For the opening round of the 2017 MC Blinds autocross championship a fresh and frosty morning greeted the drivers on what would be a testing day for all involved with conditions changing throughout the day leaving a lot of guesswork as to the perfect set up.
Defending champion Joe Smith would resume his friendly rivalry with defending club champion and championship sponsor Mickey Conlon as both men would be escort equipped for another year. The supporting cast for this curtain raiser would be more than able to shake things up enough to upset the apple cart for the two defending champions. With a plethora of returning winners and class champions including Paddy Boyle, Raymond Drury, Alan Pickens, Adrian Foley and Noel Cooke there was quality in the full field.
The edition of no less than 11 buggy entries who would run in their own separate competition there was more than enough for the motorsport fan to enjoy at the Hutcross track.
From the outset the pace was hot and heavy with a number of drivers settling into the 3:10’s to open their account but out front it would be Conlon who would take first blood by just 4 hundredths of a second from Smith as the duelling pair would settle into their standard guise trading fractions of seconds for the rest of the day.
For the class battles it would be a controlled and measured approach for John Kelly in the marvellous mk1 escort which is one of very few left in competition in the region these days. The class win and 11th overall would be his reward at the end of the 5 runs.
In class 2 the epic battle between Alan Pickens and Noel Cooke would resume from the 2016 season with the pair trading fractions of seconds in the slippery conditions in the little 1400cc cars. It would be Cooke who would take the lead after the opening run by 6 tenths of a second and would repeat the effort for the 2nd and 3rd runs to take a lead of a couple of seconds before disaster struck on the 4th run and a spin would cost Cooke 7 seconds to give Pickens the initiative. With the momentum back in his favour and the rain falling lightly on the Latton countryside it would be Alan Pickens who would take the class win ahead of Noel Cooke by just one second after 5 runs.
Class 3 would be the battle of Ballyhaise with Adrian Foley and Anthony McDonald sharing the driving duties in the family Nova. Adrian would take the opening honours by 3 seconds as the pair would settle into their rhythm with Anthony fighting back over the following 2 runs to rein in the gap to less than a second when on the 4th run he would suffer from the act of god that is the Irish weather and getting caught on slick tyres in the rain would severly punish his times. A blistering run on the final run wouldn’t be enough to overhaul Adrian as he would take the class win by 6 tenths of a second.
Class 4 would see Chris Snow SNR and Aidan Nicholl battle it out for top honours in their Peugeot powered machinery. On the opening run it would be Nicholl who would take first blood in his 205 before suffering from an engine malady on the 2nd run which would spell the end of his day and handing the momentum over the Snow who would settle into a good pace to finish the day as class winner and 9th overall in his Peugeot 206.
For the Pinto men in class 5 it would be Joe Smith who would lead the way as he would battle it out for the overall win with Conlon. In second would be Raymond Drury who would battle it out for a top 10 position overall as he would get the hang of his new engine in the treacherous conditions. 6th overall would be his reward for a tough day in the office.
A similar story would befall class 6 as Mickey Conlon would lead the way in his ambitions for the top overall honours. This would leave Paddy Boyle to take up the chase for the class honours and a good placing in the top ten. Paddy’s reward would indeed be the class win and the 3rd step on the podium in what was a successful return to action after a break last year.
In the junior category it would be Brian Martyn who would take the top honours in his little Nissan Micra as he would enjoy life battling it out with more seasoned competitors in the top 10 overall as he would finish the day on the cusp of the top times in 10th overall.
The big show piece for the day would be huge influx of the buggies to the track for the opening round. These bike engine machines would put a lot of cars to shame with their acceleration and speed at times. Their agility around the track also would make them a drivers favourite at times and their noise and spectacle a firm fan favourite. Class 7 would be a stand-alone section in the event with the buggies not eligible for overall placings due to their sheer speed but they are included into the club championship structure and are catered for in the class 7 championship. Derek Deane would open the show with a fastest time on run one with his brother Adrian and a returning Stephen Moore not far behind. Over the course of the day these names would return to the fore with Latton regular Sean Coleman also in the mix with some impressive times in the changeable conditions. With a supporting cast which included Johno Doogan, Vincent McAree, Michael Casey, John McGettrick, Paul Lennon and Sean Casey there would be plenty to worry about for the top 3 if they were to make a mistake there would be plenty there to pounce on the places. With that Adrian Deane would make the early fast start count as he would carve out enough of a lead to safely win as the weather made the track slower as the day went on. Stephen Moore would bag a fine second on his return to the track after a lengthy absence and Sean Coleman would finish a fine 3rd showing that he is well able to mix it with any competition in any conditions.
Back at the front it would be tight tussle for the win between Conlon and Smith but with Conlon making the early runs count and constantly shaving a couple of tenths off Joe on each run when the rain came for the final run Conlon knew he could afford to relax and not take the start for the final run as Joe slithered around the track it wasn’t to be and the laurels for the opening round would go to Mickey Conlon by just 1.1 seconds. Everyone is in agreement that the new set up of 5 runs is of a great benefit for all competitors with more bang for your buck being offered.