Murray delivers at Silverstone to lead British FF1600 Championship
Former Champion Niall Murray made a sensational return to the Avon Tyres BRSCC British Formula Ford 1600 Championship last weekend with the newly established Team DOLAN, securing a trio of podium finishes that included a dominant win of over six seconds in the third and final race on Sunday afternoon.
One of the biggest stories of the off season which came in the week leading up to the opening round, was Murray confirming his intentions to return to a series he dominated in 2016. Niall himself however was quick to highlight the scale of the challenge ahead in a series that has gone from strength to strength in recent years, particularly in 2018 as the championship joins onto the new for 2018 TCR UK series and brings with it a host of attractive features including live TV streaming.
Although Bernard Dolan is no stranger to the British championship, having engineered and run the championship winning cars over two of the last three seasons, this year would see him make a more established presence in the paddock under the Team DOLAN banner with Matt Round-Garrido and Jack Wolfenden joining forces with Murray to create a formidable line up for this ultra-competitive series.
Wet conditions greeted drivers on Saturday for the opening day of competitive action at the Northamptonshire circuit. Having not driven his all-conquering RF99 since 2016, Murray had to try and dial himself in quickly as he got up to speed with the characteristics of the car on a tricky circuit. Despite the challenging conditions, Murray was joint fastest in free practice, amazingly setting the same time as Michael Moyers. In qualifying, he secured the fifth fastest time on an evolving circuit with every lap as conditions slowly improved.
With some confusion around the time to release the cars to the grid for the opening race of the 2018 season on Saturday afternoon, Niall was forced to take to the track with a mixed setup on a circuit that was now favouring those close to a full dry setup. Nevertheless, Murray made the most of the situation and by the end of the opening lap was already up two places to third. With a scrap for the lead developing between Josh Fisher, Joey Foster and Michael Moyers, positions were changing on every tour, with Murray briefly leading on lap six. Clearly struggling compared to his rivals in terms of setup on a drying track, Niall was putting on a superb display that by the time the chequered flag fell, he secured third position and with it, a solid start to his championship challenge.
With Sunday offering far more favourable weather conditions, Murray was set to line up on the outside of the second row, but this time ready to take his first victory. Widely regarded as one of the best classes to provide close racing, this race wasn’t set to disappoint. Once again the battle for the lead was frantic, with Foster, Fisher and Moyers again playing starring roles but this time Luke Cooper was also throwing his hat in the ring. By the half way point Murray was hunting down Moyers before eventually finding a way past to lead and then attracting the close attentions of Fisher. With the latter getting a little too close on lap 11 coming into Brooklands, Niall was given some brief breathing room as Josh slipped down the order. However with a heavily damaged left rear bottom wishbone from the contact, Murray was left with a challenge on his hands to maintain his advantage. It wasn’t long before a charging Cooper capitalised on Niall’s struggles to grab the lead and the positions from there would remain largely unchanged to the end, Murray this time going one better from race one to secure second and with it, an early championship lead.
For the third and final race of the weekend on Sunday afternoon, the top eight finishing positions from race two were reversed, placing Niall seventh on the grid and with plenty of work to do if he was to take his maiden win of the season. By the end of the opening lap, it was clear that Murray wasn’t going to be stopped. Having already jumped up to fifth starting lap two, he would continue to climb a further two places at the end of the second tour. Next on his list was Foster and pole-sitter Stuart Gough. With a clear advantage over his rivals on the brakes coming into Becketts and Brooklands, these had turned out to be his main hunting grounds. By the end of lap three Niall was now leading, with two supreme moves around the outside of Foster and Gough during the previous lap.
Keen to get away and secure his lead, Murray starting banging in a series of fastest laps to break the tow and prevent his rivals from reeling him back in. With nobody appearing to have the measure of the Irishman, Niall took the chequered flag to win with a staggering 6.5 second advantage and also the fastest lap of the race, which was fast enough to lower Silverstone’s Formula Ford 1600 lap record around the 1.64 mile National Circuit. His trio of strong podium finishes compared to some mixed results from his nearest rivals now places Murray in the lead of the championship and a clear indication that he is going to be the man to beat again in 2018.
Niall Murray – #5 Team DOLAN Van Diemen RF99:
“I think it’s fair to say that was a hard but very enjoyable weekend. Saturday was tricky with the conditions changing. The one race I’m a bit disappointed with is race two on Sunday as without the damage to the rear I believe I could have won that one too. But more importantly, I’ve approached this weekend aiming to collect as many points as possible, and that’s what we’ve done so it’s great to start the year leading the championship. I said it wasn’t going to be easy coming into this weekend and as the races proved, it wasn’t, but I still can’t wait for the next round. Thanks to Team DOLAN for giving me a superb car, in race three it was probably the best it’s ever been.”
Knockhill Racing Circuit, Fife, Scotland – Saturday 12th & Sunday 13th May 2018.