Fourth Year Mechanical Engineering student, Ian Campbell, writes for Observer Sport about his experience racing Formula Vee cars in Ireland.
I started racing Vees following a seven-year spell racing radio-controlled cars in Ireland, the UK and occasionally at European events. I’d been to the European Championships four times, in France, Italy, Monaco, and Slovenia, and I’d done enough travelling to the UK to win the Under-16 Championship over there.
Technically, it was fantastic – the cars got to 105 km/hr in less than two seconds, and we rebuilt them after every race. Unfortunately, it never got the support it needed, so there weren’t enough purpose-built tracks and facilities in Ireland.
Along with some friends, my dad and I got heavily involved in trying to promote the racing, and to use that publicity to raise funds to build more tracks, but the noise of the two-stroke engines was a pretty big issue when it came to finding suitable locations.
By the end of 2010, I’d won the Irish National Championship for the second year in a row, and was looking for something different. The Formula Vee class is a single-seater series running in Ireland, Australia, across the US and in the UK. It’s a really competitive class, and less expensive than higher formulae because it uses some Volkswagen road-car parts, and you can do most of the work yourself.
I started racing in the class in 2011, and though it didn’t all go smoothly, I had a good year. I claimed six wins in the Novice category, and won the Windstorm Novice Championship. I started off with the intention of winning races outright, but although my qualifying results were strong, I had three non-finishes in races early-on in the season. That didn’t help me score points in the National Championship, so I ended-up eighth out of twenty-five competitors at the end of the year.
The class had its annual “away” race in July, at Donington Park in the UK. It was a bit of a turning-point in the season, as I took the lead for the first time after starting from sixth. Unfortunately, it only lasted two laps before I was overtaken again and finished fifth, but I’d gotten the experience of competing at the front. I built on that, and later in the season, I earned a second-place finish in Kirkistown, Northern Ireland.
I tried to do as much racing as possible, as I couldn’t get the experience I needed by just testing, so I did two events in different single-seater categories during the year. Over one weekend in June, I competed in two Formula Sheane races, which was the first time I got to try a car with wider tyres, wings and a bigger, 1.8 litre engine.
In September, I competed in the Martin Donnelly Trophy in a 1992 Formula Ford, which was fantastic. The race-gearbox took some getting used to, but with the help of ex-Formula 3 driver, Bernard Dolan, I was able win the “Pre-‘93” class and was awarded “Driver of the Day” for my overall fifth place finish.
Both of these events were steep learning curves, but because of them, I’m better-prepared for 2012. I’m looking forward to next year a lot, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to build on my 2011 results, and try to win the National Championship.
There are three students in second year Mechanical Engineering in UCD who either have been or are currently involved in Irish motorsport. After winning Mondello Park’s “Become a Racing Driver” competition, Sean Hynes – who was racing in the Formula Sheane series during 2011 – is someone I’ve spent a lot of time at the track with. He too had a strong first season, and now both of us are in the same situation, trying to source sponsorship for a second attempt at the championships.
Sean Cleary won the incredibly-popular “F1 in Schools” competition in 2009, and Mark Keane has been very successful on Irish Karting scene, finishing second in the Irish Under-17 Championship.
Right now, my dad and I are stripping-down and rebuilding the Vee chassis before we begin testing in late February. I think the Vees are the right class to be in at the moment – the number of entries is usually high (thirty-two cars lined-up on the grid for the Leinster Trophy meeting in September) and with changes like a switch from Avon to Dunlop tyres for the whole field, things will be mixed-up a bit.
The eleven-round 2012 Championship will be taking place in Mondello Park, County Kildare, in Kirkistown and Bishopscourt, County Down, and in the Phoenix Park, County Dublin.