Today’s third round of the European Le Mans Series – the 4 Hours of Red Bull Ring – saw the Murphy Prototypes team come so close to its second podium result in as many races, but contact with another car with just ten-minutes of the race remaining meant the team had to be content with sixth-place. It was an undeserved outcome for the team, in a race that produced so many ups-and-downs and unforeseen challenges during the course of the day.
After scoring an impressive second place in ELMS round two at Imola in May and then, when Nathanaël Berthon secured P2 in this morning’s qualifying session, the team eagerly anticipated a battle for the top positions in the race. In addition, the hot weather and cloudless skies around the Styrian Alps set the scene for what promised to be a memorable event in ideal conditions.
But about 90-minutes before the start, Nathanaël thought he had something in his eye. Consequently, he was despatched to the medical centre and then the local hospital for a check up. At that moment, it looked as though he was unable to race and it would be down to Mark Patterson and Michael Lyons to share the driving over the whole of the four-hours, the two of them having to perform a double and treble stint respectively.
Mark started the race and, following a textbook getaway, held on to second place into the first corner and onto the first lap. But as the Pro drivers around him found their rhythm, he began to get passed – quite forcibly on occasions. Not wanting to damage the car, Mark did his best to avoid any contact, but the evasive action meant that, after 20-minutes and at the end of the first of many safety car sessions, he was in fifth place.
Another untidy manoeuvre by a fellow competitor pushed him into sixth and, after 55-minutes, he made the first of his pit stops. Mark maintained a consistent pace around the undulating 4.326km (2.688-mile) Grand Prix circuit throughout his second stint and, after another 35-minutes he returned to the pits to change places with Michael.
Joining the race in seventh place and expecting to drive for the remaining two-and-a-half hours, Michael was well aware of what was required and he immediately set about making up places. He was quickly on the pace of the leading cars and, after performing series of great overtaking moves, he came into the pits in fourth place and with one-hour and 40-minutes of the race remaining.
It was at this point news came in that Nathanaël was on his way back to the circuit, having been given a clean bill of health to drive – the issue with his eye most likely caused by dehydration. Following two back-to-back safety car periods, Michael came in for the team’s final pit stop with 40-minutes of the race left to go and impressively, now in third place.
Eager to provide the team with the best possible finish, Nathanaël took over for the remainder of the race. Straight away, the live timing screens showed he was the quickest car on the track and, although a lap down, if anything was to happen to the leading pair, he was in an ideal position to take advantage.
But with just ten-minutes of the race left to go, when executing what should have been a routine overtaking manoeuvre on a slower GT car ahead of him, the gap closed as the two of them approached the tight turn-two – Remus. Consequently, the cars made contact. This caused the Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03R to spin and the subsequent time lost trying to get the car pointing in the right direction relegated Nathanaël to sixth.
With such a limited amount of time remaining there was little chance of improving on the position. After a challenging four-hours of competition, the team accepted the result with its now familiar good-spirit, satisfied in the knowledge that its efforts could have quite easily delivered another podium finish.
“The race was full of surprises, the worst of which was the way I was passed in one instance near the start. It’s unusual, as this championship usually enjoys a high quality of driving standards. The car was great, as was Michael in his double stint. I must admit that I was a little stiff after mine, but I’ve got to say that I had a ball. It was just a shame we didn’t make it to the podium this time, but it certainly wasn’t for the want of trying.”
“The car was mega. I felt very comfortable and was more than ready to do a third stint if I had to. But it was great to know Nat was okay and could drive the last part of the race. I was very pleased to be able to make up so many places, especially as we were third and on target for another podium finish by the time I got out of the car.”
“At midday something strange happened. Something didn’t feel right and my sight became unclear, so I had it checked out. It was a bit scary, so I was very relieved when I was told I was okay and could drive the final stint in the race. Everything felt good and I was the fastest on the track at the time.
“I feel really bad for the team that I could not avoid the GT car. I thought there was enough room and he was letting me through, but now I understand he didn’t see me. Then, after I had spun I couldn’t get reverse, which cost even more time. I just wanted to do my best for the team, so it’s a great shame that we didn’t make it to the podium. We will have to wait until next time.”
Greg Murphy – Team Principal
“It’s been a rollercoaster of a day. When we thought Nathanaël couldn’t race, Mark and Michael immediately stepped up to the task. Mark drove a great double stint and did exactly what was expected of him. Michael delivered a brilliant performance and showed what he is capable of.
“We were pleased when Nathanaël was given the all-clear and he could drive the final stint. Of course, it was disappointing when we had third place in the bag and then ended up with sixth. But that’s motorsport – and endurance racing. I’m confident we’ll be back to where we should be for the next round at Paul Ricard. It’s a track where we usually go well.”
Alan McGarrity – Team Manager
“The whole team put in a supreme effort this weekend. Both Mark and Michael rose to the challenge. It was great that Nathanaël was able to drive. He was told to race until the end, which is exactly what he did. He’s a true racer. Although we didn’t get the result we were looking for – or deserved for that matter – our pace proves that podium positions are well within our grasp.”