We have a history in Ireland of having produced very quick drivers, specifically FF1600 ones. Roe, Acheson, Devaney, Byrne, Daly, Kennedy etc etc.
This has not changed in recent years and “The Irish” have always been a factor at what in recent years have become known as “The Trophy Races”, namely The Formula Ford Festival and The Walter Hayes Trophy. Noel Dunne, Neville Smith etc were always worth watching when they went to take on the best. In recent years, the class has died in the south of Ireland, with no FF1600 races now being run at Mondello, even though it continues to be strong in Northern Ireland, with Kirkistown enjoying good grids and great racing from their mainly Ulster based racers.
Despite this, and mainly thanks to the introduction of Ginetta Junior Ireland here in 2012, we have still had a stream of young talent, many of whom have chosen FF1600 for an early step on their career path.
Of the current pack, there is no shortage of talent, but perhaps there is when it comes to consistency. As a seasoned observer said to me recently over a pint, “Plenty of quick lads around but Murray always gets the job done”. I tend to concur with the seasoned observer. Jordan Dempsey and James Roe for example have no shortage of talent, of that there is no doubt. Throw your mind back, however to Kirkistown last year when Murray, literally just off the plane from the USA, was shoveled off at Colonial on the opening laps. In a his trademark charging style, he scythed his way up through the pack. By the time he got to fourth, Dempsey, Davidson and Roe were well ahead. Murray tracked them down, put them away in quick succession, and added to his incredible tally of FF1600 wins. Two years ago, he was totally dominant in the UK, winning pretty much everything. Having grabbed himself a ticket to the Road To Indy, he was not chosen for the drive and returned home again to grab another ticket by winning the Kirkistown series. This he did, but once again, came home without a drive.
There was no word of a campaign over the winter months, but a week ahead of the Avon Tyres BRSCC series, he was confirmed with the newly named and expanded Team Dolan, back in his old Van Diemen chassis. Predictably, he was at the sharp end all weekend and only contact from behind, which damaged his rear suspension whilst he was leading, prevented him from winning race two. In race three, with the top drivers reversed, Niall looked as if the blood was up and he was fourth inside a lap, having started seventh. One by one, as we have seen many times before, the leaders fell to the charging Murray. He was like an ad for CL Brakes as he quickly scythed his way to the front. There was subsequent contact in his mirrors but it made no difference, Niall had already begun to open the gap. To prove his point, his final laps were the fastest of the whole weekend and he crossed the line 6.5 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger.
So, his talent is unquestioned, but where does he go next? He has already dominated UK FF1600- two long years ago. The Mazda Road To Indy didn’t work- twice, for reasons that were never really made public. Let’s not forget that Murray has jumped into a family run SEAT Supercup machine and won the title and also flew in a one off drive in a Ginetta in British GT last year.
He has been racing FF1600 since 2013 however, and if he does not make a move to another class soon, is he in danger of being seen as a benchmark for younger drivers, as opposed to one of them?
I remember an article in Michael O’Carroll’s Irish Motorsport Annual many years ago entitled “Stay at home boys, it’s a sport, not a career.” I really hope that’s not true…..
Images from Jakob Ebrey Photography.