Irishman Niall Murray enjoyed a sensational maiden year in the Ginetta Junior Championship, the Beacon Racing driver taking two wins on his way to fourth in the championship standings. The Checkered Flag spoke with Murray after his victory in the final race of the season at Silverstone to discuss his great 2011 campaign.
Murray headed into the season looking for a top five finish in the championship standings, but knew it would be hard to do so in the competitive Junior series. A strong start saw him take his first podium in the third race of the year, before adding to it at the fourth meeting of the year at Oulton Park.
After a couple of mixed meetings, Murray really came into his own at the end of the season. The Dubliner took double podiums finishes at each of the final three meetings at Rockingham, Brands Hatch and Silverstone, including his first two victories in the series. The six consecutive podium finishes meant he ended the year with eight to his name, putting him a superb fourth in the championship standings.
Murray said: “I've totally exceeded my hopes for the year. Coming into the year, I didn't think I'd be able to get so many podiums and to be honest I didn't really think I'd be able to get a race win. I wanted top five in the championship and thought I could get that if I got consistent top five finishes, so fourth in the championship, I'm absolutely delighted, and two race wins is more than I could have asked for.”
15 year old Murray's two wins this year couldn't have come in more different circumstances. His first at Brands Hatch saw him sitting in second and challenging for the lead late on when there was contact, dropping him back to second. Murray was later promoted to victory when the stewards penalised champion Seb Morris for the contact. It was the same two drivers battling it out in the last race of the year at Silverstone, this time Murray managing to hold out in front despite much contact from behind to take another win.
Murray commented: “I was disappointed at Brands, but I had to be happy with the win. I knew I had the pace for victory and I was passing him for the win when the contact happened. I got the win on the timesheet at the end, but it didn't feel like a win. Therefore today was brilliant, to get my first on track win in the series, in my first year, is pretty good and I'm delighted to get it. The race was so tough and it felt like such a long race when you're in the lead, so it was really good to win.”
The season marked Murray's first voyage into racing in the UK and that provided a lot of challenges for him. The 2010 Ginetta Junior Ireland champion headed into the season with no knowledge of the circuits used and with it costing too much to come over from Ireland to test, he was unable to get the much needed testing mileage under his belt. Fortunately, help from his brother, former BTCC, Clio Cup and Ford Fiesta racer Eoin Murray, meant he was able to be competitive.
Murray said: “It's been a huge disadvantage, as half the people have raced on the tracks last year and the rest have the money to test before most meetings. We don't have the money to test, as it costs us more to fly over, so we didn't do any during the year. My brother Eoin did the touring cars a couple of years ago, so he knows all the tracks and he's just been a brilliant help all year.
“Before each race weekend we'd sit in the office at home and watch on-board videos on Youtube to show me the line, then at meetings, after each session we'd look at my on-board footage and data to see what I'm doing right and wrong. It's just been a massive help, without him it would have been a huge struggle.”
Former Irish Rallycross champion Murray loved his first season in the Ginetta Juniors, getting stuck into the rough and tumble action in the series. Niall relished battling it out on track with some of the best young racers in the UK, all on the prestigious TOCA package.
Murray reflected: “It's absolutely brilliant. There's been a lot of contact, but with juniors racing, it's some peoples first time in cars, so everyone's learning. I raced in Ginetta's and Rallycross back home last year, so I learnt then what to do in a car and I was fairly confident coming here that I'd be better than some of lads coming straight up from karting. The championship was absolutely brilliant; racing competitively on the TOCA package is fantastic.”
After his competitive first season, Murray believes if he returns next year, he can take the championship, concluding: “Our idea all along was a two year plan, to get top five this year and then to go for the championship next year. Hopefully if the budget comes together, we can fight for the title.”