Donegal teenagers Caolán and Rhys Irwin both made impressive starts to their Thundersport GB campaigns at the opening event of the season at Brands Hatch last weekend. Running under the Irwin Racing banner for the first time the brothers exceeded expectations as the team took its first ever podium and they both finished the weekend in the top sixth of their respective championships.
With a new team, new machinery, limited testing and Rhys continuing to recover from ankle surgery the Oasis Bar Letterkenny supported team arrived at Brands Hatch hoping for a solid start to give them something to build on for the rest of the year. Friday’s testing went well with both riders getting through a lot of set-up work but the physical nature of the Brands Hatch circuit took its toll on Rhys who would have to battle through pain for the rest of the weekend.
Four races were scheduled for the Aprilia RRV450GP class in which Rhys has graduated to for 2017, making for a tough weekend for the youngster. Under the circumstances fifth in qualifying was an impressive effort and Rhys then rode steadily for the entire weekend to finish in that position each time. Having arrived at Brands Hatch unsure of what to expect due to his Injuries, Rhys was delighted to complete the weekend in fifth place in the championship standings.
Like Rhys, Caolán was also moving up a class for this season and continued to learn his Superstock machine during a very busy qualifying session. Forty one riders did battle for thirty six places on the Thundersport 600 grid which would be made up of Sportsman and Elite riders. Caolán comfortably qualified for the race, ending up eighteenth overall and eleventh Elite rider. A flying start saw him move up a number of places but a small mechanical issue led to his retirement.
The non-finish in race one meant a drop to twentieth on the grid for Sunday’s races, but topping the Elite class time sheet in Sunday morning’s warm up filled Caolán with confidence for Race 2. Another excellent start moved the Irwin Racing rider into the top ten early on and he continued to climb the leader board to make it to seventh by the finish and fifth in the Elite class.
Race three was to be even more impressive for Caolán as again starting in twentieth place he carved through the field to finish fifth overall and take his first Thundersport 600 Elite podium on his maiden weekend in the class. Despite failing to finish race one Caolán now sits in joint sixth place in the 600 championship.
Speaking about the team’s performance on its debut weekend Ivan Irwin said “The lads performed beyond our expectations and we are delighted with our first weekend as a family team. Rhys has impressed us all with the strength and determination he has shown just to get up on the bike this weekend never mind finish all four races. Caolán has been excellent and has built his speed up gradually, we never expected to take home a trophy this weekend but getting on the podium has been fantastic. We have so many people to thank, all of the people who helped us out at Brands, Michelin for their support, which Caolán rewarded by being first Michelin rider home, and of course all of our sponsors without whom none of this would happen.”
Irwin Racing move on to Donington Park for their next race weekend in two weeks time and will be looking to continue improving. The team have knowledge of Donington having completed a pre season test day there and with Caolán full of confidence and Rhys getting stronger all the time there is plenty more to come from the small Donegal outfit.