The Waterford Raceway’s 2019 season kicked off as usual with a non-points “warm-up” day, moved this year from January to the beginning of February as the club wanted to support their East Cork friends at the Watergrasshill Sprint. In the days after Watergrasshill the weather turned nasty over much of Ireland and Waterford’s opener came close to being postponed, but in the end a bright sunny morning greeted us, with the snow capped Comeragh mountains providing a fine backdrop to the first day’s racing of the year.  Conditions perhaps weren’t as fine on the many and various routes that racers take to the Pike, and that contributed to a much smaller than normal turnout of 30 cars, with 36 drivers signed on. There were enough new cars and drivers sprinkled through the entry though to provide plenty of interest in the day, sponsored by Kieran Sandford Motors of Dungarvan.


Racing started with the ROOKIES, in which a 7 car field included three newcomers. Out of these, Liam Óg Power, who had one outing in a borrowed car last year, was immediately on the pace with his nicely turned out Micra, while Aoife Healy performed well in the refreshed family Micra and Darrell Deane built on the experience of his first outing at Watergrasshill. Martin Power took the honour of the year’s first race win, holding off Conor Fitz and Liam Kiersey in a close finish. Second time out Conor Fitz took a clear win with Abby Hewitt heading the rest home. Unfortunately the final had to be stopped a lap early when Abby got tagged by a car she was lapping and had a heavy shunt into the infield tyre wall. Conor Fitz was again leading from Liam Kiersey, Martin Power and Abby, with Liam Power, Aoife Healy and Darrell Deane completing the order. Conor Fitz took his first overall win (of many?) with Liam Kiersey and Martin Power taking the other trophies.


With the Modified Junior class having been dropped after last year’s small turnouts (a shame after the great racing they’d provided in previous seasons), the JUNIOR PRODUCTIONS become the headline Junior class for this year. Another seven car grid included last year’s Champion Aidan Heney, with a big handicap to make up on the rest of the field. Rosegreen regular Lisa Nelson made a rare Pike appearance and led most of the first heat before Aidan came flying through to take the win. In the second race another driver more often seen at Rosegreen, Cian Clancy, pulled out too big a lead for Aidan to catch him. The final proved much closer but after Darragh Healy led for much of the way, Cian Clancy again held off Aidan, with the other leading contenders being Tadgh Foley, Darragh Healy and Ross Ryan, graduating from the Rookies. Another boy moving up a class was Ryan Hickey, while Lisa Nelson dropped to the back after a spin. Cian Clancy took the overall trophy from Aidan Heney and Tadgh Foley.


The best racing of the day undoubtedly came from CLASS 1 with a very fast and evenly matched field of six Micras and one Starlet, promising a shake-up in the class this year with the previously all-conquering Michael Baldwin now having his eye on Class 3. In the first heat all the Micras got involved in a spectacular scrap in which Jack Hickey, starting his first senior season, just got the better of Davy Banville, Arek Konieczy, Shane Hickey, Ronan Foley and Pat Nolan. However, they were all racing for second as they couldn’t quite catch the much improved Starlet of Ronan Coughlan. The Starlet was handicapped into the middle of the pack next time out, when Shane Hickey just beat Davy Banville, although the battle was split up when a slight contact saw Jack Hickey spinning across the bows of Arek Konieczy, putting Arek out when his bonnet flipped up. Pat Nolan headed the final away but his new Micra didn’t quite have the speed to stay there and the Wexford man got swallowed up before the battle ended in yet another triumph for the Hickey family, Jack heading Shane across the line with Davy Banville, Arek and Ronan Coughlan right in the thick of the battle. After their 1-2-3 at Watergrasshill, this week the Hickeys took the top two trophies with Jack first and Shane second, while Davy Banville claimed third.


CLASS 1B and the STOCKS raced together, with every driver in the field new to their class. Luke O’Donovan moved up from Juniors and headed the 1Bs in the first two heats, then taking a close second to Ava Moloney, a former front runner in the Juniors at Rosegreen, in the last race. Luke was the overall winner from Ava and first time racer Conor Harty, while Joe Fitz was out of luck due to many problems with the Micra he shared with Abby Hewitt. Evin Harding has moved from the Juniors to the Stocks this year with an ex-Premier Rod Almera. Unfortunately he was alone in the class but showed a good turn of speed as he caught and passed all the Micras in the second and third races.


With CLASS 2 and 4 running together, Peadar Wall was in good form as he dominated Class 4 despite a spin in the second race. Runner up in the class was newcomer Peter Deady, sharing Paul Fitzgerald’s Class 3 Starlet. Class 2 also featured a couple of shared cars and Pat Ryan’s Micra held the advantage, chased all day by Michael Coughlan in the Class 1 Starlet.


The final group should have combined CLASSES 3, 5 and 6 but unfortunately Donal Linehan’s Honda-powered 206, the only Class 6 entry, had problems in practice. Padraig Smiddy’s Toyota-powered Micra was alone in Class 5, but featured in some close battles with his cousin Jason Ryan’s rapid 1300 Micra, running in Class 3. Also running a Class 2 car in Class 3 was Michael Baldwin, trying his dad’s Micra before his own car is ready, and he won the second race. Overall, Jason was the winner from Michael with Katie Egan third overall in her Starlet and Paul Fitzgerald dropping out before the final race.


The day ended with a six-car HELPERS’ RACE, won by Ger Clancy in Peadar Wall’s 206, chased home by Ben Hickey in Jack’s Micra with the Class 1B cars of Jamie Condon (in Aidan Heney’s car) and Stephen Healy next up. Completing the field were Alan Ryan in Jason and Pat’s Micra and Kim Cashman, having her first ever race in Shane Hickey’s Micra.


The rain that threatened later in the day held off and there was an early finish to round off a good preview to the season proper at the Pike, which starts in three weeks on 24 February.


On a personal note, thanks to everyone at the Pike who helped out after we managed to struggle as far as the track with a non-functioning alternator in our Mercedes.