Address: Mondello Park, Donore, Naas, County Kildare, Ireland
PH: +353 45 860200
Circuit type: Permanent road course
Mondello Park is Ireland's only permanent motor racing circuit and, as such, has held a crucial role in developing the country's two and four-wheeled stars over the years. Now owned by former racer and Lola owner Martin Birrane, the circuit has gone from strength to strength after a period of financial struggle.
Ireland has a rich history of racing – with motorsport initially banned in mainland Britain, it was the Emerald Isle which held the first events in the early 1900s. A variety of street and closed public road circuits were used across both the Republic and Northern Ireland, but with increasing safety risks, one by one they died out. With Dundoyne closing in 1966, Ireland had a pressing need for a replacement.
In 1968, Mondello Park opened to the west of Dublin at Naas in County Kildare. The original 0.7 mile (1.15 km) circuit was tiny but met the immediate needs of circuit racers, however was soon extended, with a longer 1.2 miles (1.9 km) course opening the following year. Despite its relatively modest size, the big-block F5000 cars were soon a feature, with the first Guards Championship race being held in July 1969. David Hobbs sped to victory in a Surtees TS5 in what was to be a regular fixture on the calendar until 1974.
While the largely overseas visitors from F5000 proved popular with the crowds, it took a little longer for the national racing scene to establish itself. However, the introduction of Formula Ford in the 1970s proved the catalyst for a series of young drivers to begin to emerge as bright prospects for the international stage. Derek Daly, David Kennedy and Bernard Devaney all cut their teeth at Mondello before going on to successful careers. All three now have corners on the circuit named in their honour.
Into the 1980s and the circuit began to run into financial difficulties and a consortium of racing clubs and the Royal Irish Automobile Club purchased the track to keep it going. Then, towards the end of the decade, businessman and former sportscar racer Martin Birrane purchased the circuit from the consortium and placed the track's running in the hands of a number of different franchise holders.
Through the 1980s and 1990s Mondello hosted the EFDA Euroseries for FF2000 and then Formula Opel cars, as well as being visited by many of the top British club championships, such as Thundersaloons and TVR Tuscans. The track also hosted British and European championship motorcycle races.
With the venue now well-established, the next step was to attract more International events. To do so, it was clear that a further circuit extension was needed and as the circuit's 30th anniversary dawned a new loop was opened on land to the north of the original course. Designed by Tom Barnard, the extension brought the length up to 2.3 miles (3.6 km), though the shorter national and club circuits remained available for use.
The new International track was opened with a round of the EuroBOSS series for recent Formula One cars.
Birrane took over day-to-day management of the circuit in 2000 to facilitate further development. An impressive new control tower and medical centre was constructed in 2001, along with a pit garage and hospitality suite complex and larger all-tarmac paddock. The improvements made an immediate impact, with the circuit homologated to FIA Grade 2 standards and soon attracting prestigious new championships. In 2001, Mondello hosted the British Touring Car Championship for the first time (and would remain a part of the calendar until 2007) and the FIA Sportscar Championship also held a 2 hour 30 minutes race in September, won by the Dome-Judd of John Nielsen and Hiroki Katoh.
Other big name visitors in the 2000s included the British GT and F3 Championships, while British Superbikes held their first ever round outside of the British mainland in 2002 and would be regular visitors until 2008.
The downturn in the Irish economy meant a reduction in spend from government tourism departments, whose money had helped ensure the more costly international events could be staged. As a consequence, Mondello Park has now largely reverted to being a hub for national racing only, waiting for its next opportunity to host overseas action when the economic picture improves.
Nevertheless, it remains a bustling venue, with regular national and club racing taking place, alongside track days, testing and manufacturer days. Ireland's only Japanese car show, Jap-Fest, has been held annually each September since 2007 and has proved very popular. Rallycross events have also been a staple of the circuit's activity for many years, with Mondello returning to the Irish championship in 2015.
Visitors to the circuit should also pay a trip to the small on-site museum, which houses Birrane's collection of racing machinery, from a Jordan F1 car, various Group C sportscars (including two of only three Ford C-100 prototypes) and Lola machinery from down the years.
Mondello Park is located in Naas, County Kildare, Ireland. The nearest airport is Dublin Airport, around 45 minutes to the north east.
Reaching Mondello Park by road is straightforward, at is a short distance from the M7 motorway. From Dublin, take the N7 towards the South. Leave the Naas by-pass (M7) at junction 10 (signposted for Newbridge) and turn right at the top of the slip road. At the roundabout take the first exit (signposted for Mondello Park/Rathangan). Once past the roundabout, take the next right turn and then the next left. Follow the road through a narrow bridge and the village of Caragh. Mondello Park is 1.6km past the village on the left.
From the south, leave the M7 at junction 10 (signposted for Naas), turn left at the top of the slip road, before following the directions above.
From the west leave the M4 at the junction for Maynooth, at the top of the slip road turn right, follow the signposts for Clane. In Clane village take the right turn signposted for Prosperous. Turn left at the Naas petrol station in Prosperous. Go left at the first crossroads, Mondello Park is two miles on the right.