We take man labelled 'Ireland's worst driver' on track in Mondello

CarsBy Denise Smith
65-year-old Ray Heffernan gets behind the wheel of a SEAT Leon FR in Mondello Park
65-year-old Ray Heffernan gets behind the wheel of a SEAT Leon FR in Mondello Park

A pensioner who has been dubbed Ireland’s worst driver has proven he’s an ace on the racing track thanks to the Sunday World.

Ray Heffernan (65), who has been driving for the past 47 years, insists he’s been blacklisted by state testers after failing his driving test 14 times.

Despite losing an appeal in court against his latest driving test failure just last week, Ray, from Mayfield in Cork, says he is determined to get justice and insists he is a top driver.

Describing his reputation as Ireland’s worst driver as both “hurtful” and “untrue”, the Sunday World decided to help clear the former plasterer’s good name by offering him a chance to get behind the wheel of a real race car.

Putting his pedal to the metal, Ray silenced his critics by climbing behind the wheel of a race-prepared SEAT Leon on Ireland’s premier race track, Mondello Park.

Easing out on to the track with the confidence of a professional race driver, Ray, who took his first driving test in 2004, completed eight laps with ease, even clocking some top speeds.

“I have been driving 47 years and I have never caused an accident in all of my life. I have driven all over Ireland and England, I am as good a driver as anyone. If I was such a bad driver, how would I be driving a race car today?”

Determined to get that elusive licence, Ray insisted that he won’t be deterred by his previous failures.

“I will never give up until justice is served, There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way I drive, there is not a mark on my car”, he said.

In court last week, Ray claimed the driving testers were biased against him because of previous complaints he had made.

Ray races the SEAT Leon FR around the Mondello Park Track

He told Judge Olann Kelleher: “He [the tester] was never in any danger in my car.

My car did not break down or anything. Stop this vendetta against me. I mean to say, common sense, it is not rocket science.”

However, the judge said there was no such evidence so he had to refuse the appeal.

Mondello’s Group Operations Manager Ian Beatty said Ray is a natural on the track.

“Ray is a quick learner and he mastered the track quite easily.

Despite this being his first attempt, he’s a better driver than the majority of people who come to the track for the first time. Ray is a very competent driver.”

A jubilant Ray said: “Ian gave me eight out of 10, I was flying on that race track, how can anyone tell me now that I am a danger on the roads?”

Hoping to return to the race track soon, Ray added: “It was unbelievable, I reckon I could be a Formula One driver and, to be honest, I would probably have more chance of getting a Formula One licence, or even a helicopter licence, before I pass a test.”

Thanks to our friends in SEAT Ireland, Ray got his dream come true when he got behind the wheel of a SEAT Leon FR.

The 180bhp beast is a standard road car with upgraded brake pads and a roll bar for safety.

The Leon FR’s big brother – the Cupra DSG – occupies third spot in the Mondello Park hot-lap track times for normal road cars, while its manual sibling sits proudly in fourth, only behind the Alfa Romeo 4C in second, and the BMW M4 in top spot.

Have a go in Mondello

If, like Ray, you fancy your chances as a race driver, you can always give it a go at Mondello Park.

The Mondello Park Motor Racing Experience is the closest most people will ever get to emulating their F1 heroes.

After a classroom briefing and a training run in a saloon racing car, participants get to drive a real Formula One lookalike single seater racing car.

Following two warm-up laps, the participants’ lap times are recorded for the next 10 laps and a certificate is issued at the end of the course.

The sensation of driving a Formula One lookalike racing car just inches off the ground is unlike any other driving experience.

The instructors help you to improve at every stage of your course, but nothing they say will fully prepare you for the rush of adrenalin you will experience through sitting in a car similar to an F1 machine.

Prices for level 1 track day are €199 or €299 for level two. For more information see www.mondello.ie