Keane to impress

UCD student and Race 2 Race winner Mark Keane talks to Seán Craddock ahead of his Irish Touring Car Championship debut

Motorsport isn’t the easiest sport to get into; even if you have the talent, you still need deep pockets if you want to become a racing driver. So when the Race 2 Race competition came along last year, third year Mechanical Engineering student Mark Keane jumped at the opportunity.

Keane has always had an interest in motorsport. He raced when he was younger, but didn’t get the chance to progress from karting. “I did two full years racing before running out of money. My highest achievement in that was second in the national championship for the Rotax Mini Max Championship. Other than that, I haven’t done any motorsport since, until this competition came along.”

The competition was set up in 2012 in order to find skilled drivers and make their dream of becoming a professional racing driver a reality. The competition is still relatively new and Keane found out about it too late to enter the first year.

“I hadn’t even heard about it last year until it was after the entry date and then obviously heard about it throughout the year when the last winner John Greaney was having a great season.” He says. “He was winning races and won the championship in the end. So I entered the Race 2 Race in July or August last year.

“The first round was just indoor karting in Kylemore and everyone is split up into weight classes, and I won my weight class and went through to the next round. The next round was again in Kylemore, it was down to two weight classes and it was the top four drivers from that event went through so I won that event overall and went through to the final which was just last Thursday [April 4th].”

Having already had two years of experience racing karts, the first two rounds were familiar territory for the young Dubliner, but the final took place at Mondello Park in Kildare, a track that Keane had only a handful of laps experience at and it would be his first time racing in a car.

As Keane explains, it was not simply a matter of being the fastest of the four drivers on the day; you had to show a number of different skills, saying that “it wasn’t an outright race, it was based on lap times and consistency.

“We had an instructor sitting in the passenger’s seat just taking some notes on how we were driving; just sitting there in silence. I was told at the end there were two tenths of a second between the top three drivers so it was pretty close.”

At the end of the day Keane was named the winner, having shown his consistency over the eight lap run. The prize is a racing contract for this season’s Irish Touring Car Championship worth €30,000. Keane gets to drive the Honda Integra that John Greaney won the championship in last season after winning the R2R competition. The car is run by the race team, with all entry fees included in the prize; he can just turn up and drive the car at the weekend.

Keane admitted that he is excited for his début, and doesn’t think nerves will be an issue. “I’m used to racing head to head, so I’m over the nerves. I was nervous when I first started racing but I’m over that now. I’m just excited, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Last year’s R2R winner, John Greaney, raced karts after his ITCC success and was able to give Keane some tips of what he can expect in the car. “It’s much less grip than what I’d be used to. A go-kart has a huge amount of grip. I mean you can take corners at 60-70 miles an hour with ease in a go-kart and in a car the back end is always sliding around.”

The car won the ITCC last season, so Keane is ambitious ahead of the opening round claims he is “aiming to be up towards the front… I aim to be winning throughout the season. I’m not expecting to win this weekend, but I wouldn’t say no to it either!”

Considering the opportunity he’s been given by entering the competition, Keane had high praise for the R2R competition and would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in racing. “The entry this year was around €120; which isn’t a lot considering what you’re going for.

“At the end of the day the worst you’ll get is one grand prix in indoor karting which costs 55-60 euro anyway, so you’re not losing a huge amount… and then you could be in my position. It’s not the easiest sport to get into, but the Race 2 Race is definitely one of the best ways at the moment.”

Keane wants to keep his options open for the future, admitting “I still haven’t quite decided whether I see myself racing touring cars or single seaters in the future. I do like the idea of being in a car, so whether I’d go British Touring Cars and then a long way away might be World Touring Cars. But I’ve driven Formula Sheane before and I like the whole idea of being out in the open as well.”

The UCD student has a big season ahead of him. Whether he can replicate John Greaney’s debut year remains to be seen. Whatever happens, the R2R competition has undoubtedly opened new doors for him and hopefully this is just the start of his racing career.