The Avon Tyres National Formula Ford Championship enjoyed another superb weekend away entertaining spectators across the Irish Sea, as the teams and drivers made their second visit in successive years to Kirkistown in Northern Ireland to continue the next chapter in the 2018 season.

The qualifying session produced an incredibly tight front row as championship leader Niall Murray clinched pole position, but only by the narrowest of margins. Luke Cooper would join him on the front row, missing out on top spot by just 0.004 seconds, one of the closest front row margins in recent history for the championship. Hugo Bentley-Ellis was third fastest, fresh from his Brands Hatch podium, while Jordan Dempsey lined up 4th as he made a one-off return after choosing to race single seaters in China this season. Jamie Thorburn took up the third row in 5th next to Nico Gruber, with the remainder of the top 10 completed by Michael Eastwell, Carter Williams, Joey Foster and Rory Smith.

It would be Cooper that would lead the opening few laps from the front row, as Murray slipped to 4th on the opening lap, but quickly moved back up to 2nd on lap three before taking the lead two laps later from Cooper. Behind them, drivers hit trouble as Dempsey and Thorburn both tumbled down the order, while Gruber and Round-Garrido were both forced out the end of lap 3. Gruber’s stranded car brought out a brief safety car period of a couple of laps, but as Murray led the field away on the restart, a mistake from Cooper allowed Eastwell to take advantage and briefly move into 2nd place before Cooper retook the position at the final corner on the same lap.

Murray remained unchallenged at the head of the field and won by 1.7 seconds from Cooper and Eastwell, while 4th place overall was an astonishing result – although probably not for the local spectators. Despite running in the Pre ’90 class in a Mondiale M89S chassis, native driver Alan Davidson put on a storming display to drive from 14th on the grid to an astounding 4th place, although no points would be scored towards the Clubman Pre ’90 championship due to being a guest driver, as were all five of the Pre ’90 cars entered by local drivers. Neil MacLennan made steady progress to fight his way to 5th place ahead of Williams, the recovering Dempsey and Thorburn, Rory Smith and Joey Foster, somewhat off the pace in 10th.

Murray began the second race from the pole as a result of his Race 1 win and right from the start put in a true lights-to-flag performance, where he was never headed all race but almost ended up losing out. Cooper battled with the Pre ‘90 Mondiale of Davidson in the early laps, before being able to see him off and also remain unchallenged to take 2nd place, but it could have been victory had the race run for a couple more laps. A string of fastest laps from Cooper saw him reel in Murray at an astonishing rate, just missing out on victory by only over a tenth of a second. Davidson, meanwhile, then became embroiled in a duel with Jamie Thorburn, the result of which saw both cars retire on Lap 10 after colliding with each other. Third place ended up being taken by Eastwell, who also had to see off the attentions of Jordan Dempsey as he too was beaten to the podium by a tenth of a second. MacLennan took 5th position ahead of Foster, Round-Garrido, Rory Smith, Williams and Bentley-Ellis.

The reverse grid draw worked in favour of Rory Smith as he would inherit pole as a result of his 8th place in the previous race, but by the end of the opening lap, it was neither he nor front row partner Round-Garrido who would lead the inaugural lap of Race 3. Instead, MacLennan hit the front in the opening couple of laps, but a disastrous lap moments later saw him drop down to 6th with work to do. With Smith also falling down the order as well, both Foster and Eastwell capitalised to move into 2nd and 3rd, but the race then saw the second safety car of the weekend as Bentley-Ellis collided with Cooper, forcing the latter out of the race while the former was disqualified from the race as a result.

Just like teammate Murray, who sadly had to retire himself despite not managing to run higher than 6th before he did so, had done in the previous two races Round-Garrido would go on to command the race from the front and pick up his second National Formula Ford victory, completing a dominant sweep of the top step for Team Dolan. Eastwell yet again picked another solid podium finish, doing his title chances no harm as a result as Dempsey picked the final podium place. Pre 90 guest driver Alan Davidson yet again shocked the regular Pro Class runners with 4th place overall, ahead of MacLennan in 5th and a brilliant personal best from rookie Sebastian Job as he finished 6th. Gruber battled back to 7th ahead of Nicky Gibson in another guest Pre ’90 machine, championship returnee David McArthur and 10th placed Vincent Jay, who was the sole Clubman Post ’89 representative all weekend and managed to score in all three races.

Next time out, the National Formula Fords rejoin the TCR UK support package at a circuit that has its own rich history with the category – the fast, deceptive and incredibly popular Castle Combe in Wiltshire. Murray will be hoping to extend his points lead, while Eastwell and Round-Garrido will be doing everything they can to stop him. Plus, never count out the local drivers, with Cooper, Michael Moyers and Roger Orgee all probably having done more laps of the circuit between them than just about everyone else on the grid combined! Local knowledge will be crucial, so don’t be surprised to see at least one of them on the podium in a few weeks’ time.

You can find the full rundown of the weekend’s results from Northern Ireland here – KIRKISTOWN RESULTS.

Scott Woodwiss


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