Motorsport: Young guns ready to roar in Kirkistown
THE Fiat Punto Abarths series tops the bill with a double-header as the car racing season gets under way on Saturday in Kirkistown.
The popular Fiat hatchback series is the headline class in Co Down, although only nine entrants have committed to the event so far.
More are expected as the weekend draws near, but the struggle to fill grids in local racing continues into the new decade.
By contrast, while Formula Ford continues to struggle for numbers in Mondello, the Northern Ireland series opener on Saturday currently has a confirmed 22 cars, with a healthy number of them young up-and-coming racers.
Drivers of the calibre of Jonathan McMullin, Raymond Lusty, Michael Edgar, John Ferguson, Scott McGarrity and Noel Robinson will face opposition from southern travellers Stephen Daly, Nigel and Neville Smyth, and Andrew Noble in the main race, with several drivers also eligible to take in the Pre 90 race.
There is fresh optimism that the local racing scene can recover from an extended period of contracting grids and amalgamated classes in the coming season, but a uniform class structure remains a distant proposition.
Richard Young of Kirkistown Circuit is reporting a healthy increase in new licence applications from racing-school graduates, most of whom are targeting a popular new 1-litre Roadsports class, while the 500 MRCI have also added a GT class for more powerful machinery to the Libre Saloon entry.
Attracting new machinery and drivers is an ongoing battle and concern remains about shrinking numbers in the traditionally robust Formula Vee class, which is expecting 25-30 drivers on a regular basis.
That means it is still the best supported class, but a far cry from the 60-plus entries seen in the mid 1990s. Mondello Park bosses have reduced the number of events this year and are considering amalgamating grids and running two races at once in order to make their meetings financially sound.
The creative solutions to making racing viable continue to impress, but it will be interesting to see if Motorsport Ireland make any progress this season in supporting changes to the class structure.
Elsewhere this weekend, the Southern Karting Club's first event of the season takes place at Pallas Karting in Tynagh, Co Galway.