The temperature may have been cool, but the track action was red-hot as the new Ballymena Raceway season was ushered in on Good Friday.
Nigel McCauley was the big winner in the National Hot Rods as the Gilford man finished the evening as top points scorer at Round 8 of the PC Paints & Components World Series NI after a heat and final double in his Vauxhall Tigra.
A very encouraging entry of 22 cars took to the track for the Yokohama Tyres Stock Rod Championship and it was local lad Steven McKane who fought off the stiff completion from England and Scotland to clinch the title for the first time.
F2 Stock Car Irish Champion Craig McConnell enjoyed the perfect start to his Raceway campaign with a faultless hat-trick of wins in the opening round of the McGill Motorsport Series.
Mark Turtle collected the Group Two Lightning Rods silverware after a brace of heat wins for Johny Gillespie, while Stephen Doherty motored to a heat and final double success in the Euro Stocks, to complete the programme in the Gilmore Engineering sponsored fixture.
NATIONAL HOT RODS
Sixteen cars lined up for the opening heat where Andrew Stewart produced an emphatic drive to claim a flag to flag victory in his Vauxhall Tigra, a first win of the series for the Portadown man.
A similar pattern emerged in heat two, but on this occasion it was Nigel McCauley who led all the way from green flag to chequer to record his first win of the current campaign. This race also featured a horrendous crash involving Ben McKee and 2005 World Champion Keith Martin, with Martin’s car running into the stationary McKee car at top speed. Thankfully both were able to walk away from one of the biggest impacts ever seen at the Raceway. The Edwards Motorsport Trophy was the prize on offer for the final and it was the two heat winners who tussled over the lead in the early stages. Stewart held the upper hand until lap 10 before McCauley found a gap to squeeze through at Fisherwick bend. Once out front McCauley extended his advantage to record a comfortable second win of the evening. Carl Sloan from Kells followed the winner home to help his points tally in the battle for a place at the World Final.
It was the visitors who struck first when Scotland’s Derek Conner took the honours in heat one after a strong showing in his Vauxhall Corsa. The local drivers fought back in heat two however as Ballymena’s Steven McKane motored through to victory in his Vauxhall Nova. The two heat winners occupied the front row of the grid for the final, where Conner made the better start to lead the early stages. McKane soon settled into his stride however to put the pressure on the race leader and eventually pulled off a great move to grab the lead at the half way point. Once out front McKane never looked back and eased away from the pack to capture the coveted title for the first time. Conner was forced to settle for second, with the podium places completed by Wilfie McNiece.
F2 STOCK CARS
A pleasing entry of 17 cars arrived for the opening round of the McGill Motorsport Series where the opening heat brought a clear win for current Irish Champion Craig McConnell. It was more of the same in heat two as McConnell romped to his second win of the evening, while a clash between star names Christopher Kincaid and Graham Fegan ended with Fegan’s car on its roof at Fisherwick bend!
Graham’s son, Graham Jnr, made his Raceway debut on Good Friday and confidently led the early stages of the final. McConnell was going like a train however and took the lead on lap 11 to power home for a faultless hat-trick of wins. Mark Rainey continued his excellent start to the new campaign with a second place finish, with Antrim’s Gary Blair in third.
GROUP TWO LIGHTNING RODS
Johny Gillespie continued his good form from the New Year’s Day meeting with a controlled drive to victory in the opening heat.
Mark Turtle took the chequered flag in heat two, but an incident with early leader Darryl Reid caught the attention of the race steward who imposed a two place penalty on Turtle. That handed Gillespie his second win of the evening, with Kenny Carson promoted into second.
There was to be no post race drama for Turtle in the final as he pulled clear for a fine win in his Vauxhall Astra. Returnee Nigel Doherty carded his best result in second, with Gillespie third.
The opening Euro Stocks race produced the closest finish of the evening when Stephen Doherty caught long time leader Liam Irwin on the finish line to win by a whisker. Lester McCloy took the honours in heat two, but come final time it was Doherty who returned to winning ways in his Honda, the Irish Champion leading home newcomer Ryan Nixon with McCloy third.