O’Connor see’s Double


Rounds 5 & 6 of the 2015 Auto Care Formula Sheane Championship took place last week on the Mondello Park International Circuit for the first time since the thrilling season finale last year. The longer track layout always shakes things up and pushes the cars and the drivers to their limit over the tricky 2 mile loop. Coming in to the weekend the weekend could boast 4 different winners from the 4 rounds held so far on the 2015 campaign which has made for the battle at the top of the table to be a very exciting one indeed. Keith Hogg was coming into this weekend with his first win behind him in Bishopscourt along with Dave Parks following him close behind. Just 1 point behind Parks was the reigning champion and Ireland’s most successful clubman racer, Brian Hearty, who was looking to take another win after taking the season opener back in April. Sitting one more point behind the Master was Former Champion Enda O’Connor who has being showing great pace all year. Triple Champion Kevin Sheane rounds out the top 5 and is still looking for that first illusive win of this season.


The drivers and teams arrived down to Mondello Park on Saturday morning to a blustery but sunny track; some of the drivers had made the most of the Friday testing session and were ready to go for qualifying on the Saturday afternoon. With the strongest grid so far this season for the series, it was looking like it was going to be a great weekends racing. Unfortunately for some, as is motorsport, it wasn’t all plain sailing and both drivers that are in tied first place for the Sheane Cars Scholarship Championship suffered engine problems, Niall O’Flynn swapping over to the spare car and Daniel Clarkin having to make an engine change. The cars looked fantastic as they all rolled out of the assembly area for qualifying, everybody knowing how important the next 15 minutes where going to be if they were to have any chance of taking the wins. O’Connor was first to blast in the pole time as his dialled in machine was definitely the one to beat for the weekend, Hearty and Sheane where next to fire times in to the top of the table albeit a good bit of O’Connor’s time. Just behind them were Parks, Allen and Hogg followed closely by Kearney. O’Connor remained at the top of the times throughout with 2nd down to 8th position changing on every lap. Towards the end of the session the other drivers seemed to really knuckle down and reel O’Connor in as Parks managed to blast in a time just .033 off the pole man with Hearty just behind them on the second row joined by Hogg with Sheane and Allen taking the third row. That was it for Saturday’s action; both races were to be held on the Sunday afternoon. After missing qualifying, Daniel Clarkin set about changing his engine but seeing as this was his first year running the car, he needed a helping hand and who better to offer it but MAD Motorsports Keith Hogg and Noel Cooley. Hogg might be leading the championship but that doesn’t mean he wants to see a competitor sitting out because of mechanical issues.


On to the Sunday morning and the weather was a scorcher, the strong grid rolled up to the grid to await the lights. When the lights went out it was O’Connor who would win the drag race to the first corner as Park’s had roasted his clutch on a practice start in the run up to the line. Hogg and Hearty made a great start followed by Sheane and Kearney as Parks dwindled down the pack. By the run out to the country O’Connor already had a rare lead this early in the race as everyone else tussled for positions and tried to decide who would be the one to hunt him down. As the long first lap came to an end, Park’s clutch had now cooled and he was like a man on a mission. Having dispensed Linnane and Kearney, Parks was on Sheane’s gearbox and the 2 battled hard over the next few laps, ahead of them Hogg was doing his very best to hold off the relentless pressure of the reigning champion. Hearty, being the wise old dog he is, sold Hogg a great dummy on the run out of 7a, 7b and was even nice enough to have given him the receipt top the move so that he could use it later on. By this point, O’Connor was gone up the road, not something you see every day in Formula Sheane but none the less, he was making the most out of the battles behind him and was in a commanding lead. Just behind the main battle for 2nd,3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th was the Corcoran, McCabe, McLoughlin, O’Flynn and Clarkin who were have a tremendous battle, none more so than the joint leaders of the Sheane Cars Scholarship Championship. O’Flynn lead Clarkins newly repaired car and no matter what Clarkin could not make any ground on him. 3rd place man Mark Carvill was getting to grips with the long international track very quickly as he and former GT and RT2000 star McEvoy both fought hard for their positions, Carvill had never driven on either Mondello layout and McEvoy was re learning his trade after stepping across from saloons.


Back at the front on the grid everyone seemed to have calmed themselves down, unfortunately for Allen who was sitting in a strong finishing position the finish was soon enough and as his car developed a problem he found himself at the back of the lead pack in 7th coming into the last lap which promoted everyone behind. Parks was trying everything he could to pass the championship leader Hogg in the final podium position but to no avail; Hogg wasn’t just sitting behind Hearty he was learning where to place the car in every corner to defend like his eyebrows depended on it. O’Connor took the chequered flag to be the first double race winner of the year in the ultra-competitive series, Hearty brought it home in second for some much needed points for his defence of the championship with Hogg home just in front of Parks for 3rd. With the interviews all done and dusted for the tv it was back to the pits to get ready for the afternoons second encounter.


For the second race of the day O’Connor was on pole this time joined by the Master, Brian Hearty, with Vertical Team mates Parks and Allen taking the second row. As the lights went out Parks and Sheane were like bullets out of a gun leaving the line, Parks on the inside and Sheane on the outside both beating Hearty and Allen to the first corner with Sheane nearly making it around the whole way around the outside in a ballsy move through turn one which seen him eventually tuck in underneath Parks rear wing as the 2 hunted O’Connor down. O’Connor couldn’t make the breakaway he had in the first race and was under serious pressure from Park’s who had managed to drop Sheane a little as they made their way onto the second lap. Park’s applied the pressure but was also being hunted down by Sheane and Hearty who both seemed to have gotten a second wind as they made their way out onto the international loop. Hogg and Kearney were sitting just behind them not letting them get too far out of sight as they battled hard with Hogg able to cash in what Hearty had thought him earlier on pulling off the exact same move as the Master had earlier. Parks had now caught up with O’Connor and was just about to start fighting him as O’Connor let off and backed Parks into Sheane and Hearty’s grasp. That was enough to allow O’Connor make a slight break as Parks dealt with the pressure from the former Leinster Trophy winner Sheane and 10 time championship winner Hearty who both knew all the tricks to make Parks defend. Just as that happened the drivers were greeted at turn 1 by the safety car which was dispatched so that the marshals could safely remove a stricken nose cone. This bunched the pack up nicely and gave everyone a few corners to compose themselves. As quick as the safety car was out it was back in again with O’Connor making the most of the situation and getting the jump on Parks. The cars all came screaming past the start finish line for the next phase of the race. Further down the field, Carvill and McEvoy where still trading paint on every corner and a head of them the midfield battles between Corcoran, McCabe and McLoughlin was raging on as they were all trying to catch up on Kearney who was just hanging on to the back of the lead pack. At the front of that pack, Parks was still holding Sheane and Hearty off who had been joined by the championship leader who was looking to get in on the action. Moves where pulled on every inch of the track to try get ahead of one another before the chequered flag was held out. O’Connor crossed the line taking yet another win this year from Parks in 2nd and a well-deserved 3rd place for Sheane. Hogg brought it home in 4th to beat the reigning champion home in 5th place. Kearney was followed home in 5th by McLoughlin in 6th. Clarkin took an all-important win in the Sheane Cars Scholarship championship from Carvill in an impressive 2nd, unfortunately for O’Flynn who, for want of a better phrase, suffered battery failure.


The excitement was all over and we had a new leader at the top of both Championship tables, O’Connor had nipped Hogg by just 1 point to take the lead with Clarkin maximising on O’Flynn’s troubles to move out in front in their battle in the scholarship class. O’Connor jumped from 4th to 1st in just 1 race weekend which just goes to show how close this year’s battle is. There is literally nothing in it as we move forward to the next leg of the Championship and on to our first of 2 visits to the super-fast Kirkistown Race Circuit in Northern Ireland. This will be second time the series travels across the border and where Rounds 3 & 4 of the Formula Sheane Northern Irish Championship will be held. The fast layout of Kirkistowns airfield circuit is always a challenging one with full of places to overtake for the drivers, it is bound to be where the championship takes no prisoners and we have a feeling there might even be another race winner or possibly championship leader by the time the series leaves the track. Roll on Rounds 7 & 8 of the 2015 Auto Care Formula Sheane Championship in Kirkistown Northern Ireland on the 25th of July!!!

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