Alex Birley sums up two of the most eventful days of racing seen so far in this year’s Avon Tyres National Formula Ford Championship, as the title contenders put on three incredible races in their annual trip across the Irish Sea to Kirkistown Circuit in Northern Ireland.

2018 Championship runner up, Michael Eastwell, kept his cool in a frantic race one at Kirkistown to take victory in his first race of the 2019 season.

A close battle for pole position promised an exciting race with Cliff Dempsey Racing’s Jonathan Browne topping the qualifying sheets after trading fastest laps with local driver, William Herron.

Off the line Browne made a good get away to hold the lead, but behind him Herron lost out to another local, Ivor McCullough, who moved up to second from fourth on the grid. Unfortunately, the two then had a coming together at Colonial which saw McCullough retire to the pits and Herron drop down to 11th.

It would be a memorable race for Herron who was later involved in an incident and argument with former F4 racer Jamie Sharp which saw them both invited to the Clerk of the Course’s office after the race with Herron receiving a fine and points on his licence.

It was a busy evening for the Clerk, but everything else was adjudged a racing incident with no further action taken.

At the front B-M Racing’s Rory Smith had moved ahead of Browne with Eastwell now up to third. A clash between Smith and Browne saw Smith retire and Browne drop down the order allowing Eastwell to capitalise to take the lead which he would hold, despite almost constant pressure from championship leader, Ross Martin.

Martin had a disappointing qualifying to start fifth on the grid but clearly found extra pace in the race to take second on the podium and fastest lap, which sees him pull out a bigger gap in the championship ahead of his closest rival Spike Kohlbecker.

Kohlbecker had a messy first lap, dropping to ninth. However, he held his nerve to finish fifth thanks to several passes and other’s people’s incidents.

His Cliff Dempsey teammate and polesitter, Jonathan Browne dropped down to fifth after failing to pass Smith for the lead but made his way back up to finish third place. However, he is hoping for more in the remaining two races.

Border Reiver’s driver, Jamie Thorburn had his best result for the season, finishing fourth. He will also be pleased to have been right in the battle for the podium positions having started ninth on the grid.

The third Cliff Dempsey car of James Clarke had another lively racet having run as high as second and looking for his first win of the year. He and Martin were nose-to-tail lap after lap and eventually contact was made dropping Clarke to sixth which he held on to despite damage to his Ray car.

Former Ginetta Jr racer, Morgan Quinn, was back on his home turf and finished in seventh to extend his lead in the Rookie Class just ahead of Kevin Mills Racing’s Michael MacPherson

John Svensson finished ninth overall, scoring valuable Club Championship points in his close battle with Team Dolan’s Adam Quartermaine who is missing the Kirkistown event.

The final classified place went to the fourth and only local driver to finish, Allan McBurney in his Van Diemen.

Pro Championship leader, Ross Martin, took victory in the second race at the Northern Ireland circuit having spent the race with his mirrors full of the feisty Cliff Dempsey Racing pair, Jonathan Browne and James Clarke.

The Team Dolan driver lined up second on the grid behind race one winner, Michael Eastwell, but he made a better start and managed to slipstream passed the Spectrum and into the lead which he would not relinquish for the whole race.

Clarke also made a great start from sixth on the grid to second and looked like he might take his first victory of the year, but his teammate, Browne was not giving up and eventually managed to find a way by heading down to turn one.

At one point it looked like their squabbling might allow Martin to get away but then they seemed to work together to keep piling the pressure on the leader. This race long battle provided a lot of excitement for the spectators with its three abreast moments.

Unfortunately, it ended in tears as the Cliff Dempsey pair touched going through Colonial with Martin slowing to defend his lead which seemed to catch Clarke out. He tried to avoid his teammate but clipped the back resulting in Clarke going off and failing to finish.

This incident promoted Jamie Thorburn to the third, giving the family-run Border Reivers team their first-ever podium finish. It had been a lively race for Thorburn who had fought his way passed Eastwell’s Spectrum and then had to hold off Alan Davidson who was looking very feisty. In fact, the local driver was over-ambitious and tried a move which resulted in him spinning back to finish in eighth place.

Eastwell was able to capitalise to reclaim fourth ahead of local driver Ivor McCullough in his Van Diemen who was delighted to have moved up from starting at the back of the grid and enjoyed his battle with Spike Kohlbecker who finished just behind him. The young American racer arrived at Kirkistown lying second in the championship and will be disappointed to have dropped more points to his championship rival.

Another unhappy driver was B-M Racing’s Rory Smith who came into the pitlane with technical issues and retired there. Unfortunately, Smith has had a lot of technical problems already this year and, even taking into account dropped scores, knows that he is realistically out of the championship battle.

The other local driver, William Herron, finished in seventh. Rookie driver, Morgan Quinn, who knows the circuit well from his Ginetta Jr days finished in ninth with Kevin Mills Racing’s Michael MacPherson rounding out the top ten.

John Svensson scored more valuable Club Championship points in eleventh and was followed home by Team Dolan’s Jamie Sharpe and the fourth local driver, Allan McBurney

The reverse grid format in National FF1600 saw ball number seven selected putting local driver, William Herron, on pole position with the young American racer Spike Kohlbecker beside him and looking for a good result to finish off a slightly lacklustre weekend.

It was Kohlbecker who made the best start and led the field away with Herron dropping back to eighth place. Michael Eastwell made another good start to move up to second with local ace, Ivor McCullough in third.

Race one winner, Eastwell came into the pits to retire with an engine problem, which he explained was not pulling properly. This promoted McCullough to second, which was soon to become the lead with a bold move passed Kohlbecker.

Behind this battle, the man on a charge was Team Dolan’s Ross Martin. He had started seventh on the grid but was scything his way through the field and it was not long until the young Scottish driver was up to second place and sitting on McCullough’s wishbone. However, it was the local driver’s turn to shine and he was able to handle everything that Martin threw at him to take the chequered flag, much to the delight of the local crowd.

Martin looked set to finish second and extend his championship lead further. Unfortunately he and B-M Racing’s Rory Smith had a coming together on the straight into the final lap which lifted Martin’s Van Diemen into the air the result of which dropped them back to fourth (Smith) and seventh (Martin) with Martin explaining that he had an issue with his gears causing him to slow on the straight.

After a race packed with incidents and position changes it was Kohlbecker who took the second podium position. After leading the race, the Cliff Dempsey racer lost out to McCullough then Martin. He and teammate Jonathan Browne enjoyed some side-by-side racing which cost Kohlbecker another place. Then the charging Smith making a bold move through Fisherman’s to pass the American and then his teammate on successive laps.

Browne was third, with his third podium of the weekend, after experiencing problems during the race with what looked like a gear change issue at the start and something similar which dropped him down the field having been challenging Martin for second.

Smith ended up fourth which was impressive having started at the back, but it had been a disappointing event for the team.

In contrast the Border Reivers driver, Jamie Thorburn had his best weekend of the year finishing fifth after managing to hold off Herron who came home in sixth.

Jamie Sharpe ended up eighth and just behind his Team Dolan teammate, Ross Martin. The former F4 driver will be reasonably satisfied with that having started back in 12th place.

Michael McPherson was ninth, with rookie racer, Morgan Quinn, in tenth.

John Svensson finished in eleventh but takes valuable points in the Club Championship where he and the absent Adam Quartermaine have been trading the top spot all year.

The final position went to Allan McBurney, another local driver.

The fourth local entrant, Alan Davidson, was clearly quick in his Mondiale M89S, a pre-1993 car, but suffered a disappointing weekend overall with two retirements.

James Clarke also retired. As always, the Cliff Dempsey looked quick in his Ray, having started towards the back of the grid, but a coming together with Herron led to his second retirement.

The next and penultimate round of the National Formula Ford Championship is at Silverstone on the 14th – 15th September.

The final championship round will be at Brands Hatch on the 28th -29th September with the legendary feast or motor racing, the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch on the 26th – 27th October.



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