Niall Murray is realising a childhood dream this season as he competes on the British Touring Car Championship package in the 2011 Ginetta Junior Championship. The 15 year old Irishman comes into the series as reigning Ginetta Junior Ireland champion and is looking to push for podiums and wins in his Beacon Racing run G40 Junior, as he told TCF at the series opening weekend at Brands Hatch.
After years in karting, Murray was at a loose end as to what to do last season until the Ginetta backed series became available in his homeland, as he explains: “I was planning on doing nothing in 2010, maybe one or two kart races, then the Ginetta Junior Ireland popped up. My dad and some other people were helping to start it up, they brought in a lot of the Ginetta G20's that they used to run here. So I couldn't say no then, I did one test day before the season started to decide my car and then after that it was just a demo race and then the first weekend.”
Those first races went perfectly and became the platform for a great season which saw the MurrayMotorsport.ie backed driver take the championship and pick up a great prize in the process: “The first weekend I qualified pole for both the races and won them both, so that was my headstart in the season really. I was delighted with that. The rest of the season was about being consistent really. I was top three in all the races except the last one and I won the championship at round seven. Towards the end it got very tough to win the races, the lads behind me, Andy O'Brien and Joel Richardson, were right on top of me and I couldn't pull away.
“After winning the championship, Ginetta gave the prize for a fully funded drive in this year's UK Ginetta Championship, the use of the car and fully paid entry fees. It was tough to get the funding for it though, the flights, the team, the tyres, the testing and everything.”
The teenager is full of praise for the Ginetta Ireland backed series, which filled a big gap in the Irish motorsport ladder: “It's a brilliant series. There's nothing else to do when you're 14, 15 except for karting, but that's just gotten so expensive and to get into the British and European series, you have to put in an unbelievable amount of money.
“Therefore the Ginetta's a great stepping stone from karting or rallycross into anything else, as it's a cheap series, similar cars, you learn a lot of racecraft, its fairly close racing and you learn the basics of testing, qualifying and racing.”
Coming over the UK to race for the first time means Murray has had to work had to try and learn some of the circuits: “All the tracks are brand new so I had to do some testing. Thanks to my brother Eoin, who did the British Touring Cars, he knew all the tracks, so he's given be a big hand trying to learn them. He gave me a lot of tuition on the computer at home and on pen and paper.”
However he feels his season in Ireland racing the Ginetta G20 will give him a slight edge over some of his fellow rookies: “It will help a lot, especially the fact it's a similar car, compared to others who are coming from front wheeled drive cars, rallycross and stuff like that, whereas I'm coming from basically the older version of this car. It is rear wheel drive and its similar to handle.”
Despite his lack of experience in the UK, he is looking for a strong opening season in the championship: “Our hope is to have a two year plan, but obviously we need a big budget for next year as we won't have the funding. My plan for this year is top five finish in the championship and at least one race win. I can't really hope for better than that as it is my first time at the tracks, it's a new car to me really and its very competitive over here.”
The chance to come over and race in the series is realising a lifetime ambition for Dublin-based Murray, as he explains: “It probably sounds cheesy, but ever since I can remember, I've always dreamed of being on the BTCC package. Anytime my brother was racing on it, I've always been here and just looking at the cars, dreaming that I'd be here someday and it's just fantastic to be here, to look out the window and its British Touring Cars on the track. It's just amazing to watch and to be on live TV on ITV4, I couldn't ask for anymore really.”