Cream rises to top at Ballymena Raceway
IT proved to be an evening when the cream rose to the top at Ballymena Raceway on April 12, with three of the four final wins falling to one of the current Irish Champions.
In the Stock Rod division Stevie McNiece continued his impressive start to the new campaign by adding the William Cooke Memorial Trophy to the Yokohama Championship which the Irish Champion won over Easter. McNiece was followed home in the Darrell Hanna Auto Repairs backed event by Jonny Cardwell and Victor McAfee.
Another Irish Champion on top form was Ryan Wright, who christened his new car with a fine heat and final double in the Saloon Stock Cars. Ross Houston denied Wright a perfect hat-trick with victory in the opening heat.
The champions’ grip on proceedings was extended by Dean McCrory in the Junior Rods. The Antrim lad retained the Next Gen Cup with a heroic last lap swoop around long time leaders Cara Wightman and Antony Kincaid in a thrilling conclusion to the PMF Contracts backed event.
The Group Two Lightning Rods proved to be the only class which bucked the trend. After heats wins for Rodney Fleck and Darrell Hanna it was yellow top Simon McLaughlin who capped a solid evening’s work with a well judged victory in the GP2 final.
The points gained in the two heat races would determine the grid positions for the Wm. Cooke Memorial Trophy race and it was impressive newcomer Steven McKane who proved unstoppable. The former Junior Rod and GP2 racer displayed a good turn of speed in the Crebilly Fuels backed Vauxhall Nova to lead home Jonny Cardwell and Ben McCully in both races. It was a closed grid formation for the final, with McKane and Cardwell on the front row, followed by McCully and Irish Champion McNiece. Cardwell made the running in this one as McKane dropped back through the field, but McNiece gradually reeled the leader in and made his move on the exit of Fisherwick bend to squeeze into the lead. The first four of McNiece, Cardwell, Victor McAfee and Carl Sloan were now lapping line astern and remained in that order to the finish after a very quick and clean battle.
Heat One: 1st. Steven McKane (Ballymena), 2nd. Jonny Cardwell (Ballindery), 3rd. Ben McCully (Waringstown)
Heat Two: 1st. McKane, 2nd. Cardwell, 3rd. McCully
Wm. Cooke Memorial Trophy: 1st. Stevie McNiece (Newtownhamilton), 2nd. Cardwell, 3rd. Victor McAfee (Ballymena)
Saloon Stock Cars
Scottish visitor Glen Heeps was a welcome addition to the Saloons ranks, but it was Ross Houston who took the honours in the opening heat. Heeps set the pace in heat two and the Scotsman looked like he might go all the way in this one until Wright eased ahead on the final lap to claim a win on the debut appearance of his new car. The final was interrupted after Matthew Stirling’s car was stranded at Suffolk bend and once the race resumed it boiled down to a straight fight between the heat winners. It was Wright who eventually made his escape to take a good final win ahead of Houston and Anthony McIvor.
Heat One: 1st. Ross Houston (Craigavon), 2nd. Ryan Wright (Cullybackey), 3rd. Anthony McIvor (Coleraine)
Heat Two: 1st. Wright, 2nd. Glen Heeps (Scotland), 3rd. Houston
Final: 1st. Wright, 2nd. Houston, 3rd. McIvor
Heat one featured a close battle between Antony Kincaid and Cara Wightman. Their battle got too close at one stage, which earned Wightman a two place penalty in the final standings, but neither could prevent Irish Champion Dean McCrory storming through from the back of the field to victory. Wightman broke clear from the rest of the field early in heat two and led this one from start to finish in her Peugeot 106. Wightman and Kincaid were the pacesetters again in the final while McCrory picked his way through the pack and eventually caught the two leaders with one lap to go. A great move on the final lap earned McCrory the Next Gen Cup at the chequered flag after a super drive, with gallant white top Wightman his runner-up and Kincaid in third.
Heat One: 1st. Dean McCrory (Antrim), 2nd. Calvin Blake (Ballyclare), 3rd. Antony Kincaid (Antrim)
Heat Two: 1st. Cara Wightman (Belfast), 2nd. Kincaid, 3rd. McCrory
Final: 1st. McCrory, 2nd. Wightman, 3rd. Kincaid
Group Two Lightning Rods – 3-2-1 for McLaughlin
Darryl Reid from Cullybackey set the early pace in heat one before Rodney Fleck darted through in the second half of the race to record another race win in his Vauxhall Astra. Former Stock Rod Irish Champion Darrell Hanna rolled back the years with a classy drive to victory in heat two. His immaculate Vauxhall Astra was a early spinner in the final however as Simon McLaughlin eased into the front running spot. Liscinda Smyth and heat one winner Fleck kept the leader on his toes throughout, but McLaughlin kept everything under control to collect his first win of the season. Smyth and Fleck finished second and third, with the top six completed by Nigel Doherty, Jonny Gillespie and Noel Hazlett.
Heat One: 1st. Rodney Fleck (Ballymena), 2nd. Darryl Reid (Cullybackey), 3rd. Simon McLaughlin (Londonderry)
Heat Two: 1st. Darrell Hanna (Limavady), 2nd. McLaughlin, 3rd. Fleck
Final: 1st. McLaughlin, 2nd. Fleck, 3rd. Liscinda Smyth (Portglenone)
Racing continues at the Ballymena Showgrounds on Friday evening (April 19) with the normal start time of 7:15pm. The Prostocks and 1300 Stock Cars both make their first appearance of the season at Raceway on Friday evening, with the Stock Rods and Group Two Lightning Rods also on the bill.