Niall Murray produced the drive of the weekend to take second place in Round Eight of the Ginetta Junior Championship at Oulton Park. The Irishman opted for slick tyres on the damp circuit and stormed through from the back to take his second podium of the season, the result being a huge relief after a run of disappointing results, including an eighth place finish in Round Seven.
Murray headed to the challenging Cheshire circuit off the back of a disastrous meeting last time out at Thruxton, which saw a hefty incident in race one, with damage from that causing him to retire from the second race also. With Niall's racing experience before 2011 coming in Ireland, like for many circuits, it was his first time at Oulton Park.
The 15 year old admits it took him a while to get used to the circuit, commenting: “It was my first time driving here on Friday and I was nearly three seconds a lap off the front in both the sessions. We changed a bit of the set up for qualifying, but that was just a disaster, Fourteenth place for both races, really where we didn't want to be. I couldn't get into the groove with the track, just couldn't get into a rhythm of driving the same lap every time, I just kept making mistakes.”
Beacon Racing's Murray headed into the weekend's first race hoping that his racing experience and good racecraft would help him work his way up the order. A great opening lap saw him move up to eleventh, but he was unable to make any further progress until mid-distance, when he made his way up to ninth, before gaining an extra place on the final lap to finish eighth.
The Murray Motorsport backed driver commented: “The race didn't go too bad. We got a bit of help with the set up and going into the race it was just so much better. I was stuck behind Paddy McClughan for most the race and he had no brake lights, so it was quite hard to pass him. I got up to eighth and finished there, but I reckon if I'd dispatched Paddy earlier in the race, I would have been a lot higher.”
Sunday saw the rain falling over the circuit, just the conditions that Niall was hoping for. By the time the race started, the rain had stopped, with Niall's team deciding to take a gamble of putting him out on slick tyres. Early contact sent him spinning down to fourteenth, but a storming drive through the field saw him up to eighth on lap five, before gaining a superb five places in one lap to move into third, before taking second place on the final lap.
A delighted Murray reflected: “My brother Eoin made the decision in paddock assembly to change to the dry tyres. We were looking around and nobody else was changing, so we were a bit sceptical as we couldn't see the track from the assembly area, but Eoin walked over to see the track and could see a dry line appearing as it had stopped raining at that point.
“We agreed to change the tyres as we were fourteenth, if it worked it would be very good, if not then it's not a big deal. Luckily it did work and I can't thank Eoin enough for making the decision, if it wasn't for him I wouldn't have finished second.
“After about two or three laps I just knew I was on the right tyres, I was catching every driver by about three or four car length on one corner, I was quicker all around. With two laps to go I was in third and trying to catch George [Gamble]. I could see him in the very far distance, so just put my head down and tried to put in a couple of really good laps. I did that, I think my last lap was my quickest, and I got George at the Hairpin on the last lap.
“I feel I might have been able to keep Seb honest if I didn't get spun at the last corner after a couple of laps, but that's the way it is and it's still great to finish second from fourteenth.”
The result is particularly pleasing for Dublin based Murray after a difficult couple of meeting's, as he explains: “It means a lot. The Donington podium was my high so far for the season, then second race at Donington was terrible. Thruxton got hit off on the second corner so didn't finish and damage from that meant I didn't finish the second race, then qualifying here didn't go well, so I was on a real downer.
“I know I can be at the top and I was just scratching my head wondering why I'm not. So second today is just phenomenal.”
The result in race two has put Niall in confident mood heading into the rest of the season, concluding: “My aim for the championship at the start was top five and a race win, but now I think top three in the championship maybe and more wins. I'm definitely capable of it, I'm showing flashes of speed and I know myself I can be very quick.”