A record number of UK-based Irish drivers are set to contest this weekend’s Hankook Dubai 24-hour race which gets underway on Friday afternoon local time.
The opening round of the seven round 24h Series takes place on the Dubai Autodrome, the country’s Formula One Grand Prix track and as attracted an entry of nearly 100 drivers and cars from all over the world.
This year marks the second season of the endurance racing championship aimed at semiprofessional drivers hoping to make it up the ladder to bigger series like World Endurance Championship which includes events like the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. There will be five Irish men on the grid.
Leading the Irish charge is Northampton-based Cork man Matt Griffin in his Dragon Racing-run Ferrari 458. Griffin is Irelands top international GT and Sportscar driver and a former European Le Mans Series champion and will share his care with English drivers Alex Kapdia and John Harthstone and with Kuwait’s Khaled Al Mudhaf.
Le Mans 24
Last year, Griffin won his class in Dubai in the same car but was partnered by Saudi Mohammed Jawa, South Africa’s Jordan Gregor, British driver Rob Barff.
Griffin raced in 32 different events last year, on five different continents.
His events included internationally renowned races like the Le Mans 24 hours and Baturst Endurance race in Australia but rates his United Arab Emirates performance as his 2015 highlight.
Speaking at the end of last season, he said: “As for my best race, it is difficult to pick just one race but I think the first race of the season, the Dubai 24Hour that I won might be the standout race.”
Former British Touring Car Championship racer Liam Griffin made the switch from touring cars to endurance racing last year and looks set for another year of long-distance motorsport again this term. He will drive a JW Bird Motorsport-prepared Aston Martin GT4 over the weekend before joining Barwell Motorsport for the 2016 British GT Championship season after confirming his drive behind the wheel of the team’s second Lamborghini Huracan with backing from IrishTV.ie.
Griffin said: “I thoroughly enjoyed last year and the decision to change teams was not an easy one, but the opportunity to drive a factory supported Lamborghini, run by the Championship winning team, was just too appealing.
“I have every hope that we will be in with a chance of winning the Championship. Last year taught me a lot so hopefully I can use that to pick up the points that will make the difference come the end of the year.”
I think the first race of the season, the Dubai 24Hour that I won might be the standout race
One of his co-drivers in the Dubai event this weekend will be his brother Kieran who is no stranger either to endurance racing and Aston Martins.
He contested last year’s British GT series with the same JWB outfit that is running him and his brother this weekend. Liam and Kieran Griffin are sons of former Addison Lee taxi tycoon and current IrishTV.ie director John Griffin.
Dan O’Brien is the fourth UK-based Irish driver on the entry list but is by far the least experienced with it comes to endurance racing. This will be the St Alban’s based youngsters biggest race to date, the former rallycross and rally driver only made the switch to circuit racing last year having accomplished many podiums in the other disciplines over the years.
He began his racing career at the wheel of an Optimum Motorsport-run Ginnetta, the same outfit that will oversee his 24- hour race debut in the UAE this weekend. The Yorkshire squad is a previous class winner in Dubai and O’Brien will have British drivers Bradley Ellis, Ade Barwick, and Elliott Norris as teammates.
The final Irish driver on the entry list is Jonny Mullen. He will drive a ZRT Motorsport prepared Honda Integra. The University of Ulster graduate has been based in the UAE for ten years and was a class winner on the Dubai 24 hour race two years ago with the same team.
Meanwhile the domestic motorsport year kicks off this weekend with the traditional season-opening Autosport International Racing Car show at the NEC in Birmingham. The show, which runs from Thursday to Sunday is always popular with Irish visitors and one of the highlights to look forward to this year is the famous Ford Escort of rally driver Frank Kelly. His car will be on display on the Samsonas Motorsports stand (no 7610) over the four days.
The Irish season started on Saturday with the Cargan, County Antrim based Ice Breaker Rally in the Slievanorra Forest Complex. Many local competitors, including Phillip Morrow used the event as a preseason test.
Morrow intends to return to the British Rally Championship this year in his Mitsubishi Lancer E9.