Monday 25 March 2019

Mondello at 50; half a century of thrills and spills are celebrated this weekend

Chris Sommers and David Hobbs single-seater racing in the 1970s at Mondello
Chris Sommers and David Hobbs single-seater racing in the 1970s at Mondello
A typical day's single-seater racing at Mondello
Mondello owner Martin Birrane in one of his racing classics
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

AND so we've had half a century of thrills and spills at Mondello Park. Hard to believe it has been the epicentre of Irish motoring racing for 50 years.

The 50 mark will be celebrated in style next weekend with Irish World Rally Championship stars Craig Breen and Paul Nagle as well as legends Rosemary Smith and Gerard Quinn among the guests.

The event, which will help the Irish Motorsport Support Fund, will have 13 different disciplines, including rallying and drifting; rallycross, autocross and trials; karting, hillclimbs and sprinting; plus 'autotesting' (precision driving) - in four arenas.

Rounding off the day, there will be a gala dinner on Saturday night at the CityWest Hotel.

A typical day's single-seater racing at Mondello
A typical day's single-seater racing at Mondello

Mondello, established in 1968, is owned by Mayo-born businessman, former racing driver and holder of the Irish land-speed record Martin Birrane.

In its early years, the circuit hosted European F5000 events with huge crowds in attendance.

Budget Formula Ford class arrived in the seventies as did huge talents such as Derek Daly, David Kennedy and Bernard Devaney. All three now have circuit corners named after them.

Mondello hosted the EFDA Euroseries for FF2000 and then Formula Opel cars throughout the 80s and 90s.

It also hosted British and European championship motorcycle races.

Mr Birrane's vision was to attract more international events: hence the extension of the circuit to 3.5km in 1998.

I've been around the track many a time. I've always found it a challenge. I love the back straight; I'm okay on the first corner at the end of it, but after that it has always been a matter of hoping I had my racing lines half right. In my case they've usually been half wrong.

The nice thing about it is you can do your own thing at your own pace. The friendliness of the staff (take a bow caterers, especially) and the encouragement of the technical people never seem to waver.

I've also been driven around by 'real' drivers and it is only at times like that you realise how massive a chasm lies between ordinary and talented.

I'll always remember Eddie Irvine, then at the peak of his F1 powers, taking me around in a Toyota Supra (life was so, so much different then). We chatted away at speeds I wouldn't dream of. And then he asked me would I like him to do a 360-degree manoeuvre without losing it. I had full confidence in the man, though it was slightly, and momentarily, shaken when he proceeded to do so with just the one hand on the wheel. Talent.

I've also driven a Mercedes truck around the circuit; now that was real fun. And a van. Motorbikes? No, I'm not quite ready. It's a great facility, a mere 48km from Dublin city centre.

A big attraction are the special days - when people or companies can drive super cars or their own hot machines.

I often say it is one of the few places for owners of some road-going performance cars to test their mettle and metal. They certainly can't do that on public roads.

And that's what makes Mondello rather special; it is a sort of home turn for so many vehicles and their owners.

Here's to another 50 years of great sport.

Indo Motoring

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