As the Formula 1 circus left Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Sunday it boasted seven race winners from seven races, an unprecedented turn of events for the pinnacle of motorsport. After only six rounds of the Yokohama ITCC no fewer than ten drivers across the two classes have made their way to the top step of the podium and on Sunday three of those drivers did so for their maiden victories.
Former karter Robert Butler was the star of the show at rounds five and six of the Yokohama Tyres Irish Touring Car Championship as the Honda Integra driver left Mondello Park with two race wins after an eventful day. His feat was followed by Alex Fawcett who took a close victory in the Touring class’s first outing and John Greaney, who only won his drive at the start of the season via the Race 2 Race competition, taking the honours second time out.
Butler set his stall out early in the weekend with an impressive qualifying time of 1:01.571 that would ultimately see him line up in third behind the victor in Bishopscourt, Johnny Whelan, and Eoghan Fogarty who claimed pole by the narrowest of margins. Fogarty’s feat, in beating the driver so dominant at the previous rounds, is all the more impressive when you consider that he only made the move up to Super Touring before round 4. The Yokohama A005 slick tyres obviously suit the driving style of the Tipperary man.
Having endured something of a nightmare in the previous rounds, Philip Burdock seemed to be back on form as he claimed the fourth slot on the grid ahead of Brian Fitzpatrick and Philip Brennan. The same could not be said for Brian Sexton, who was having his own personal nightmare with the differential on his Honda powered Pulsar deciding to pack up just before the off.
At the head of the Touring class it was business as usual with Keith Rabbitt claiming top spot but only by the narrowest of margins from Kevin Moran who pushed the Kilmessan man right to the death. John Greaney edged out Alex Fawcett in his ex-Phil Brennan/Paul Donnan Rover 25 and Aimee Kershaw in her Honda Civic.
When the lights went out for the start of round 5 of the Yokohama ITCC, Fogarty initially appeared to make the better start but the power of the Merlin-Developments engine under the hood Of Whelan’s 306 meant he had what was needed to pass down the inside on the run up to Ford corner and snatch the lead back. Some argy-bargy mid pack as the field concertinaed during the early stages saw Phil Brennan take to the kitty litter closely followed by Robert Savage who had had a coming together with Eric Carroll. Both drivers were able to extricate themselves from the gravel but damage to Savage’s car would later see him receive a black and orange ‘mechanical defect’ flag; forcing him to end his race prematurely.
Back at the head of the field Robert Butler was heaping the pressure on Fogarty as he looked for a way through to chase down Whelan, who even at the early stage was beginning to romp away. Finally the pressure told as Fogarty ran wide at Dunlop, allowing Butler to throw his Tuning Factory prepared car down the inside and set off in pursuit of the yellow 306.
Having heard do much, for so long, about the ex-BTCC Peugeot 307 of Ciaran Timmons it was a joy to see it take to the track in anger for the first time. While not yet the finished product the car (and driver) did show flashes of its capabilities most notably in battling with Paul O’Brien – the menacing race car finally getting the better of the classic Scirocco before heading off to mix it up with Brian Fitzpatrick. Fitz was at the back of a queue that was headed by Philip Burdock and included Eric Carroll and Eoghan Fogarty. Burdock’s pace was going well but it was obvious something was not right with his Honda Civic – every time he eased off he slowed to almost walking pace and more than once the back end went all drifty; most noticeably as he tried to go around the outside of Fogarty in Ford corner. As it transpiredthe rear left brake calliper was seized which led to his ProDrift like exploits. The problem should have left him as a sitting duck but the wily competitor knew exactly where to position his car to cut off the track and it was only when the group encountered back markers that he fell foul to the pack with Timmons able to take the fullest advantage. Unfortunately Timmon’s 307 was hit with a particularly virulent case of mechanical gremlins and forced into retirement.
Timmon’s misfortunes were matched by Whelan; who having built up a lead – despite the best efforts of Butler, rounded Mazda corner in a cloud of smoke and a busted gearbox. Not that Butler showed too much sympathy as he flew past the stricken Peugeot on the way to a famous maiden victory. His winning margin of nearly nine seconds over second place man Fogarty, shows how relentless his pursuit of Whelan was and that even having claimed the lead he did not back off. Eric Carroll, in what he described as one of his hardest races, claimed the final step on the podium with Fitzpatrick a further second and a half a drift in fourth. With his car alternating between wanting to stop and wanting to drift, Burdock was happy to bring it home in sixth, behind Garrett Hayden and ahead of Philip Brennan with Norman Fawcett rounding out the Super Touring finishers.
In the Touring class Kevin Moran got a rocket start from second on the grid but he soon found himself defending against the Rover 25 of Alex Fawcett and Ian Radford’s Honda Integra. The battle allowed Keith Rabbitt to open the taps in his EP3 Civic and open up a three or four second lead over the chasing pack. With one mirror filled by the shape of Fawcett’s car and the other of Radford’s Honda, Kevin Moran momentarily took his eye of the ball, running wide at Dunlop corner which was just the invitation Fawcett needed to sneak through and claim second place. With Rabbitt punching in the laps required to maintain the gap to gap to Fawcett and Moran it looked that we had our podium marked up by the races mid-point. However with three laps to go disaster struck for Rabbitt as his car inextricably entered ‘limp’ mode. While doing the automotive version of ctrl-alt-del (depress clutch and fire ignition) the chasing duo closed onto the back of the Civic and looked to have set us up for a grandstand finish until the problem stuck again on the penultimate lap, allowing Fawcett and Moran through. After firing his K20 up again Rabbitt chased and passed Moran with a move down the inside at the esses and looked to have reclaimed the lead as Fawcett out broke himself into the Dunlop for the final time but despite having probably the lowest powered car in ITCC, Fawcett held on to take a well celebrated win.
If Butler’s first win was impressive his second was even more so, as due to the Yokohama ITCC reverse grid policy he would star round six from eighth on the grid. Before he could do that he would have to contend with a restart brought about by Garrett Hayden having a big off at Ford corner that brought out the red flags. When the race restarted Norman Fawcett, on pole for the second race, found himself swamped and passed by both Brian Fitzpatrick and Eric Carroll. Philip Brennan, who had started alongside Fawcett, led into Ford corner but a very Brennan-esque move around the outside, soon saw him down to second and with Carroll right on his back bumper. Actually at times Carroll was IN the bumper of the M3 such was his want to pass but despite a big bump at Dunlop corner Brennan held on.
Behind them Fogarty and Butler were having a great dice for fourth place. Butler, fresh from that maiden win and keen for more, was throwing everything he could at Fogarty but could not find a way past. That was until he pulled the classic Mondello pass – faking outside before diving for the inside line at Dunlop – and won the drag race into Ford corner. Having run wide at the same corner Brennan was had dropped to third behind Carroll and soon had the yellow and blue Integra to contend with. Brennan is a wily competitor but even he couldnot keep Rob Bieber behind him. The move was made down at Bridgestone so out of view of these eyes but in commentary it was described as ‘one of those moves that shouldn’t work.’
Second place was short-lived for Rob Timberlake though as contact between he and Carroll along the straight allowed Brennan back through and with it all to do again. Worse still, the battle had allowed Fogarty to catch up and he past Carroll as the latter’s front bumper – damaged while battling with Brennan – came off. Butler managed to hang onto Brennan through the first series of corners before a better line on exit gave him the space needed to reclaim second and close the gap the Fitzpatrick. Coming out of Bridgestone Butler was already on Fitzpatrick’s heels and made the decisive move on the run down to Mazda. With Fitzpatrick busy dealing with Brennan, Butler was free to take his second victory of the day. Brennan almost made it through to second place right at the death as Fitzpatrick ran wide but he was unable to get his BMW M3 turned in enough to take advantage. Carroll won the Battle of the Integra’s with Fogarty while Robert Savage did what was required to keep him at the top of the standings by bringing his MGC Autostyling Integra home ahead of Norman Fawcett.
The reverse Touring car grid put Anthony Murtagh on Pole and after the restart he led the field away with Keith Rabbitt up his chuff. For four laps the two drivers fought a close but clean race until a loose engine mount in Murtagh’s Corrado popped a boost line, necessitating a trip to the pits to have it refitted. The quick fix did not work properly as he was in a few laps later to have it reapplied and in the end had to settle for circulating at the back of the field to score some points.
Rabbitt’s race too was also blighted with issues as his limp mode problems continued. Exiting Bridgestone it kicked in and Rabbitt was powerless to watch most of the field sail by. He did manage to catch up with the pack but decided discretion was the better part of valour and rather than fighting for position and risking further limp modes settled for the points on offer for sixth place.
Kevin Moran seemed like a man possessed as he ran off lap times in the race only marginally off those he had set in qualifying. The reason for his haste was a pursuit of race leaders Aimee Kershaw and John Greaney. Such was his pace that once he caught them Moran was quickly past and looked to be romping to victory. However with two laps remaining and having built up an eight second gap, the steering in Moran’s Civic mysteriously failed and sent him into the grass. With the race leader off track Greaney sailed by but a re-joining Moran blocked Kershaw from doing likewise, giving Greaney some free air to build a buffer. With his car terminal it was just a case of Moran nursing his car home so both Kershaw and Cian Carey made it by him to claim the lower steps on the podium with Moran eventually finishing in fourth.
At the head of the field Greaney probably could not believe his luck, having only won his drive at the start of the season in the Race 2 Race competition, the Brittas native was understandably delighted with his podium finish in Bishopscourt but at the very next event he moved to the top of the podium in only his sixth competitive outing.