The legendary former home of the Italian Grand Prix has previously served the Murphy Protoypes Endurance Racing team well and, having chosen three talented, up-and coming youngsters to drive its LMP2 Oreca 03R for this year’s 4-Hours of Imola, the team was delighted to have seen the car as high as sixth and then to have come away with a 10th place finish in what was a challenging race weekend.
The more experienced trio in the team’s LMP3 Ligier JS P3 that was acquired specifically for this event, also demonstrated their combined abilities, although the 12th in class finish did not reflect the team’s true potential.
This weekend’s Murphy Prototypes driver line-up comprised:
LMP2 Oreca 03R Nissan: Garry Findlay (GBR)/Patrick McClughan (GBR)/Seån Doyle (IRL)
LMP3 Ligier JS P3 Nissan: Rob Garofall (GBR)/Barrie Baxter (GBR)/Alex Kapadia (GBR)
Having consistently set top-four times in qualifying during the Free Practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, an 11th place in Qualifying was not quite what the team expected for it’s LMP2 car. However, a split wheel nut on the LMP3 car came as more of a surprise. The outcome: a back-row start on the grid of 41 cars.
Following a biblical overnight storm, all teams were pleased to welcome bright sunshine for the start of the race. Findlay was first to drive the LMP2 car and, in the first two laps, had moved up four places to seventh, his natural ability and confidence clearly shining through as he began to hunt down the cars ahead of him.
Garofall in the LMP3 car also had a good start but, because he was now amongst the slower GTE and LMP3 cars, he was constantly boxed in by traffic. Picking-off his prey one-by-one, when he came into the pits after 45-minutes, he was not only up to 33rd overall, but also 14th in class. A lightening fast stop for fuel at just the right time saw him move up eight places to 25th overall and 10th LMP3 competitor when the first round of pit stops had subsided.
For Findlay, who was also in for a double-stint, his stop was slightly more protracted, as a new nose cone had to be fitted following a clash when passing a fellow competitor. Consequently, after an hour, he was circulating in 11th place.
The next pit stops after 90 and 100-miniutes respectively involved the first change of drivers: Garofall handed-over to Baxter for his first taste of LMP Prototype Sportscar racing and Findlay handed over to McClughan, who was also making his debut at this level of competition.
Having lost the right-hand rear-view mirror, Baxter was finding it difficult to judge the position of cars around him when negotiating right hand bends and, not wanting to spoil what was a good run so far, he decided that discretion would be the better part of valour. Inevitably, it was a strategy that was to see him drop down the leaderboard and when he came into the pits to hand over to Kapadia, who was scheduled to perform the final two stints, the LMP3 car was running 15th in class and 37th overall.
But there was no such issue for McClughlan, who delivered a series of consistently fast laps and moved the LMP2 car three places up the leaderboard to eighth – notwithstanding another clash that was to necessitate a second nose cone swap at the next pit stop. After a drive that belied his experience at LMP2 level, McClughan then passed the baton to Seán Doyle for the final hour.
The pit stop was timed perfectly, as it was just as a shower of unexpected rain started to fall , which provided the team with the opportunity to fit a set of intermediate tyres. It was also just as a full course yellow flag period was instigated as competitors on slicks discovered that the track was no longer dry.
After a just few minutes, it was apparent this was no shower and, as the rain increased in intensity, both the team’s LMP3 and LMP2 cars came in to change onto full-wet tyres. The organisers’ concern for the conditions was clear when they maintained the yellow flag period for the following 30-minutes, before deploying the safety car.
Even though the rain stopped and the standing water started to disperse, the safety car remained in operation until the end of the race, meaning the positions throughout the field stayed unchanged for the final hour. For the Murphy Prototypes team, this resulted in the LMP2 car finishing 10th and the LMP3 car finishing 31st overall and 12th in the LMP3 category.
The next appearance for the Murphy Prototypes team, supported by: Ave-Riley, 3-Diensional.com, Motul and Celtic Airspares, will be the 24-Hours of Le Mans on 18th & 19th June. This will be followed by round three of the European Le Mans Series, the 4-Hours of Red Bull Ring that takes place on 17th July.
Greg Murphy – Team Principal: “We’ve had a challenging weekend, that’s for sure, but I’ve been impressed by our drivers. The young trio that we chose for the LMP2 car not only did a great job on the track, but also off it when it came to dealing with PR related activities and it looks like we’ve uncovered some future talent here.
“The more experienced drivers in the LMP3 car also did us proud and it was pleasure to have them with us this weekend. It was a frustrating end to the race under yellow flag and safety car conditions, as I think both Seán and Alex could have improved our positions. But it’s been another milestone for us as a team today, as it’s our first ever two-car finish and I must congratulate everyone involved for enabling us to achieve this.”
Seán Doyle #48 (LMP2): “I was in the car for an hour and I didn’t do a competitive lap, as my whole stint was either under a full course yellow or behind the safety car. To have an opportunity to drive an LMP2 car at Imola is something that doesn’t come along very often, so when you can’t make the most of it, it’s frustrating. However, coming here as a team member last year and now, as an ELMS LMP2 driver this year is a surreal experience and I have to thank Greg (Murphy) for this great opportunity.”
Garry Findlay #48 (LMP2): “I’ve enjoyed this weekend and I really enjoyed the race, especially the first few laps. It was great to get amongst – and get past – some of the front-running LMP2 cars. It was also great to have the chance to drive a double-stint, as I was really getting to grips with the car by the end. The whole team did a great job and I really appreciated being part of it.”
Patrick McClughan #48 (LMP2): “This was my first ever ELMS race and it was great. I’ve learnt so much over the past few days and, once I got used to the car, I could feel the confidence building and with it, the speed. Overall, this has been a great experience and I’m extremely grateful to Greg (Murphy) and the team for all they have done and for the chance to drive an LMP2 car for the very first time.”
Rob Garofall #14 (LMP3): “Considering the issues we had in Practice and Qualifying, I think we did extremely well and, when we could get a clear run at things in the race, we showed that the potential was there. It was just a shame that Alex didn’t get the opportunity in the final stint, as I think he could have made a real difference. Even so, it’s been an absolutely awesome weekend with the team. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and I hope to have the chance to drive for Murphy Prototypes again.”
Barrie Baxter #14 (LMP3): “This was my first experience in a down-force car and it was amazing. Losing the right-hand mirror made things difficult in the race and I wanted to get the car back for the team, so I didn’t take any chances. This is endurance racing after all. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these few days with such a great bunch of people. It’s been brilliant and I’ve learnt a great deal in the process.”
Alex Kapadia #14 (LMP3): “After about 15-minutes of being in the car I was just getting into my stride when the rain came. I was so looking forward to making up places in the last part of the race and doing a good job for the team, but with the yellow flag period and the safety car it was not to be. But, when you consider that all of the other LMP3 teams in the same machinery have had so much more track time than us, I think we did well. It’s been great to be reunited with the team and I hope to be back again soon!”