This weekend saw Sean Doyle return to the wheel of the Murphy Prototypes LMP2 car at the world famous Spa Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. This was Doyle’s second time at the 7km circuit, and his first drive in the the Oreca 03 Nissan powered LMP2 car since the European Le Mans Series round at Spa last September.
Having travelled from their Dublin base, the team hit the track Friday morning for the 30 minute qualifying session. The weather forecast in the Ardennes was for rain – very common in this part of Belgium, and unfortunately, it was at the very start of the practice session. The team decided to opt for the full wet Dunlop tyre. With race engineer Sean Thompson giving Doyle the brief on what the team needed to achieve in practice, everything worked smoothly during the practice session. After 4 laps, the tyres showed no signs of degradation, even though the track was dry in places and wet in others. Doyle focused on reducing his lap time, eventually resulting in 5th position on the grid for the inaugural FIA Historic Endurance Championship Race.
Saturday was race day: after a foggy start the sun came out later in the morning. Of course, the infamous Ardennes weather means that anything could happen by the time of the race at 14:50. The team went through a couple of scenarios regarding weather, safety cars, fuel and of course when to take their mandatory 1 minute pitstop.
The Murphy Prototypes Nissan-powered lined up for the race at 14:30. The car looked amazing in its in period Le Mans Gas Monkey livery, matching some of the spectacular machinery on the grid: Audi LMP1, Peugeot LMP1, Aston Martin V12 LMP1, Dallara LMP1, Aston Martin GTE – some of the most impressive machinery to race in sports car racing in the last 15 years.
The race strategy started right on the warm-up lap: it’s all about building temperature through sharp brake inputs to build heat through the tyre and rim also. For the race start, you turn the engine map to full power for the start of the race, and aim to keep it clean through the first few tricky Spa bends. Then, as partially expected, the weather changed and the rain came after the first lap. Sean kept his cool and stayed out on the wet track with slicks, keeping the car on black stuff, and sensationally taking the overall race lead from the LMP1 cars.
During the race, Doyle was in a fierce battle with Jonathan Kennard, also driving an LMP2 Oreca. Kennard was putting the pressure on Doyle but he knew just to keep driving as the rain wasn’t going to last for long. When Kennard took the lead on lap 4 and pitted on lap 5, Doyle pushed hard while Kennard was in the pits and made his mandatory one minute pit stop two laps later.
“When we stopped in the pits, it felt like the longest one minute ever” said Sean. Nevertheless, As Doyle left the pitlane, Kennard came around La Source behind and Doyle kept the lead all the way to the end for an impressive victory.
Speaking after the Sean commented: “it was a great feeling to cross the line the winner. Indeed, it was a little bit emotional to win at such an amazing and famous circuit. I had a great race and actually enjoyed the tricky wet conditions – racing in the wet in Ireland really paid off. I’d like to thank my team for working hard- it was a great effort by everyone to get the car here and it was such an amazing event I met so many new people and hopefully made a name for myself in the Historic racing scene.”