Tuesday 16 January 2018

All roads lead to Skerries for hottest ticket in town

Derek Sheils leads eventual winner Michael Dunlop during the lap record-breaking Grand Final at the Skerries 100. Picture: Pat Nolan
Derek Sheils leads eventual winner Michael Dunlop during the lap record-breaking Grand Final at the Skerries 100. Picture: Pat Nolan

IT WAS marked by a new course record and proved to be one of the best attended meetings that I have ever seen. It was a meeting full of excellent racing, and featured the craziest crash that I have ever witnessed in all my years of racing.

Michael Dunlop was the star attraction, and he didn't disappoint the record crowd, taking both the Open and Grand Final, but he didn't have it all his own way either, with his big brother William spoiling his chance of a hat-trick by taking a very exciting 600 Supersport race.

The great weather that was promised arrived in style, and the sunshine provided some problems for the organisers, with the riders asking for the races to be cut shorter than the club had intended, owing to the heat!

The locals were out in good force, with Michael Sweeney, Andy Farrell and Sean Leonard all getting onto the podium.

The racing got under way on time at 10am with the Open race, but it wasn't the start that everyone wanted, with the red flag going out on the second lap as Shaun Anderson crashed out at Glasshouses. The Banbridge rider was taken to hospital with minor fractures and bruising, and released on Sunday.

The restart saw on-form rider Derek Sheils take the lead from Michael Dunlop, with Michael Pearson, Davy Morgan and Jamie Hamilton in hot pursuit. It didn't take Dunlop long to get in front of Sheils, and on lap three he put in the fastest lap of the race at 108.664 to get in front, and he was never headed after that.

At the flag Dunlop won by 3.419 seconds from Sheils, with Michael Pearson third. Alan Bonner was making a rare road race appearance, and he finished seventh, with Michael Sweeney 10th, Andy Farrell 12th and Alan Connor 13th.

Owing to the extra entries, the Loughshinny club had to run an Open Non Qualifiers race, and this was an excellent race right from the start. David Coughlan led from Paul Barron and Czech rider Michal Dokoupil, but Dokoupil posted the fastest lap of the race on lap four to take the lead from Coughlan, and he held on to win by 3.073 seconds, with Paul Barron back in third. Derek Costello finished 10th, Mark Sheils 12th and Noel Bertram 13th.

The Senior Support race was another cracker, with the current in-form rider Shane Egan leading from the drop of the flag and Conor Behan, James Kelly and Gavin Lupton in close company. Egan's confidence after his win in Cork really showed, and he was never headed, even setting the fastest lap of 100.334 on lap four.

The battle behind saw Behan finish second, just 0.115 of a second behind Egan, with James Kelly third and Gavin Lupton fourth. Swords rider Aaron Hatch finished 10th, Wayne Hall 14th, Noel Murphy 16th and Derek Scuffil 17th.

Micko Sweeney was the early leader in the 250 race, with Davy Morgan, John Ella and William Dunlop close behind. On lap two Morgan took the lead from Sweeney, with Ella and the slow-starting Dunlop beginning to make ground. On lap five Dunlop produced the fastest lap of the race at 101.415 to take the lead, and he held on to the finish and beat Davy Morgan by 0.855 of a second, with Micko Sweeney back in third.

Andy Farrell had problems in qualifying and had to start from the back of the grid and it was Gavin Lupton who led for the first three laps from David Howard and his brother Damien, with Farrell working his way through the field.

With two laps to go Andy Farrell hit the front and took the win from Lupton by almost five seconds, with David Howard third and his brother Damien, making his first road race appearance for two years, fourth. Mark Sheils finished sixth, Derek Scuffil seventh and Wayne Hall eighth. The other three local riders in the race - David Yeomans, Derek Costello and Noel Bertram - all retired.

Barry Davidson continued his fine season form, taking his fourth win in the 350 Classic class, when he beat Sean Leonard by 6.552 seconds, with Manx rider Alan Brew third. Phillip Shaw took the honours in the 250 class, beating Bryan Allen and Alan 'Bud' Jackson.

The 600 Supersport was a Dunlop family affair, with Michael taking the early lead from William, but the older and probably wiser of the two brothers took the lead on lap five, and despite setting the fastest lap of 108.115 on lap 6, Michael was beaten by just 0.438 of a second by William, with the rest of the field a long way back.

The battle for third was very close, with Derek McGee taking the last of the rostrum places. Micko Sweeney finished fifth, Andy Farrell 12th and Alan Connor 13th.

Seamus Elliott was the early leader in the 125 Moto 450 race, but he was overtaken by William Dunlop on lap two. The Ballymoney rider's race was over on lap three when he retired, leaving Elliott to take the flag from Bruce Moulds and Nigel Moore. Sean Leonard was relegated to sixth on the last lap by the hard-charging Dan Sayle, who was riding Michael Dunlop's 125 Honda for the first time.

Robert Mc Crum had the easiest win of the day, taking the 1,000 Classic race by nearly 23 seconds to continue his great season form. John Scott finished second, with Tom Kavanagh third. Tony Willis has his first success in the 500 Classic Class, beating Freddie Stewart and Gary Jamison.

The 650 Supertwin saw Micko Sweeney in pole position after qualifying, and he justified his speed by taking the lead on lap one. This was short-lived, though, as Jamie Hamilton nudged in front on lap two.

The leading pair were side by side, but what happened behind them was something that I have never witnessed at a road race.

The first scenario saw Andy Farrell, William Davidson and Davy Morgan, who were battling for third place, approach Finnegan's corner. Farrell peeled into the corner just ahead of Davidson, but this left Morgan with no room, and he caught the back of Davidson's bike and crashed out in the middle of the road.

The marshals saw the road blocked and produced the red flag, and as this went out Derek Costello and Ian Morrell were approaching the corner at high speed, and both machines touched, sending Costello into the air but still holding on to his bike. Approaching the corner at high speed he fought with the bike and both Derek and Ian went up the slip road and crashed. Thankfully both riders had nothing more serious than bruising.

To be honest and fair, how Derek Costello did what he did, keeping the bike upright and away from the packed grandstand was an amazing feat, and he should be given the credit for his bravery, and thankfully saved spectators and marshals from serious injury.

The race was re-run after the Grand Final, and again it was Sweeney and Hamilton who fought for the lead all race long, but the Ballyclare rider just edged out the win by 0.646 of a second from Sweeney, with Andy Farrell fighting hard with William Davidson to secure a brilliant third place. Noel Murphy was 12th, Alan Connor 13th and Mark Sheils 19th.

The Grand Final was brought forward, owing to problems with melting tar, and parts of the road surface starting to break up. The feature race of the weekend was started by Dubliner Jack Kennedy, who is having a short break from his World Supersport campaign, and from the time he dropped the flag it was his near neighbour Derek Sheils who took the lead from Michael Dunlop, Davy Morgan, Jamie Hamilton, Michael Pearson and Derek McGee.

Sheils kept the lead for five laps, but finally had to give to the pressure of Dunlop who had to smash the course record in the process, pushing it to 110.373 to take the win. To be fair to Sheils he fought to the flag, losing by just 2.544 seconds, while Davy Morgan took the final podium position, from William Dunlop, Jamie Hamilton, and Derek McGee. Alan Bonner was seventh, with Micko Sweeney eighth, Andy Farrell 10th and Alan Connor 13th.

Mark Hanna took the honours in the Junior Support class from Conor Behan, with Shane Egan just getting the better of Gavin Lupton for third place. David Howard had a great scrap with Noel Murphy and Wayne Hall, with Howard finishing seventh, Murphy eighth and Hall ninth. Aaron Hatch was 11th and Derek Scuffil 15th.

If there was a blot on the copybook of Michael Dunlop, it was his absence in the open-top car that brought the first three in the Grand Final on a victory lap along with Jack Kennedy around the course. Dunlop didn't stop at the start line on his slowing-down lap and never returned for the parade lap.

It's a pity, as so many fans had travelled to see the talented rider, and it was the least he could have done with his fellow riders Sheils and Morgan.

Nevertheless, it was a great day's racing, with the weather smiling down on us, and the fans went home happy.

Keep 'er lit!

Fingal Independent

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