The Murphy Prototypes team came away from the opening round of this season’s European Le Mans Series at Silverstone on Saturday (11th April), satisfied in the knowledge that their pace was good enough to challenge for a podium position, but disappointed that for them, the race finished an hour early, when an electrical issue brought the car to a premature halt.
After setting the fastest lap time in the pre-season test at Paul Ricard three weeks previously, the team was pleased that the pace carried over to the two test sessions at Silverstone on Friday. Then, on Saturday morning, lead driver Nathanaël Berthon overcame traffic issues and a track surface with very little grip to put the Murphy Prototypes Nissan-powered Oreca 03R into P5 for the race.
First to drive in the four-hour race was the youngest of the team’s three drivers, 23-year old Michael Lyons. A clean getaway from the rolling start saw him maintain his grid position into the first corner, whilst behind him other competitors were not so orderly – the resulting accidents causing the safety car to be deployed for four laps.
Holding station for the first 30-minutes, Lyons then moved up to fourth, following an impressive move on the car ahead of him as they negotiated slower traffic. 20-minutes later, it was time for the team’s first pit stop and, after taking on more fuel, he re-joined the race for the second half of his double-stint.
Lyons delivered a strong performance and, after a further hour of racing, he returned to the pits to swap with the oldest of the three drivers in the Murphy Prototypes line-up, 61-year old Mark Patterson. The work the whole team had put in during the previous day’s practice sessions was clear to see from Patterson’s performance and throughout his 50-minute stint, he held his own against the rest of the LMP2 field.
With one-hour and ten minutes of the race remaining, it was then the turn of Berthon to do what he does best, his target: to put the Murphy Prototypes team on the podium. But then, with more incidents out on the track, as he went to leave the pits a second safety car session was called. It was at just the wrong time for Berthon and, although when racing recommenced he was holding fifth place, his task of getting into the top three was made all but impossible.
But just a few minutes later, any opportunity of a top result was eliminated, as the car coasted to a halt with just over an hour of the race left to run. It was a bitter blow for the whole team, who had worked extremely hard on the lead up to the race to ensure the car was as competitive as it could be against the competition – especially when it was found that it was a small electrical issue had caused the engine to cut out.
The team will now return to its nearby Brackley base to assess the problem and has already vowed to come back fighting for the second round of the ELMS: the 4-hours of Imola (Italy), which takes place on 17th May.
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Michael Lyons (Bishops Stortford, England)
“I had some great battles today. The car was very strong and I felt I could push when I was in a position to overtake. But it was more difficult to get past that I had expected, especially as there was so many slower cars from the other classes to contend with. Overall I was very happy with my run and I think the pace of the car showed we are in a good place for the rest of the season, although it was disappointing we could not finish the race today.”
Mark Patterson (RSA/New York, USA)
“There seemed to be a lot of traffic out there, but I was pleased to be able to get in a few good clean laps during my stint. The way the guys had set the car up made it so drivable and it felt fantastic, especially through the fast corners. Added to this, by working with my two teammates it was amazing what a difference this made, which definitely reflected in my lap times. It’s a great shame we suffered such a frustrating end to the day though.”
Nathanaël Berthon (Romagnat, France)
“It would have been good to finish the race, so what happened today was very frustrating for the whole team. We had a very good pace and I found that, even though I didn’t get much time in the car, I was able to lap as fast as the race leaders while I was out there. Sometimes these sorts of problems happen in motorsport, so you just have to come back stronger next time, which I’m sure we will.”
Greg Murphy, Team Principal (Dublin, Ireland)
“Of course, we are all disappointed to end our weekend this way, but up until the last hour the car was running perfectly. The team did a great job leading up to the race and there’s no doubt the car was competitive. All three drivers performed really well: Michael was exciting to watch and battled hard throughout his double stint, Mark put in a solid performance and also did good job, whilst Nathanaël’s pace may well have got us into the top three. We’ll just have to wait until next time to get onto the podium.”