Well guys it’s been a while since I’ve done a blog but I’m back and raring to go! In 2015, I raced in the new ASK Supercar Championship, which brought back the famous RT2000 racecars. I had a good time in the championship, winning the first 6 races, but as time went by, my role in Murphy Prototypes on their young driver programme grew and I had to be at more of the races with them- meaning I wasn’t able to finish my season in the Supercars.
I have been working with the team in both their Dublin office and the workshop in the UK organising things from transport for the race transporters to ordering teamwear for all the team.
A couple weeks before the first race I was made aware I could be driving in Silverstone for the first round of the European Le Mans series in the Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03-R. I had been working in the workshop in the UK two weeks prior to the first event doing final prep for the weekend. I took the opportunity while I was there to go on the simulator in IZone driver performance by Andy Priaulx which is in the enterprise park near the back of Copse corner on the circuit.
Because I had never driven anything with such huge amount of downforce and the carbon brakes were going to take some getting used to, the sim was going to be my first taste of this before the free practice session on the Friday before the race. I didn’t really know what to expect in the sim as I’d never been in one so that was a new experience as well. It went very well though, and everyone was happy with how my first time in it went. I did another half hour on the sim before the weekend. I felt confident going into the weekend even though I was out of my comfort zone, in a new car with huge differences, two tonnes of down force at over 290kph!
The two free practices were on the Friday with Damien Faulkner going out first in the car to give it a shakedown as it hadn’t turned a wheel since the final race in Estoril in October, but his second flying lap the brakes started to stick on and came to a complete stop on the track, we got the car back to the pits and changes the master cylinder, then Damien went back out for a few laps to make sure everything was ok. Unfortunately an oil pipe then decided to work loose and we had to bring the car back in again. The guys worked super hard to get the car back out and then it was my turn.
This was it, my first drive in an LMP2 car! This was what I had worked towards throughout my career- and here I was in the pitlane at Silverstone, the home of the British Grand Prix, at the wheel of the 500 bhp Nissan-Oreca 03R, in damp conditions and with some oil on track too, just to make it even more exciting! I gingerly headed out the pitlane and as soon as I got up to speed I had a spin. I’ll be honest, it was a bit frightening watching big GT cars hurtling towards me as I tried to get out of the way! I radioed into the guys and they said come in. They had a look around- all was ok and off I went again. This time I settled down and did 8 or 10 constant and competitive lap times- pressure off!
For the second session, I went out again, and just got to grips with the car, trying to feel the limits of grip and how far I could push the aero. The aero was new to me, but really cool, Stowe corner, the fast right hander, is blind on entry. Coming up to it you hit the limiter at 290kph, then brake hard, down two gears and turn in but you just have to commit to the corner and keep building speed as you come to the apex.
Unfortunately our qualifying didn’t go well and we didn’t complete a flying lap which put us starting at the very back of the 44 car grid. We worked hard and I had a great stint. It was such a cool experience overtaking GT cars. The Ferrari GT is so loud when you’re behind it because the engine is in the rear and then once you’re alongside it, it’s almost as if everything goes completely silent!
After a great first weekend in Silverstone in April, I was looking forward to the world famous Autodromo Di Enzo Ferrari Imola. The Murphy Prototypes car was proven there in 2015 with a podium. With a great young driver line up- Patrick McClughan, Garry Findlay and myself, we had a strong chance as we are all quick, young, ambitious, career driven drivers.
Imola is such an iconic track. The TV doesn’t do the track any justice whatsoever. On my Thursday track walk, you could see houses right around the outskirts of the corners, huge inclines and undulations which you can understand in person but really feel them in the car.
We showed good pace in Free Practice one (FP1) on Friday afternoon. I was second in the car after Garry, and Patrick went out third. Going down the pitlane on the pit limiter and then unleashing the 500bhp Nissan VK-45 at the end of the pit-lane is still an amazing experience, going all the way from from 1st gear to 5th before the first left-right chicane. I had 12 laps in the session of an hour and a half, the same as the other guys. It was great to finally get on track, and it felt a real privilege to be driving around such an iconic circuit.
The second practice session was on Saturday morning. Again I was second in the car for the session , but on the softer tyre to get a feel for the car in different situations and get used to the tyres for a longer period during the race. It was clear that if you tried to carry too much speed into the corner the car would understeer which, in turn ,hurt the tyres and therefore they wouldn’t last the distance during the race. I came in and made some adjustments to the rear to settle the car in the mid-to-exit part of the corners. My session was interrupted a couple of times with full course yellows (FCYs). With lots of traffic and not a lot of room for overtaking, it was hard to get all the sectors together to get a good time. Looking at the sector time, it was clear that, when I got a clear run, I would be able to put a good lap together. The team were showing good pace with 3rd or 4th quickest in the session.
I went up above the garages to get a better look at any weather fronts coming in. All looked good, right up to about 10 minutes before my stint, before the Italian sky decided to let loose. Patrick pitted for intermediate tyres and I got in. Immediately a Full Course Yellow (FCY) was imposed for a stricken car on the circuit. To make things worse, the heavens opened completely. Even though we were restricted to 80kph, I still had to tip toe my way around to get back to the pits and get the wet tyres on. The rain continued to bucket down still with the FCYs out. With 30 minutes to go, the track was still under FCY, but then the safety car came out. I thought we might get a few flying laps to try clear a dry line but unfortunately they left the safety car out till the very end of the race. I didn’t get to do one racing lap – all of my laps were done behind the safety car and under Full Course Yellow. It was a shame because I wanted to drive the car in the rain. Having cut my teeth in the wet and windy environs of Mondello Park, wet conditions don’t faze me at all – in fact, I felt that we could actually have made up lots of places!
Red Bull Ring Austria:
On the back of my experience in the first two races in Silverstone and Imola, as well as lots of hard work, both on fitness and in the simulator in IZone driver performance centre in Silverstone on the weeks leading up, I felt more confident than ever that I could deliver for the team. I’m part of the Murphy Prototypes Young Driver Programme, so it was a great honour to be part of a strong driver line-up including ex Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok and Guglielmo Belloti. There was some great teamwork shown by the team of talented race engineers and mechanics, and the Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03 scored a solid 8th place and ran faultlessly through the race.
Indeed, it was big week for the team, starting on the Monday and Tuesday before the race weekend we ran the new Ave Riley LMP3 for a two-day test/shake down. The car showed some true pace and showed it was quick straight out of the box!
My team mates for the weekend were two great guys. Guglielmo Belloti is the GM of well-known Italian helmet maker, Stilo. Their carbon fibre helmets are so light that Guglielmo reckons that they are worth a hundredth of a second for Formula 1 drivers. Guglielmo is a great guy and a top gentleman racer – he has won 12 and 24 hour Races across Europe in a Wolf CN. My other teammate was former Formula 1 Driver and current Channel 4 F1 Technical Adviser, Karun Chandok. As befits a driver with his experience, Karun is great at understanding the car dynamics, and it was fantastic to have his insight on tweaking our set-up during practice for qualifying and race set-up. He has also had a great media profile, with the TV crews coming to the garage to seek his opinion.
During the test days on Monday and Tuesday, I took the opportunity to go to some of the corners and get a glimpse of what the LMP2 drivers were doing on approach and exit. I also did a full track walk on the Thursday to get a real feel for cambers and elevation. The first practice session was Friday morning. It was a chance to get going, get comfortable and get in the rhythm of driving.
I went out second in the car after Karun with a full tank and used tyres to get a feel of the car on full fuel. I had a good session and my times were competitive but we still had some changes to make to the car. In the debrief after the first session we all sat down with a track map and wrote down where we think we needed to improve the car.
After a long week, we were ready to go for the race start at 14:00 on Sunday. The buzz around the track is incredible: the grid walk, the music, the grid girls. Its lots of fun, but the time had come to race. Guglielmo started the race for the team; it was immediately clear that the Murphy Prototypes Oreca O3 LMP2 had the race pace to deliver a good finish. Both Karun and Guglielmo drove great stints for the first couple of hours. With 1 hour and forty minutes to go, I took the car over for a double stint to bring the car to the end of the race. The car was great through my double stint and I felt the most comfortable I had ever been in the Oreca O3 LMP2. Driving the 500 horsepower race car is demanding both physically and mentally. Just as demanding are the drivers you are up against: Formula One drivers like Guido Van Der Garde, Le Mans Winners, Harry Tincknell and Nicolas Lapierre, multiple Formula 2 and Formula 3 champions’, and even a Football World Cup Winner, Fabien Barthez. I was delighted to hold my own against this level of talent: my lap times were consistently in the 1:23 region – the same as the front-runners.
We were in a strong position at the end where we so far ahead of the cars behind us we were unlikely to be caught, so, it was a case of not making any mistakes and bringing the car home for the team. After 1 hour 40 minutes, it was my first time to drive the car for a period of that but it felt natural to me. I knew my job, I knew what had to be done and I did it. I was very proud to bring the car home in 8th position. Great pace, great race! Thanks to Team Principal, Greg Murphy for such a great opportunity, to all the guys in the team for all their help and positive teamwork too.
Thanks to SKC, Oxygen health and Wicklow Tyres for their personal support to me.
Until the next time,
Sean Doyle- LMP2 Driver (How cool does that sound?!)