The Murphy Prototypes team was all set to wrap up its fourth season in the European Le Mans Series on a high, at this weekend’s fifth and final round in Estoril. After a determined drive and just when it looked like an impressive result was on the cards, bad luck played its hand once more, when an engine oil pressure problem ended the teams race with 40-minutes of the four-hours remaining.
With no pre-event testing, the two Free Practice sessions on Saturday were to be the first time the team’s Oreca 03R had been driven on the former Portuguese Grand Prix track by its three drivers. However, biblical weather involving high winds and rain cut things short in the morning, which led organisers to add an extra 30-minutes to the afternoon’s session.
Such changing track conditions made it difficult to gauge the best set up, a factor that manifested itself in Qualifying, when French driver Nathanaël Berthon went 10th quickest. Therefore, it wasn’t to be the usual first or second row start that the team is more used to. But, with two teams ahead them being penalised, the grid line up was revised and Anglo-Irish driver Michael Lyons would now start the race from P8.
After an impressive getaway, an incident at turn one involving two other cars saw Michael complete the first lap in sixth and, for the rest of his first 50-minute stint, he hounded the cars ahead of him. As others were losing their cool, Michael’s consistent and determined pace meant he came into the pits in third place. A superbly executed stop by the team got him back out on track for the second-half of his double-stint without losing a place and was now only 28-seconds behind the leader.
But then, some 30-minutes later, the rain that everyone feared started to fall. The team used this opportunity to bring Michael in for his next pit stop a little earlier than planned to hand over to RSA-born driver Michael Patterson and to change the tyres from slicks to intermediates.
After just a few laps the weather got decidedly worse, so much so that at one point, the visibility and standing water was such that organisers saw fit to implement a full-course yellow flag period. Again, the opportunity for a pit stop was grasped and the car was fitted with full-wet tyres. Mark reported a big difference on the levels of grip and, although had lost some time in the pit stops, the car felt far more planted and the lap times began to improve.
But as quickly as it came the rain disappeared and, in the gusty wind and the sunshine, it didn’t take long for the track to start drying out. It wasn’t long before the wet-treaded tyres went beyond their useful threshold and so it was another visit to the pits to go back onto intermediates. Considering he had never driven the former Portuguese Grand Prix circuit before this weekend, Mark was delivering a solid performance and holding seventh place when he handed over to Nathanaël.
With the track now dry enough for slicks to be fitted during the stop, Nathanaël went on a mission to claw back as much time as possible. Within a few laps he was up to sixth and was beginning to make an impression on other drivers ahead of him. Then, with about an hour to go, the engineers saw an oil pressure issue appear on their screens and, when Nathanaël left the pits after his final scheduled stop, the problem became worse. Consequently, he had no choice but to bring the car to a halt.
After all the hard work by the team to get the car up to competitive race pace this weekend, it was a disappointing end to what could have been a truly grand finale. However, the whole Murphy Prototypes team can be satisfied in the knowledge that it has well and truly made its mark on the sport this season, both on and off the track.
Greg Murphy – Team Principal
“Of course, it’s disappointing to have closed the book on this season with an engine problem but, although we’ve had our fair share of frustrations, we’ve had a great year on so many levels and I would like to thank Mark, Michael and Nathanaël for doing such an excellent job and for being such great team players. I must also thank every single one of our Murphy’s Men for their efforts throughout the season, especially at Le Mans, where I believe we made our mark on the sport. Here’s to many more of those moments to come.”
“This weekend was a little different than others, as we are usually running at the front of the field and it didn’t work out that way this time. But it was great how the team improved the pace of the car as we went though the weekend and it looked like we were on for a good result, had it not been for that problem with the engine.
“I must say that it’s been fantastic to be part of a team that’s regularly in line for podium finishes. I’ve really enjoyed driving the car, going to some great tracks and competing against some great drivers.”
“It was good to start the race this weekend and to have made up a number of places during my stint. We were up to P3 at one stage, so it was a shame not to hold onto that – and an even bigger shame that we didn’t finish today of course.
“This has been my first season in an LMP car and it’s great to have done it with Murphy Prototypes. I’ve really enjoyed the year and, although we’ve had some frustrations, overall I’ve been really pleased with how things have gone and I must thank the whole team for their work and support.”
“It would have been great to have finished the race today, especially as it was the final round of the season. The car was much better in the race than it was yesterday in the practice session and this morning in qualifying, so the team have done a good job with information that’s been fed back to them. We’ve not had the results we deserve this season, that’s for sure, but it’s been a pleasure to work with the team and to drive with some great team mates.”