Niall Murray’s rapid British GT Debut in Ginetta
Having announced in the days leading up to round eight of the 2017 British GT Championship that he would join forces with Jacob Mathiassen in the #43 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4 for his series debut, Dubliner Niall Murray was chomping at the bit for the action to begin as he arrived at the Kent circuit on Friday morning to prepare for the weekend ahead.
A proven winner in everything he has raced to date, this was set to be one of Murray’s biggest tests so far. Without the benefit of any pre-event experience of his new mount, Niall’s first taste of the Ginetta G55 came on Saturday morning in Free Practice one which began just after 9.30am. With Mathiassen completing the initial installation laps, watched by many, Murray took over the car early in the session for his first laps at the wheel. His progress was rapid, but his stint was short, drive shaft failure after just four laps coming out of Graham Hill bend dealt the #43 crew an early blow as they sought to maximise the practice time.
Having made the most of what they had learned from the shortened running in Free Practice one, Murray opted to start the second and final practice session of the weekend just after 12pm. Lighting up the timing screen, onlookers were now getting a taste of what was potentially in store with the Murray Motorsport backed driver at the wheel. Flying up the order, Niall’s time placed them fourth fastest in GT4. Teammate Jacob Mathiassen was having his first taste of the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit and his times were falling with every lap, leaving the young duo filled with confidence going into qualifying.
British GT’s qualifying format consists of two ten-minute sessions, with the starting order for the race decided based upon a combination of both drivers best laps. However the picture was now very different since Free Practice after the heavens had opened prior to the session and soaked the venue. Despite the fact the sun was now rapidly drying the circuit, for Murray it was definitely wet tyres on a full wet setup for the first part of qualifying. Having to start the learning process all over again, Murray didn’t hang around and improved with every lap. On the final tour, Niall put in his best effort to top the times by over three tenths of a second. Next it was over to Mathiassen for the second and final part of qualifying. Initially doing a sighting lap on wets, the track was now coming to suit slicks and he quickly came into the pits for a rapid pitstop by the Century Motorsport mechanics to change over to slicks. The Danish driver made the most of the change setting the sixth fastest time, and combined with Niall’s best effort would place them third of the GT4 runners for Sunday’s race.
Following a hassle-free run in Sunday morning’s 10-minute Warm-up, Niall would be the starting driver for the main race of the weekend starting just after 2pm. It was all new territory for Murray, his first British GT race and also his first rolling start, but as the lights went out there was no signs of inexperience as he held his third position into the first corner. However the opening laps of the race would be intense with plenty of position swapping. With the Garage59 McLaren now in the lead, Niall was tussling with the Academy Motorsport, HHC Motorsport and Lanan Racing cars for second place. Having cleared the latter pair by the third lap, the Century Motorsport driver was now hunting down the Aston Martin and keen to capitalise on any opportunity. However his good work was undone on lap six when he was forced onto the grass approaching Stirling Bend, dropping him to fourth in class initially, before the lost momentum allowed the HHC & Lanan cars to muscle their way past.
Recomposing himself for a renewed charge, the field was neutralised at the end of lap 16 to aid the recovery of the Academy Motorsport Aston Martin. When racing got back underway five laps later, Niall set about putting in some solid times and closing into the lead pack in front. As the clock turned past the one-hour point, Murray dived into the pits and a superb pitstop had fresh tyres fitted and Jacob in the car with time to spare. Exiting the pits, Mathiassen was now up to third in GT4 once the pitstop shuffle had settled. However, the team were about to be dealt a huge blow, with officials deeming the release from the pitstop being unsafe and handing down a 20 second stop and go penalty to be served immediately. Dropping them out of contention, Jacob returned to the track and set about putting in a series of fast laps to try and move them back up the order. In the end, his best effort was less than half a second shy of Murray’s fastest time and helped them secure eighth overall in GT4. Despite the result, this new driver combination impressed many and looks set to be a force to be reckoned with at the final round in Donington Park.