The Phoenix Park Motor Races is the highlight of most people’s racing season. Racing first took place in what’s known as “the park” back in 1903 and it’s great to see that it still takes place today, despite recent years having to be given a miss for various different reasons, mainly the economy. 18/19 August 2012 was the first time since 2009 that the Phoenix Park was back on the Motorsport Calendar and at the start of this year, it didn’t look like we would have the budget to do as much racing as we have but I always knew that I wanted to compete in “the park”.
Formula Sheane took part in the sprint class which unlike a race, is decided by the fastest single lap set by each competitor with the cars set off at five second intervals around the track. I was really looking forward to this event after previously going pretty well here in 2009 in the Stryker class.
I arrived at the Phoenix Park on Friday night to get scrutiny out of the way. My Sheane Cars team had my goldenpages.ie car looking as good as new after its little miss hap at the previous race in Mondello Park a few weeks ago. With that all done I went to the race secretarys office to sign on and that saw me set for Saturday morning.
It was an early start on Saturday as to get to the race paddock up in Farmleigh house you had to drive on part of the circuit which would no longer be accessible once the racing started at 9am. We haven’t figured out who ordered the weather for the day but whoever it was couldn’t have asked for better. The temperatures were up in the 20’s and the skys were blue, which in my opinion are perfect racing conditions for a single seater driver with no roof.
There is no pre-event testing for “the park” so the first time you get to drive the track is for your practice/qualifying session depending on if you are racing or taking part in the sprint. Around 10.30am the call came out across the paddock for all sprint class 1 drivers to go to the assembly area. We were then led out along the avenue from Farmleigh and out onto the track for a 15 minute practice session. It only took a lap or two to remember what a special place the park is and how lucky we are to be racing around it. It is a lot more dangerous than racing at a purpose built track but the thrill of it makes you forget all about the risk.
With the weather being so fantastic the only thing to do while we waited for our first competitive session was to sit around the paddock eating ice cream and sharing thoughts on our laps from the morning practice. Such is the nature of the park, the timetable normally goes out the window and it becomes a running order. 2012 was no different, we were scheduled to go out on track at around 4pm but were informed just before 6pm that the organisers had run out of time to finish the schedule for Saturday as the roads had to be re-opened and unfortunately some of the sessions would have to be moved to Sunday morning, one of which being the one I was due to compete in. This now meant that we would have two runs on the Sunday so it wasn’t all bad!
After a good night’s sleep I set off for Dublin at 7am on Sunday morning as we were advised that we would be first on Sunday’s schedule. We all lined up for our first competitive run of the weekend around 9am. The pace car met us at the edge of the track after a pretty long drive down from Farmleigh house and led us around on our warm up lap. We stopped on the start line then and were set off at 5 second intervals for a 10 minute session. I took the first lap pretty easy to get a better feel for the track as unlike Saturday there were damp patches of track under the trees. I quickly realised that none of these area’s were affecting the car so I got my head down and tried to set the best lap time I could. I set a time of 1:19.173 which was a little bit slower than the other Formula Sheane drivers but I was confident I could go much quicker on the next run.
Unlike Saturday there wasn’t a long wait until we were called again and around 12pm it was off down the avenue from the paddock to the track. I was a little sad as I knew this would be the last time I would take to this particular track for at least another year so I was keen to make the most of it and put in the best performance I could. Again we got a warm up lap behind the pace car and were set off at five second intervals. Lap after lap I just tried to brake that little bit later into each of the corners especially the chicane after the first corner. One lap from the end I was closing in on a fellow Formula Sheane competitor and on the run out of the first corner I seen him colliding with the chicane and knocking it open, I wasn’t sure where the bits of broken barrier had landed but I made the decision that I wasn’t going to lift off the power this lap and I was going to go through what had been the chicane flat. Luckily I got away with doing this and managed to avoid all the bits of barrier and set myself up for a much quicker lap time than before. I crossed the finish line and I had set a time of 1:17.089, 2 seconds quicker than my best time from the morning and 7th out of the 8 Formula Sheane cars in the class.
As I mentioned previously the Phoenix Park races are very special and I just hope that the orgainisers find some way to keep them running in the future. For me it is off to Kirkistown this weekend for rounds 6&7 of the Formula Sheane Championship. This will be my first time since 2009 to race this track and also the first time to drive my Formula Sheane here. Kirkistown is Ireland’s fastest circuit so I am really looking forward to the new challenge and I’ll let you all know how I get on next week.