On a day when all the Autograss racing in Ireland, and most in the UK, was cancelled after a week of heavy rain, the Ballyshannon Hot Rod track in Co Kildare presented a perfect racing surface on a sunny Sunday morning for the track’s first major cup race of the year, the Mick Hannon Memorial Cup. It was the first chance we’d had to visit Ballyshannon since a new committee took over in the middle of 2018, and we found the venue immaculately presented, with mainly new signs and fencing and freshly cut grass awaiting the arrival of the racers who’ve been attending in growing numbers after a lean period for this long established club.


As ever at Ballyshannon, there was plenty of time to relax and look round in the morning. Scrutiny was scheduled to start at 10.30, so at around 11.45, apart from a few keen early arrivals, cars started arriving at the gate. The scrutiny got under way at 12.00, and within an hour there were 42 cars in the pits, 47 drivers signed on, and the Class 1s were heading for the startline. With the rain forecast to return at 4 pm, there was then a slick turn round of races, despite a few incidents along the way, and four rounds of racing, with a brief lunch break were completed before the rain arrived bang on schedule before the ladies’ and men’s cup races.


A slight dust problem was quickly rectified after the first CLASS 1 race, in which Laois driver Jeremy Whelan headed home Carlow’s Andrew McCarthy and Wexford’s Kieran Cooney. These three headed the second round as well, while various incidents sidelined Wexford’s Brendan Mahon and local racers Eddie Hannon and Murt Behan. The third and fourth rounds, with a slightly reduced field, saw Jeremy complete a clean sweep of the K11 Micra dominated class, chased each time by Andrew.


Ballyshannon don’t really cater for the modified Class 1s that are popular in Wexford, but Alex Cooney’s nicely prepared K10 Micra was joined in CLASS 1M by Basher Mahon’ sharing Brendan’s Class 1 car. However, Basher had to drop out after the Micra got bent in Brendan’s second race. Alex then switched between the Class 2 and Class 1 races, saving his main effort for the cup race.


CLASS 2 had a strong seven car field. Former Autograss racer Sean Reeves pulled out a big lead in the first race in his 1.3 K11 Micra, with the rest headed by the K10 Micra of 13 year old Brandon Eager – Ballyshannon allow Juniors to move up early if they’re obviously ready for it, which Brandon certainly was as he headed the shared Starlet of Jeffrey and Lorcan Murray-Hill. Second time out though, Sean Reeves couldn’t quite catch the P&R Motorsport Autograss Class 2 Micra of Pamela Horgan, who’d diverted to Ballyshannon after Mallow was rained off. No doubt Pamela was looking mainly for track time and experience, and she ended up getting nine races as she was allowed to double up in Class 2 and the Ladies’ races, with such a quick turn around that it wasn’t worth her getting out of the car between races! By the third round we’d lost PJ Callan, debuting a smart new 70-series Starlet, and Sean Reeves was back in front, chased by Brandon Eager, with Jack Murray-Hill’s Starlet holding off Pamela and the other Murray-Hill family Starlet. In the final round Pamela was back in front, holding off Wexford visitor Benji Callan’s Mitsubishi-powered Corsa, while Sean Reeves unfortunately pulled off on the last lap with problems that then kept him out of the cup race.


CLASS 3 is usually the crowd favourite at Ballyshannon, with fast and loud racing from competitive fields of mainly Honda-powered 1400 Starlets and Micras. PJ O’Neill’s Starlet set the pace in the first round, ahead of Steven Ryan’s K10 Micra (the only non-Honda-powered car), Boo Mahon’s K10 Micra, James Lawlor’s K11 Micra, Katie Egan’s Starlet, Thomas Cowman’s K11 Micra and Jimmy Lawlor’s K10 Micra. The second round saw James Lawlor and Thomas Cowman swapping places on virtually every corner before Thomas came home ahead of James, with Jimmy Lawlor heading the rest. In round three it was the turn of Boo Mahon to head the evenly matched field, fending off a strong challenge from Stephen Ryan. The final round saw a repeat of the round 2 battle, with Thomas Cowman again just beating James Lawlor, and PJ O’Neill heading the rest of the pack.


There were just two entries for CLASS 4 with Nigel Dooley’s Honda Vtec Starlet joined by Andy Foley, having his first run in the similarly powered ex-Jimmy Boland Civic. The battle got close enough when Nigel dived for the inside of Andy in the last corner, giving Nigel the first round win. Then it got too close when Nigel again dived for the inside in the second round, clipped a tyre and was launched into a spectacular roll. Andy then joined in with the Class 3s for the remaining rounds.


A new class to Ballyshannon this year is the LIMITED HOT RODS, a 1600 production-based class which brought out thee cars including James O’Shea, who many will remember for the years he spent commuting from Dublin to compete in the English National Hot Rods. Now racing on a lower key stage, James was using a 2WD Subaru Impreza that he’d previously run in Rosegreen’s Premier Rods, joined by son Stephen in a Mitsubishi Colt and Mick Lawlor in a Peugeot 205 GTi. Mick’s Peugeot won three of the four rounds, being narrowly beaten in the third by James’ Subaru, while Stephen’s Colt was sidelined after a couple of close battles. Sharing the track with them was one Class 5 Autograss car; All Ireland Class 1 Champion Jamie Thorpe was having a first run in his ex-Kevin Carron Owens-built Mini-Vauxhall. Jamie quickly adapted to his first RWD experience and we’ll look forward to seeing him join the Class 5 pack.


The LADIES’ class featured six cars, including Pamela Horgan, sharing her Class 2 Micra with herself, and Vanessa Heffernan, returning to action in a 16-valve powered K10 Micra. Vanessa won her first race back, chased by Jamie Egan (sharing Katie’s Class 3 Starlet) and Pamela. Pamela then held off Vanessa to win the second round. The first two rounds also featured a close battle between the mother and daughter team of Fidelma and Mollykate Murray-Hill, but that all went wrong in the third heat. A coming together on the first lap saw Jamie Egan heading for the tyre wall, while Vanessa Heffernan and Mollykate burst through the infield barrier, with Mollykate then rolling across the infield and landing roof down before scrambling out of the Starlet unharmed. A reduced field completed the day with Vanessa taking the restarted third race and Pamela winning the fourth, with third place going to newcomer Katie Nolan in a Class 1 Micra.


The JUNIORS were equally split between “experienced” and “beginners” groups. Wexford’s Jack Cooney headed the experienced group in the first round, with Wicklow driver Dylan Eager holding off Wexford’s David Browne, Autograss regular John Gray and Bobby Binch in the ex-Patrick Percival Autograss car, while Ricky Geoghegan debuted an immaculate new Micra to replace his long serving Starlet. The second round saw John Gray, still in the original Micra he raced before starting his successful Autograss campaign, holding off David Browne for the win. Jack Cooney was back in control in the third round and David Browne, with the car he raced regularly at the Pike last year, took the last race. There was no separate final for the Juniors this time, so on points Jack Cooney took the winner’s trophy from David Browne and John Gray.


The “beginners’” class proved just as competitive, starting with Cillian Bove putting his K10 Micra on its side in the first corner. He was soon back on his wheels for the restart, when Jamie Cadogan, with the other boxy Micra in the field, took the win from Callum Carroll, David Lawlor, Cillian Bove, Alex Broderick, Iain Nolan and Dylan O’Neill. Jamie Cadogan again got away to win the second round as David Lawlor, Alex Broderick and Cillian Bove battled for second. Winning a race at Ballyshannon puts you to the back of the grid for the next round, so Jamie had a harder job third time out, but still came through to take the lead from Alex Broderick in the closing stages. The final race was even closer with David Lawlor taking the lead from Iain Nolan, but Jamie Cadogan wasn’t to be denied his fourth straight win, passing David on the last lap. So the day’s trophy went back to Wexford with Jamie, while David Lawlor took the runner up spot overall.


That just left the main cup races, with the rain now coming in fairly hard. The Ladies’ race brought out three cars with Vanessa Heffernan taking the win over Pamela Horgan and Katie Nolan, but only just as Vanessa ran out of petrol straight after the finish! With these three taking trophies in the cup race, the class winner’s trophy for the day went to Fidelma Murray-Hill.


Once a couple of non-qualifiers had been weeded out, seven cars took the flag for the MICK HANNON CUP race – amazingly including the very battered Starlet of Nigel Dooley. Jeremy Whelan led away in the Class 1 and, despite Alex Cooney  closing in with the Class 1M Micra, Jeremy held the lead until the last two laps when Nigel Dooley came through. Nigel therefore claimed the cup after a literally up and down day, with Jeremy taking second and Alex third, while Steven Ryan, PJ O’Neill, Mick Lawlor and Jack Murray-Hill were the other contenders.


Despite the wet finish, it had been a good day’s racing for Ballyshannon, now building up through the next race day on 23 June to the two day meeting on 6/7 July, with cup races scheduled on both days.