The first round of this year’s European Le Mans Series at Silverstone provided another memorable occasion for Murphy Prototypes: the team’s LMP2 Oreca 03R finished 12th in the LMP2 class and 15th overall after battling through the 44-car field from the back of the grid, plus it was the first event in the team’s four-year history where it had ran two cars.
A move of premises, followed by the introduction of an LMP3 car and the recruitment of new personnel, meant that – for the team – the race to the opening round of the ELMS began a few weeks before the event itself. Preparations for the Silverstone event were made even more ‘interesting’ with a number of late changes to the driver line-up, which included a trio of Irishmen in the Dublin-based team:
LMP2 Oreca 03R Nissan: Damien Faulkner (IRL)/Seån Doyle (IRL)/Shaun Balfe (ENG)
LMP3 Ginetta Nissan: Tony Ave (USA)/Doug Peterson (USA)/Michael Cullen (IRL)
The action at Silverstone began on Friday, with the two 90-minute practice sessions seeing both cars and each of the team’s six driverstake to the track in wet conditions. Race day on Saturday began with a surprise for everyone, when snow fell for about an hour in the morning. Fortunately it stopped before the qualifying sessions, during which Cullen found the Ginetta – which is on-hire until the team’s new Ave-Riley LMP3 car arrives – was not handling as well as it should. Faulkner, in the LMP2 car, was caught out by the slippery conditions when he ran wide and ended his qualifying session in the gravel at turn seven. Consequently, the two Murphy Prototypes cars would start from the back of the grid – a sight never seen previously.
Thankfully, conditions dried out for the race and a great start by both Cullen and Faulkner saw them begin to work their way through the field during the opening laps and, after 30-minutes, Faulkner had charged up 28-places to 16th. However, things were not so good for Cullen, who came into the pits after 45-minutes, first for a suspected rear suspension issue and then a few laps later he retired when the engine oil temperature went up and showed no sign of coming down.
In the meantime, Faulkner continued to battle his way up the rankings until, after an impressive double-stint, a full course yellow flag period signalled an opportunity for him to come into the pits. With two-hours and 20-minutes of the race remaining, it was then the turn of 22-year old Nissan Generation Next Ambassador Doyle to make his LMP2 and ELMS debut. A great stop by the team mean that the up-and-coming Irishman exited the pits in 10th place.
Even with very little seat time in the car before the race, Doyle took to the Oreca like a duck to water and repaid Team Principal Greg Murphy’s faith in the rookie driver by setting a series of lap times that were faster than many of the far more experienced competitors around him in similar machinery. It was an impressive performance and, having maintained 10th place for the team, Doyle brought the car back to the pits to swap with Balfe with an hour-and-a-half of the race remaining.
Balfe continued to set a series of consistent lap times, he too consolidating the position and, like Doyle, was relentlessly catching the car ahead of him. But then, with about 40-minutes to go, a small electrical issue effected the dashboard display and when he came into the pits for the final time for fuel and tyres, the engine wouldn’t switch off. With some minor repairs to the bodywork required, Balfe re-joined the race in 17th place overall and, after making up two places before the end, the team were delighted to record a finish in the first round of the season and to be able to take all it had experienced as a relatively new operation to the next round at Imola on 15th May.
“I wasn’t happy with my qualifying performance and I must apologise to the team for sliding off, as it’s so out of character for me, but there was just no grip. I was therefore determined to do the best I could in the race and I was really pleased to be able to drive through the field from last on the grid to 12th. The car was well balanced and I really enjoyed driving it, so I must thank the team for their efforts and Greg Murphy for bringing me in to drive this weekend.”
I can’t quite believe what’s happened today. To be asked to drive just a few days before the race and to have my first ever opportunity of racing a Prototype Sportscar is such a privilege. It was an amazing experience and I enjoyed every second. I have to thank Greg (Murphy) for giving me this incredible opportunity and I hope I’ll have the chance to do it again.”
“I really felt at home in the car and it was great to drive. I was hoping we could stay in the top 10, but losing the read-out on the dash and having to cope with some body damage – plus a longer than scheduled pit stop – meant it wasn’t to be. But it was great to cross the finish line for the team and I’ve got a smile on my face, which says it all.”
Greg Murphy – Team Principal
“I’m very pleased that our LMP2 car and our new drivers performed so well in the race. Coming through from last place to 12th in LMP2 and 15th in a field of 44 cars is a job well done in anyone’s books. I wasn’t too concerned about the LMP3 as the Ginetta is a stop-gap until the new Ave-Riley AR2 arrives – hopefully in time for Imola.
“In fact I’m really pleased with the way the whole team bonded. Having moved premises, taken on another car and with all the usual pre-event preparation that has to be done, it was a great all round effort. As well as the drivers, many of crew are new to us and therefore, this race was an excellent dress rehearsal for the rest of the ELMS season and Le Mans.“