The 2018 oval racing season kicked off in style at Tullyroan Oval on Saturday evening, with a high speed five formula feast of racing.
The main event on the programme was the Stock Rods Irish Open Championship which saw Enniskillen ace Stevie McNiece take the trophy in emphatic style.
The Select Catering sponsored meeting also saw feature race wins for Aughnacloy’s Adam Best (2.0 Hot Rods), Banbridge racer Denver Grattan (Superstox), Ballymena’s Aaron Ward (Junior Productions) and Glenavy’s Joe Largey (ProStocks).
A quality 30 car field of Stock Rods from Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland arrived to do battle for the coveted Irish Open Championship.
The first qualifier saw defending champion Jonny Cardwell take a polished victory from pole position in his new car, leading home World Champion Marc Morrell and Scotland’s John McAllister. Heat two had more than its fair share of drama, as Glasgow’s National Champion Siobhan Martin pulled well clear at the head of the field.
A late race caution when fellow Scot Jonathan Lattka hit the back straight wall closed the field right up behind Siobhan, and during the two lap dash to the flag she and Dublin’s Gary Butler had a skirmish which saw Siobhan eliminated and Gary disqualified.
That handed the victory to Stevie McNiece ahead of Irish Champion Victor McAfee and Shane McMillan. The final heat saw Ballymena’s Curtis Greer romp home to the win ahead of an impressive Mick Rodgers and returning Ballymena star Micky McFall.
Aggregate points saw McNiece and Morrell share the front row for the Irish Open final ahead of McAfee and McAllister, with McNiece edging ever so slightly clear early on. Behind him a huge battle was developing between Morrell, McAfee, Cardwell and Greer for second, with nothing to separate the squabbling quartet.
As McNiece romped home to land the title after a faultless drive, the podium places fell to Greer in second and Chris Lattka in third, after Cardwell and Morrell were both docked for contact during the race. It was a dramatic night of superb Stock Rod action which bodes well for the season ahead.
2.0 Hot Rods
A very pleasing field of 2.0 Hot Rods produced three closely contested races. Ballymoney’s Thomas Morrison set the pace in the opening heat of the night, and was soon challenged by a hard charging Aaron Beattie.
Former World Champion Adam Hylands was the one to watch though, producing a text book drive around the outside of them both to land the victory and great applause from the fans for his efforts. Morrison again showed well in the second heat, losing out to a fast moving Jackie Christie as the laps unfolded.
Stuart Cochrane was the first star man to show in this one, and despite heaping pressure onto the leader over the last few laps it was Renault Sport F1 technician Christie who hung on for a morale boosting win.
Morrison again was the first to show ahead of Christie in the Select Catering feature race, with fancied runner Hylands spinning out after a touch from another car early on.
Adam Best was the one to watch in this one, as he relegated Beattie and then hit the tough outside line to drag himself past Christie and Morrison to take the victory in impressive style. Morrison and Irish Champion Glenn Bell rounded out the top three after an excellent night of Hot Rod racing.
Sixteen Superstox took to the Tullyroan circuit for their season opener, the venue for their World Championship showdown later in the year. Novice graders Brian Lammey and James Turkington disputed the early lead, before losing out to a fast moving James Logan.
Logan had no answer when the star men came knocking on his back bumper late on, with Gary Grattan nudging him wide to take the win over Aaron McNeilly and Logan. Heat two saw Turkington again lead before losing out in the closing stages to McNeilly.
Aaron then went out when Grattan got the bumper in, with the caution called with just a single lap remaining to retrieve McNeilly’s stranded machine. Gary made no mistake on the last lap shootout, taking the win over his brother Denver Grattan and Greg Hyndman.
Turkington and Hyndman both had turns out front in the final, but lost out to the fast charging Grattan brothers Denver and Gary. This time it was Denver doing the winning as he raced home to the win, despite Gary having a lunge at him on the final bend. Behind them Sean Mark impressed in third.
A dozen young stars in the Junior Productions for 10-16 year olds provided proof that the future of the sport is in safe hands with some super racing.
Samuel Percy was the man to watch in the heats, winning the first at a canter ahead of Adam Weir and Matthew Nicholl, and then holding off Weir and Callum Magill to take his second win of the evening in heat two.
Percy’s two wins saw him automatically upgraded to the yellow grade for the final, leaving fellow Ninja Karts graduate Aaron Ward to lead the field away. Percy gave chase right from the off, before they were brought to a halt for a big crash for Graham Meek on turn three.
The medical and track staff did a sterling job to extricate Graham from the wreckage, and thankfully after a quick visit to hospital for a check over he was given the all clear.
With just two laps remaining Ward held his nerve to take the victory in great fashion, charging home ahead of Nicholl and Irish Champion Drew McKeown.
With new rules in place regarding engines and tyres for the ProStocks formula, hopes are high that the numbers will build up during the season.
From a slightly depleted entry Irish Champion Dan Shannon won the opening heat before novice Sam Stewart drove a blinder to take the second heat win.
Stewart led much of the way in the final, but star grader Joe Largey had his new car well and truly wound up to steal through with five to go to grab the silverware. Stephen Boyd and William McFaul rounded out the top three.
Racing continues at Tullyroan Oval on Sunday (April 8th) with the Micro Bangers taking centre stage for their Spring Classic.
There will be a big charity push for the Molly Smyth Moran Appeal for childrens cancer, with three former National Hot Rod World Champions racing Bangers for the day!
Glenn Bell, John Christie and Adam Maxwell will all step into the unknown, and will be joined by Stock Rods World Champion Marc Morrell amongst a field of 30 cars.x Bangers World Champion Steven Bolton will also be in action for what should be an explosive afternoon of race action.
Also on the race card are the 2.0 Hot Rods, Superstox, Ninja Karts and Junior Productions, with the first race leaving the grid at 2pm.