WITH an arm draped around the huge A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, a pair of gold medals hanging from his neck and his green racing suit still soaked in champagne, Adam Carroll could afford to smile as he lapped up the euphoric scenes surrounding him.
He was back in the Team Ireland suite overlooking the long sweep of Clearways Bend at Brands Hatch where little more than an hour earlier he had emerged from 45 laps of racing to see the chequered flag in front of him.
He admitted afterwards he had cried on that last lap, tears of joy and relief, as much for the victory itself as for having delivered for the eclectic mix of people who make up Team Ireland.
People like Mark Gallagher, a fellow Ulsterman whose Status Grand Prix company runs the Irish team, businessman and patron John Hynes, the youthful Teddy Yip whose dad (also Teddy) owned the Theodore Formula One team in the Eighties, former Le Mans winner David Kennedy and the men at the sharp end, team manager Dave O’Neill and race engineer Gerry Hughes.
Together they proved 26-year-old Carroll with his road to redemption, rescuing him from a racing career that had stalled — not through any shortage of talent but lack of money.
Carroll has been a winner all his life, right from his schoolboy days of racing karts around Ulster through Formula Three and even GP2. But he is from an ordinary Portadown family and without the huge financial backing required to push him forward, he had to watch as contemporaries like Nelson Piquet, Nico Rosberg, Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock and Lewis Hamilton, too, all scaled the ladder to F1.
When the opportunities presented themselves he had beaten them all but he was at a point where his options were limited when Gallagher approached him to drive for Team Ireland in A1GP. It probably wasn’t the direction he wanted to go in but it was racing and that’s what Carroll does best.
And what he found was a group of people who appreciated him and provided a stable, supportive environment.
It wasn’t plain sailing of course and his initial season in 2007/2008 was a struggle until he won in Mexico City on the eve of St Patrick’s Day last year.
From that point onwards Team Ireland flourished, attracting fresh investment from some-time racer Hynes, Kennedy and crucially the Dutch-Chinese Yip family who have global business interests as well as a racing heritage that in the past has been involved in the careers of Irish drivers like Kennedy and Derek Daly.
That investment allowed Gallagher to bring in ex-Jordan, Jaguar and Red Bull F1 engineer Hughes as technical director.
He and Carroll struck up a strong rapport and together they delivered a package that no one else in A1GP could match. It culminated in the weekend’s masterful performance at Brands Hatch where Carroll simply blew the opposition off the track.
He dominated qualifying and he dominated the two races which brought the A1 season to an end
and led to wild celebrations on the pitwall and up in the hospitality suite where more than 100 family, friends and guests, including Atomic Kitten’s Liz McClaron and Thin Lizzie lead singer Scott Graham, danced a victory jig.
Carroll, after posing for countless photographs with the £350,000 trophy, said: “We will enjoy this for a day or two and then sit down with Mark and the others to see what the options are,” he said.
“Formula One is still the goal and we are talking to people but everyone knows the opportunities are limited. The new budget cap on funding looks like attracting more teams and that could open a few doors.
“America is a possibility and there is interest there but we will have to see. I think A1GP has shown people what I can do given a competitive car and the support every driver needs. And that’s what I’ve got from these guys at Team Ireland.
“When you see them work 29 hours from Friday through to Saturday to make sure the car was right for qualifying you have to appreciate their commitment and professionalism. They were superb and have been all season.
“This,” he said, patting the trophy, “is for them as much as myself.”