Young Irish driver Keith Dempsey started his 2001 European campaign on Saturday at the daunting Monza Grand Prix Circuit near Milan, Italy. He had to cope with learning the fastest track on the calendar in changeable weather conditions, but...
Young Irish driver Keith Dempsey started his 2001 European campaign on Saturday at the daunting Monza Grand Prix Circuit near Milan, Italy. He had to cope with learning the fastest track on the calendar in changeable weather conditions, but came through it all to record his first finish in a Formula Renault Eurocup race.
Most of the other competitors had tested at the Monza circuit back in February, but Keith, running for Ireland's leading team Cliff Dempsey Racing, had no experience of the venue before he went out for the first of two 30-minute untimed sessions on Thursday. the track was extremely wet in the first half hour, and Keith's job was simply to learn the circuit. He did this to good effect, and in the second session he posted 18th quickest time out of 43 competitors.
"I'm very pleased", he said afterwards. "Most of the other drivers have tested here before, so to be so high up the grid on my first day here is all I could expect."
Qualifying, however, told a different story. On Thursday evening, with the track still wet, Keith tried too hard and came off the track at the challenging Parabolica corner. The car was not damaged, but was firmly stuck in the Monza gravel. Keith could only watch as his competitors went quicker and quicker as the session progressed. He ended the session forty-second, and with only the top thirty-six to qualify he would have to do something special in the second qualifying period.
Friday dawned dry and sunny, so all the settings for the car learned during Thursday's wet sessions were now irrelevant. Keith took to the track early on Friday morning in a car which was completely different to the one he had driven the day before. Even the gear ratios had been changed after a lot of hard work from his CDR team. Keith also had been working overnight, going over the circuit in his mind and having some coaching from experienced British driver Richard Kaye, at Monza for the FIA GT race, who had come to Keith's garage and talked him through the circuit.
Keith's first priority was to qualify, and then to learn the track in the dry. In effect, the session became his first dry test at Monza. He wasn't aiming to look for ultimate speed, but to do a good solid job of getting into the race. With the track still damp in places, Keith couldn't afford to take any chances. He did his job perfectly, and although he ran halfway up the time sheets for most of the session, he would finally start the race 32nd on the grid after the more experienced competitors put in a last spurt in the final few minutes of qualifying.
Saturday afternoon was dry and sunny. As Keith lined up to start his first European race, he knew it would be tough to overtake the drivers in front of him, who are the best in the world in their agegroup. However, as the lights turned green, Keith immediately made up two places in the dash to the first corner, and then stayed out of trouble as several cars came to grief in the gravel trap. With a good strong run throughout the race, Keith finally finished twenty-third out of 36 starters.
"I always knew this race was going to be tough" he said afterwards. "I have never driven on a track like this before, and with no testing I had to learn as we went along. Still, we finished our first race, and now we can do some testing before the next one."
The team tests for two days at Brno, Czech Republic, before the next race there on Saturday 14 April.
Keith's campaign in the 2001 Formula Renault Eurocup is supported by:
- Irish Ferries
- Richmond Recruitment
- Tullamore Dew
and a host of friends.