Northern Ireland FF1600: Murray Leads the Way
 August 2, 2017| 
  • Feeder Series

NEWTOWNARDS, Northern Ireland -- The old adage that ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’ is as true today as it was back in the day when whomever said it first actually said it!

Living proof comes in the tall, slim and perennially cheerful shape of Niall Murray. In 2016, he made it to the final shootout for the Mazda Road to Indy 200k USF2000 Scholarship Shootout by virtue of a dominant year in the BRSCC National British FF1600 Championship which he clinched well ahead of the final round. His Bernard Dolan-run Van Diemen LA10, backed by Motorsport Ireland, was the class of the field on numerous occasions, and the Dubliner took it all in his stride.

However the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca shootout proved to be a step too far.

So, like a true racer he returned for 2017 with the same car and team, but in the Northern Ireland Championship this time and  with every prospect of repeating his success.

Except that the Kirkistown-based series has proved to be a tougher nut to crack and while, going into the second half of the season, he tops the points table, he has had to fight all the way, mainly because  this year's Irish talent pool is wider and deeper than it has been for many years.

Murray's main opposition so far has come from Kevin O’Hara, whose family-run Van Diemen RF01 has won twice, finished second four times and taken several fastest laps, including setting a new lap record at the May Kirkistown event while pursuing his rival.

Following the June meeting, which also featured three rounds of the BRSCC ‘National’ series, the pair remained close. Murray was ahead by 16 points, but with 44 points available over each race weekend, the game was still very much on.

The more so as James Roe (Van Diemen RF99) and Alan Davidson (Mondiale M89S) were tied for third place just eight points behind O’Hara.

But when the series turned up at the Co. Down circuit, Lady Luck had taken up residence in Murray's garage, or so it seemed.

O’Hara set pole times for both races, and despite a spirited start from Murray was on course to add to his tally of wins for the first few laps, at which point a tangle at the back of the field brought out the safety car and it all changed.

At the restart the pair set about distancing themselves from the rest of the pack, side by side into the Harpin on numerous occasions, but closely followed by a train comprising David McCullough (RF01), Jordan Dempsey (RF00),  Davidson and Roe.

The issue remained in doubt until the 14th and final lap, but when it mattered it was Murray ahead by 0.125s, the top six finishers covered by just 1.7 seconds!

Murray also took fastest lap and the extra championship point that goes with it.

O’Hara again started from pole in Race 2, and after the inevitable squabbling of the first few laps, established himself at the head of the field with Murray leading the pursuers.

O’Hara really had the bit between his teeth and had powered away to a relatively massive three-second lead by Lap 14, just two laps from home when…..Lady Luck emerged from the dark recesses of the Murray garage and waved her wand.

The red Van Diemen coasted to a halt with a dead engine – electrical failure – leaving the way clear for Murray to cruise to his second victory of the day, and a 39-point lead in the title chase.

With 112 points apiece to Murray's 159, Davidson and Roe (still tied for third place) are still just in touch with the top so it’s not over yet.

Two more races are scheduled for August 26 with another 44 points up for grabs, followed by the season-closer, the ‘Festival format’ Martin Donnelly Trophy in October where a further 22 could be won.
It could go right down to the wire.

To make matters a little more complex, of the championship-leading quartet only Murray and Roe are eligible for the Mazda Road to Indy shootout, the other two being slightly too old to qualify. This, however, has not had any effect on their pace. Their sights may be fixed on the local championship rather than the Road to Indy, but there’s no shortage of ambition and neither will worry too much about raining on Murray's – or Roe’s – parade as their campaigns unfold.

Roe has so far taken four second places but has led a lot of laps, while Davidson scored his first win in the June race – a hectic affair during which Murray and O’Hara clashed during the course of a six-car scrap which lasted all the way to the chequered flag.

The season's other winner was Noel Robinson, whose year has been interesting to say the least. Having started late for unrelated reasons, the Portadown man then encountered various problems, starting with a torpedo attack in Kirkistown's first corner which left him viewing the world from an unfamiliar angle, and then a strong of mechanical and electrical problems which has put him out of the title chase, although he remains capable of snatching points from those at the top of the table whenever he appears. 

Click here for video replay of Race One

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