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The current recipe for the All Ireland Autograss Series is based on each of the six clubs in Ireland holding a round every two years. However, with no disrespect to the other clubs who take their turn at hosting the final round, it always feels as though the series is “coming home” when it’s West Waterford’s turn to run the final at Ballysaggart, which the club combines with its major annual fixture, the “Irish Fastest Person on Grass”.


It had generally been a much more successful year for the All Ireland Series – if we can single out any single factor in that it would be the much more active promotion it’s received since Damian Shannon took over the job of series PRO and attacked it in his unique style! With entries of 106 and 117 for the Down and Cork rounds, West Waterford was expected to exceed that, and the 132 drivers who signed on made it the best attended Irish event (BAS round excepted) for two or three years.


Interestingly 204 drivers contested at least one series round, but only 86 of them were signed up for series points. That was a much better proportion than in the past, having worked on the basis that if you sign up as many drivers as possible at the first round, they’ll be more inclined to follow the rest of the series. That worked, evidenced by the first round host, Down Autograss, topping the list of entries over the three rounds, but there’s still room for growth, so we’ll hope for an even bigger turnout when the 2019 series gets under way at Carlow.


An unpromising weather forecast for the weekend proved partly right, although a fine day on Saturday allowed most of the heats to be completed in excellent track conditions. Heavy overnight rain necessitated a slightly delayed start on Sunday, but by the time the cars hit the track, the West Waterford crew had worked their magic again, and there was just a little light rain later in the day.


Jamie Thorpe, the defending CLASS 1 Champion, could only be beaten if he failed to turn up, which was hardly going to happen although Jamie was uncharacteristically the last car through scrutiny! Second in the points, Ben Scott, did all that could be asked of him, nearly scoring a maximum and only blotting his copy book with a green flag in the last heat when Paul Pearce was gently nudged wide after leading up to the last corner. With Ben’s Mini taking three heats wins, Shane Farrell’s Yaris took two and the top Micra was Timmy Moloney, also with two wins after being narrowly beaten in his third heat by newcomer Tom Butler, although Tom, together with Neilie Cronly, didn’t appear on Sunday.  That left three non-qualifiers for the final, Chris Hallinan, Kevin O’Halloran and Dylan Feeney. At the first attempt Ben Scott led the final as far as the last lap, when Shane Farrell edged past for the win, but much later a rerun was called thanks to a first corner incident involving Jamie Thorpe. Unfortunately Jamie was in trouble again on the rerun, but this time Ben led all the way with Shane taking second from Martin Murphy’s Mini. A green flag dropped Martin behind Timmy Moloney and Adam Cochrane with Paul Feeney completing the finishers after Paul Pearce opted out of the rerun. Ben was the overall winner with Timmy Moloney a good second ahead of Shane Farrell.


Out of the three “club classes” featured in the All Ireland Series, CLASS 1A was still the most popular, with five Cork-based Micras joined by local man Mike Fuller, having a temporary change of class. John Shannon continued his domination of the season with five straight wins, usually chased closely by Ciaran Tanner. Mike Fuller secured third overall despite Paddy Walsh having a good run into third in the final, with Blaine Tanner and Denis O’Neill completing the top six.


The two regular Northern contenders in the STOCK HATCH class didn’t turn up, leaving the only Southern Stock Hatch runner, Jamie Relihan’s 1200 Micra, on its own. Jamie struggled on to complete all his races with a very sick and smoky engine, running with Class 2 in the heats and Class 1A in the final, to blend in with all the other boxy Micras.


FORMULA 1200 has only had two regular contenders this year, Eoghan Cusack in brother Cillian’s car and Trevor Culbert racing son Daryl’s. After two heats they were level on points and then agreed not to race again, to avoid interfering with the tight points battle in the Junior Specials.


CLASS 2 featured the White brothers racing against each other for the first time we could remember, with Jamie in his regular Nova and Steven in the ex-Callum Hallinen Micra. Drawn together for all Saturday’s heats, Steven just held off Jamie each time, although Steven was thrown out of the first heat for a jump start and both were beaten in heat three by Jack Houlihan, who’d already won his first two races. Jamie White didn’t race on Sunday, when Jack and Steven were again winners. Paddy Nugent also dropped out on Sunday, with two Junior cars to run as well as his own, leaving a 7-car grid for the final. Jack Houlihan held off Steven White to win, with Eamonn O’Brien in third and fourth being enough to secure the All Ireland title for Gary Shannon. Completing the order were the Micras of Cian Shorten and John Cashel and former 1A driver Darragh “Badger” Foley, having a drive in Damian Houlihan’s Nova. Jack was the overall winner for the weekend, from Gary Shannon and Steven White.


After being one of the weaker classes in Ireland for a while, it was good to see a full and varied grid of CLASS 3s. Jim Lee won the first heat in fine style in his ex-Paul Cusack spaceframe Starlet, but when the second heat needed a rerun Jim decided that was enough for him. Barry Evans won that race despite struggling all weekend with battery problems on his Duratec-powered Starlet that hadn’t run since last year’s trip to West Waterford. Dylan Roche came into the meeting with his Starlet effectively the joint All Ireland leader with Mallow Chairman Daniel O’Keeffe’s similar car, as the top two in the points, Malcolm Graham and Paul Parr, were absent. Dylan took the advantage with wins in the third and fourth heats, before Barry Evans took over to win the final, with Dylan and Daniel making it a Starlet 1-2-3. Carlow’s Benny Hogan returned from a long absence with the ex-everybody black Renault 5 and took fourth after problems on Saturday, while fifth after some impressive recoveries from starting problems was Causeway’s Aaron Cole in a Zetec-powered Ka that exceeded all expectation after he dragged it out from four years’ abandonment. Completing the field was Gerry Kelly’s Redtop-powered 70-series Starlet, which went well between various problems.


CLASS 4 continues to be one of the most popular in Ireland. Kevin McNamara turned up with the ex-Dorian Davies Citroen C2 and was immediately on the pace, despite gear selection problems off the line. The other big story was the return of Brendan O’Leary’s Rover 200 for its first outing of the year. The speed of the 16-valve Rover always makes us wonder why more drivers haven’t thought of this as a potential Micra beater. After winning the first heat Brendan’s weekend looked to be over as a broken rear arm pitched him into a spin to bring out the reds in heat two, but he was back to take second to Courtney Brady’s Micra in the rerun.  That was the only time Brendan was beaten and he went on to take the final, chased by Courtney, with Jim Hayde’s Peugeot in third just holding off Kevin Mac, who was recovering from another slow start. There was a battle all weekend between the Micras of Dermot Nugent, Seamus O’Riordan and Stephen Kearney, with Stephen’s consistent finishes in his virtually standard engined car bringing him the All Ireland title in his second season.


With one or two regulars missing, a six-car grid in CLASS 5 produced fast and clean racing. Although John Wilde carried off an unbeaten run of five wins to secure yet another All Ireland title, that doesn’t tell the story of how closely he was chased by the on form Conor Devlin. Sean O’Connor was also right on the pace in third, despite a black flag in his second heat, while the remaining places went to Chelsea Brady, Bill Martin and Cormac Maher.


CLASS 6 was good value with its usual fast and furious racing. Although nobody could threaten Evan Curran’s flying 106-Honda for the top spot, Colm Bolger’s rapid Micra-Honda was always a threat until a coming together in Sunday’s heat eliminated him, while David O’Leary’s Micra dropped out after the first heat. The Kildare drivers, schooled at the Ballyshannon Hot Rod Club, were all at the sharp end with Evan being chased by more Honda-powered Micras as Sox Coyne and Dave Heffernan disputed second place. Sox ground to a halt on the last lap of the final with Dave taking second from Matt Jess and Alan O’Brien, but Sox had still done enough to take the All Ireland title.


CLASS 7 was back to a full, and potentially explosive, grid, and didn’t disappoint although there was some concern after they managed to reduce an eight car grid to two runners within a couple of laps! The first heat never saw the chequered flag with the All Ireland rules meaning that the race was abandoned, after four attempts to run it left Howard Thomas and Liam Roche the only survivors. Things looked up after that; a hasty clutch fix put Alan Long back on track in the ex-Davy Curran Metro-Honda and he chased Liam Roche home in the second and third heats, but sadly Terry Falvey’s comeback proved very brief, with various corners knocked off his single Hayabusa-engined Mini, and although the prospect of seeing Gavin Tivy in a Seven caused much excitement, Ricky Houlihan’s Seicento-Twin never got running properly for Gavin. The ever spectacular Paul O’Connor took the ex-Patrick Sheahan Pickup to a win in Sunday’s heat and then, after one more red flag, Paul stormed the final, chased through the dust by Liam Roche, with Howard Thomas taking third from Alan Long and Guy Wynn, who kept coming back after all sorts of damage. Sean Maher’s immaculate Pickup came in sixth, with the ex-Hot Rod racer probably being the only one to successfully avoid all the carnage!


CLASS 8 was the scourge of the weekend – with nineteen entries meaning three grids on Saturday they got through with no  reruns in the first round, two reruns in the second and then five in the third. Sunday carried on in the same vein, with a thinned-out 15 car field taking five attempts to complete the two races, including a rather nasty roll for Eoghan Cusack. Martin Feeney was the only other one to go over completely, but he was straight back into his rerun. When all the dust and debris had settled Kenneth Cashel was top qualifier with three wins and a second – he’d really won four heats but was beaten by Barry Leech when one completed race was rerun. This also put Kenneth on top of the All Ireland series as points leader Joe McGrath had an awful weekend. After a retirement in his first heat, a jump start exclusion in the second pretty much ended his chances. Barry ended up with two wins, as did Stephen O’Neill, while Darragh Roche won the only race he finished. Other winners were Peter Brennan, Niall O’Brien and Jess Browne. Just seven cars started the final, with Jamie Lyons not making the grid, and in a fast and dusty race Kenneth Cashel secured back to back all Ireland titles by outpacing the field in fine style, with Stephen O’Neill completing his good weekend by holding off Jess Browne and Martin Feeney for second. Former Class 4 man Jamie Coyne impressed all weekend and ended up fifth, ahead of Paul Moore, whose consistent results gained him second in the series, and Barry Leech. Niall O’Brien just missed out on qualifying after a non finish in one of the many third heat reruns and Peter Brennan was another heat winner who missed out after spinning out of the lead of his first heat. Gavin Coughlan was sidelined after damage in the last heat, Ciaran Nugent had a spectacular debut in the class but was another victim of the messy third heats; Martin Browne only salvaged one second place from a fraught weekend; Shane Parr had another incident-filled weekend; Ryan Wilson had problems with his newly acquired ex-Jay Thompson car and only completed one race, and last but not least Mark Kelly returned to action but was eliminated early on.


The CLASS 9 field grew to five cars with the addition of Adam Cronin to the regulars. John Fuller won all four heats, which confirmed him as the weekend’s winner and the All Ireland Champion, but in the final Eamon O’Brien got a great start to lead all the way from John, Dermot Nugent and Adam Cronin. Brian Nugent didn’t start the final but still took third overall, and in the series.


CLASS 10 was unfortunately reduced from three cars to two with the early retirement of Ray Mackey through engine problems. Jamie Lyons and Cian O’Mahony took two heat wins each before Jamie beat Cian in the final, although Jamie had non-started in the last heat which made Cian the winner overall – so honours were pretty equal. Cian also secured the All Ireland title from the absent Derek Leech.


As at any Irish event, the Juniors were the most popular class with 21 entries in JUNIOR CLASS 1. They also provided one of the weekend’s best finals and certainly the most popular winner when the newly crowned National Champion Adam Browne met his match – in the form of his little brother! Mind you, Jack Browne’s impressive start to his Autograss career didn’t come as that much of a surprise to those who’d seen him racing at the local Hot Rod tracks before coming of age to hold a NASA licence. Adam Browne started the weekend with a third place, beaten by the Micras of Tyrone Cusack and Ellen Waide, but went on to take three wins. Jack Kelly was as usual super consistent with his Micra, taking two wins and two seconds despite an errant car wiping off his front bumper in his last heat, and Jack Browne also qualified with two wins and two seconds. Tyrone Cusack had a mixed weekend with two wins alternating with two black flags. Ruari Thomas had two wins in his Mini, while Ellen Waide won twice on the road, but lost one of them with a green flag. Other heat winners were Zara Percival’s Mini and Gary Whelan, Ryan Feeney and Jamie O’Brien,  all in Micras. The final didn’t last long before Ellen Waide and Zara Percival headed for the armco, while Jamie O’Brien was excluded for a jump start. The rerun was close all the way but Jack Browne successfully held off brother Adam and Jack Kelly to take a memorable win. John Gray had a good drive to fourth in his Micra, ahead of Zara Percival, Ruari Thomas and Ellen Waide. A full grid for the B-final needed a restart after a first corner incident took out Joshua Nugent, but was then a close race with Gary Whelan coming through to take the win from Tyrone Cusack. Emma O’Riordan was third from Chloe O’Brien, newcomer Shannon Morrissey, Tony Browne, whose well-used AX was the only non-Micra, and Naomi Nugent. Ryan Feeney and Kieran Whelan had problems after Saturday’s heats while the other unlucky ones who didn’t make the finals were  Maeve Kelly, Holly Feeney and Emma Kelly.


The JUNIOR SPECIALS had eleven runners but provided enough action for twice that number, including a tangle in the third heat between Sean Nugent and Sian Thomas that ended with Daryl Culbert parked on top of Dan Nash, while Daryl was also in the wars in the final with a roll on the farmyard corner. Dan Nash and James O’Riordan were joint top qualifiers with two wins each but just two points covered the top four, with Cillian Cusack also sitting on two wins and Daryl Culbert taking one. Unfortunately the other heat winner, All Ireland points leader Colin Linehan, had engine problems at the start of his last heat and would have to sit out the final.  Dan Nash’s car was reluctant to fire up for the final, but the race only reached the first corner before Daryl Culbert was tipped into a roll. Dan didn’t get away at all in the rerun, with the early running made by Cillian Cusack. James O’Riordan finally found a way past but a clash of wheels as he passed earned him a green flag and it was none other than Daryl Culbert who joined the exclusive ranks of those to roll and then win in a major final! Tom Hayden took second ahead of the penalised James O’Riordan, with Cillian Cusack fourth ahead of Sean Nugent, whose move from his Micra to the ex-Aaron Long Special is bringing good results. Neil Tivy qualified for the final but spun out mid-race. A three-car B final saw Jack Brennan, a surprise non-qualifier, win from Sian Thomas and Charlie Coffey. Daryl Culbert was the overall winner from James O’Riordan and Cillian Cusack, while Colin Linehan was relieved that his All Ireland lead had already been out of reach for his challengers.


The JUNIOR 1A class appears to have died out with no entries this time, and only one double-driven car at Cork having featured in the series.


Both LADIES’ classes had small entries but produced tense racing. In the Class 1 to 6 division, the interest was provided by Sinead Tivy’s attempts to overcome the handicap between her Class 2 and the Class 1s of Danielle O’Brien and Jasmine Cusack. Danielle held on in the first heat while Sinead made it to the front in all the others, but it was always close. In the final Danielle got slightly out of shape and Jasmine slipped through to lead in her Mini until Sinead’s regular outside line took her to the front, with Jasmine still holding off Danielle. Overall Sinead won from Danielle and Jasmine, but Danielle retained the All Ireland title.


In the Class 7 to 10 section Chloe Sheehy’s Class 7 was as usual chased by the 8s of Michelle Cusack, Jenny Houlihan and Louise Browne. The first heat saw drama as Jenny and Chloe tangled spectacularly but both were back out for the rerun. Chloe continued to impress with her handing of the Suzuki and took three heat wins, with Jenny taking one win but having problems in other heats. None of the three Class 8s were fit to race in the final, but Michelle Cusack made it to the grid thanks to the loan of Peter Brennan’s car, and she chased Chloe home. Michelle and Jenny were second and third overall but Michelle secured the All Ireland title.


One thing that makes an All Ireland final at West Waterford special is the unique Champion Of Champions double. The IRISH FASTEST PERSON ON GRASS race lines up all the weekend’s final winners, while the All Ireland Champion of Champions brings together all the class champions. The Fastest Person on Grass brought out ten cars, including defending champ Shane Farrell. Shane led the way as the rest of the field converged, with Evan Curran’s Class 6 making the fastest progress through the field. Evan hit the front with two laps to go and took the title for the second time, with Paul O’Connor bursting through to second at the end from Jack Houlihan, Jamie Lyons, John Wilde and Brendan O’Leary, while John Shannon, Shane Farrell, Kenneth Cashel and Sinead Tivy pulled out.


The ALL IRELAND CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS had another ten car grid, representing all the classes except for 3, Stock Hatch, F1200 and the two Ladies’ classes. This time it was Jamie Thorpe setting the pace at the front until the reds came out for a tangle between Cian O’Mahony and Kenneth Cashel, which also eliminated Gary Shannon as he ran hard into the back of his brother’s Micra in the confusion. The rerun followed the same pattern with John Wilde quickly pulling clear of the pack and chasing down Jamie Thorpe for the lead. John came home with yet another All Ireland Champ of Champs title to his name, while Paul O’Connor grabbed another second place from Jamie Thorpe and Stephen Kearney as the rest of the field scattered on the last corner. Finally there was a JUNIOR ALL IRELAND CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS in which Adam Browne held off Jack Kelly to take another major title, with Cillian Cusack, Daryl Culbert and John Gray chasing them in.


Then it was time to head down the road for the next part of the meeting …..


Those who've never attended a major event at West Waterford haven't experienced one of the highlights of the Autograss season - the post race presentation, which this year returned to the splendid surroundings of the Park Hotel in Dungarvan (although it was rumoured that the Lismore Hotel, closer to the track, has found a buyer at last, which if true will be excellent news for the West Waterford area - John Wilde denied that it was him!). After an excellent dinner, the Irish Fastest Person on Grass trophies were presented by Eamonn Sheehy, and then the All Ireland Autograss Series trophies were dished out by Maria Houlihan. Following which the stage was taken over by Mike O'Rouke. If you've been there you know what that implies, if not maybe you shouldn't know! Much later in the night our camera once again fell into unauthorised hands but we're not sure if the resulting photos will ever see the light of day!