Hodgepodge hatchbacks battle it out at Mondello

34 daredevils line up eager to race. Will your correspondent make the podium?


For one weekend at least, Mondello Park in Co Kildare resembled the province of Palermo in Italy from where it takes its name. With temperatures in the mid- twenties, competitors and spectators gathered in the heat for a weekend’s racing. Top billing went to the Formula Vee class but all our focus was on the recently launched Patch Tyre Equipment Fiesta Zetec Championship.

As The Irish Times Motors reported last week, I’ve taken the plunge and invested a whopping €400 in an old Fiesta to enter in the racing series. So, after fitting the various safety features and tweaking the suspension, I was ready for the racetrack.

With 34 potent Fiestas entered, the fastest six would automatically qualify for the “A” race, with the remaining 28 drivers forming a full grid (maximum of 28 cars on the grid) for a B race. The top 22 finishers of this race would go through to the A race later in the afternoon. This meant that the vast majority of drivers would end up having two races between Saturday and Sunday.

After numerous discussions about things like what tyre pressures to run, I headed out for qualifying. Thankfully I had a clear track for a few laps and pushed hard early on, aided by a tow down the straight from another competitor. I actually managed to set the fastest time initially. My time was then improved on by Patrick Boland who set the fastest laptime (1:12.426).

By the end of the session I was third, thereby qualifying on the second row of the A race. Your second fastest laptime determined your grid position for race two, my second fastest time put me in second place on the grid for the final on Sunday.

Time to race. I lined up on row two for the first race alongside one of my best friends and former Abarth racing driver John Denning, with my work colleague Philip Lawless directly behind me in fifth spot.

My aim was to get a decent start and avoid contact with either of these as life could become difficult if I messed this up and took them off the track with me. Yet as soon as the last lights went out on the starting line, all the pre-planning went out the window. It was 27 cars and me.

Clean start
Denning got a clean start and slotted in ahead of me in third place going into turn one. I tucked in behind and stayed with him for approximately half the race, under pressure from Lawless who was fast approaching. I made a few attempts to pass Denning, getting alongside on a few occasions, but he managed to make his Fiesta as wide as an old Ford Granada every time.

Meanwhile, up front Vincent Brennan and Patrick Boland were pulling away from the rest of us. As I watched the two front-runners pull ahead, Lawless shot passed me and set about trying to pass Denning.

It all nearly ended in tears as I braked deeper and made contact with Lawless’s rear bumper causing him a handful of opposite lock, for which I received a waved fist and I suspect some foul abuse. In the end we finished as we were, with an impressive 26 Fiestas finishing the 15 minute race around the 1.16 mile national circuit.

Sunday afternoon brought on more sunshine and a packed grandstand with ice-creams replacing flasks of coffee for the hardened spectators. Inside the Fiesta it felt like it was tipping 40 degrees, although there is nothing as sophisticated as a thermometer in this comfortless cabin.

I took to the grid for Sunday’s race on the front row in second place alongside Patrick Boland, with Lawless in third place. Thankfully Denning’s second fastest time from qualifying wasn’t too hot, so he was further down the grid, out of harms way. Patrick Boland bolted off the line from pole and while I got a decent start my Fiesta – and my driving – wasn’t up to Boland’s pace.

We battled closely for the lead in the opening laps, until Lawless caught up and wanted a piece of the action. I should’ve seen his move coming but was caught unaware as he executed the perfect pass getting the run on me out of Dunlop corner. He continued on his quest to the front disposing of Boland who was relegated to second. Former Abarth racer Barry Hallion made a move to overtake me on the approach to turn four, but I managed to hold my line and more importantly track position. At the chequered flag I had managed to secure a podium position, albeit on the smallest step.

So it’s back to the garage, trophy in hand, for some fine tuning prior to the Fiesta’s next race outing on August 25th.

From road car to racing
Ford Fiesta 1998 €400
Race Tyres (4) €300
Roll Cage €700
Race Seat and mounting brackets €200
Racing 6 point harness €145
Fire Extinguisher System

Pull Cables and Clamps €11
Polycarbonate Windows €100
Lowering Springs €90
Bonnet Pins & Boot
Springs €18
EBC Brake Pads €60
Front shock absorbers €68
Race Entry €220

(Apart from the price of the Fiesta, these prices are exclusive of vat)