucky Ellen Waide, whose Micra had problems all weekend after a second place in her first heat.


The JUNIOR SPECIALS had nine contenders and got through their heats with relatively little drama. Colin Linehan was expected to be one of this year’s favourites, and left that in no doubt with four straight heat wins. Cillian Cusack is moving up well to follow the family tradition and he had two wins, with one each for James O’Riordan and series newcomer Tom Hayden. Tom’s impressive run ended when a tangle at the start of the final put him on his roof, and despite a rush by fellow competitors to assist, he couldn’t get back on the grid for the rerun, in which James O’Riordan also failed to get away after rear end damage. Colin Linehan again led all the way, chased by Jack Brennan, Dan Nash and Eoghan Cusack, with Daryl Culbert proving a Junior Special only really needs three wheels as he continued to fifth after his front suspension broke on the first lap.


The LADIES were scoring points as usual in two classes (One to Six and Seven to Ten) but all raced together, which was unfortunate for Sinead Tivy, who had drives lined up in Class 2 and 7.  Danielle O’Brien led the way in her Class 1 Micra in the first three heats, but in the last heat and final Sinead, in her new Class 2 Micra, pulled in the handicap to win, also managing in the final to fend off all the Class 8s that had caught her up with the longer race distance. The bigger class saw Chloe Sheehy in the Class 7 ranged against four Eights. Michelle Cusack and Louise Browne took wins before Jenny Houlihan, who had problems in the first two heats, won the last two. Michelle led the battle in the final, holding off Jenny and Louise while Chloe Sheehy kept up well in only her second event out of Juniors and Cat Milligan completed the field in her Class 8.


With the racing completed at 4 pm on Sunday, it had been a successful and well run first round to the series. AIAS secretary Maria Houlihan had been reluctant to let anyone past her on Saturday morning without filling in a form, so the series registrations are looking stronger than for a few years. The field at Down was split almost half and half between the northern and southern clubs, and we hope to see a big northern contingent hitting the road for round two at Cork at the beginning of July.