Following the longest and toughest event of his short International Karting career so far, Alex Dunne just missed out on a top ten finish on his IAME International Final debut in Le Mans, on Sunday October 14th. The twelve year old from Offaly finished eleventh in the Junior category, after a fantastic fight back through the field, leaving him as the top Irish junior competitor at the event.
Following testing on Tuesday, the real competition got underway on Wednesday with practice and qualifying. Practice finished with Alex second and fifth fastest across his two sessions, leaving him full of confidence for qualifying. Torrential rain arrived just before his session however, and Alex’s’ lack of wet weather experience in the IAME Junior class left him an unrepresentative forty third overall, out of one hundred and nineteen drivers, and thirteenth on the grid for his six heats.
Alex made up for his qualifying disappointment straight away with an impressive drive to eighth in heat one. Following another strong start to his second heat Alex was hit from behind and pushed off dropping him down the order. A fight back to fifteenth at the flag was then nullified when a penalty was applied after the race, for contact with another driver in the incident which knocked him off track, leaving him twenty fifth.
The remaining four heats saw the Newbridge College student back on top form as he improved on his starting position in each race, taking a best finish of fifth in his penultimate run. Just before his final heat, Alex’s team, Forza Motorsport, spotted a problem with his engine and had to complete a lightning quick engine change to get him onto the grid. The youngster struggled a little for pace with the new engine, but still managed to improve on his starting position, and when the points from all six heats were tallied Alex was the only Irish Junior to make the A final grid, albeit in thirtieth place.
Starting the pre-final, which would decide the grid positions for the all important final, Alex knew he had to balance the need to make up places against the danger of attracting another penalty for contact and elected to make steady progress initially. As the race settled down he began to pick off his rivals despite not being able to match his earlier pace and at the flag he had secured the eighteenth starting place for the final.
Heading into the final the team had sorted his engine well enough to allow Dunne make further progress right from the start. By half distance he was running just outside the top ten and had latched onto the back of the lead group. With the front runners defending constantly, the pack behind formed a tight group which swapped and changed places regularly. Alex was up to eight at one point but a number of incidents and the closeness of the racing saw him eventually cross the line in eleventh place after the longest and hardest race of the week.
Speaking after the final race of the five day event, Alex was reasonably satisfied with his result. “Looking at how the heats went, I’m happy with how I finished, but with the pace I had earlier in the week I should have finished higher. One bad heat was enough to ruin my chances, as this track is so tight that you need to start at the front to have any chance of winning. I played it safe in the Pre-Final and got up to eighteenth so I was able to have a real go in the final. I was in eighth at one point but the race was like a demolition derby and in the end I was just glad to finish in one piece and to be the top Irish driver in IAME Junior.”
Having started the Le Mans week as one of the most inexperienced and youngest drivers in the IAME Junior field, Alex Dunne justified the organisers decision to give him a wild card entry by finishing as top Irish driver in his class as well as being one of the highest placed non IAME regulars in the competition.