The 2008 NHRPA European Championship & Davy Evans Memorial Trophy race
Tipperary Motor Speedway, Saturday/Sunday October 11/12 2008
Graham Brown reports: Shane Murphy may not have managed a win at Tipperary until Sunday’s Timms Autoteille/Great Stuff Catering European final, but that was the one that mattered, the popular young Irishman utterly dominating the 50-lapper to win his first major title. Carl Boardley drove a stormer of a race in defence of his crown to eventually claim second spot, with John Christie matching every move the world champion made to wind up third.
With a large and cosmopolitan entry on hand, four heats were run on Saturday to determine Sunday’s grid. It is a measure of how popular this event has become, that if we were to look at all the individual entries in detail, the resulting copy would fill half the website! Suffice to say that there was never going to be any shortage of cars, with seriously strong representation from all centres of National Hot Rod racing. Perhaps it would be easier to list the top guys who weren’t there, really one from each area, Steve Thompson, Mike Riordan and Stewart Doak, the latter only crying off at the last minute.
Although I’m sure there were other tales of woe after practice, some we noted were Carl Boardley having to change a transmission and Willie Hardie suffering braking troubles. Worst of all, John Steele’s meeting never got started, running problems with his Corsa finally being traced to a cracked carb. body. He at least made it as far as the track, while Les Compelli’s car did but he didn’t – or at least, not until it was too late to take part in either of his heats.
The draw immediately threw up what looked like being an interesting battle in heat one, with Colin White getting pole and Christie the outside front row. Anyone licking their lips in anticipation over that one was soon to be disappointed however, as John was very slow away at the green. By contrast, Whitey left the line like a bullet out of a gun and probably didn’t concern himself with his mirrors until the yellows flew a few laps in.
The caution was brought about by Trevor Stroud spinning along the home straight and coming to rest by the second pit gate, giving a number of those following the chance to demonstrate how good their reactions were. Fortunately, in all cases, they were very good indeed…
The caution made precisely no difference to Mr White, who was soon off into the lead again. Prior to the yellow, Damien ‘Drifter’ Mulvey had been running a good second, but afterwards his car began trailing smoke and he slowed dramatically. That put Keith Martin up to second, but under attack from Murphy, Matt Simpson and Christie. Murphy went past Martin too and, even though Keith was in his Haird car rather than his own more familiar equipment, that had to mean Murphy was really motoring. The writing was really on the wall once he not only caught up with White, but challenged the three time world champion hard throughout the last five laps. The fact Shane was prepared to try it up the outside told us more than a little about his level of confidence, even if he never actually made it past.
Pretty good stuff for an opening race then. But could that standard be maintained? Certainly, if heat two was anything to go by. This featured a pretty much flag to flag lead dice between front row starters Malcolm Blackman and Clive Richardson. They went at it hammer and tongs, and while Blackman always had his nose in front, Richardson always looked as though he might just get past.
By contrast, Ronnie McMillan had a somewhat lonely race in third, finishing a quarter of a lap back but still well ahead of impressive fourth man, Jason Winning.
Stuart Carter went straight into the lead in heat three, but they were all brought up short by a multi-car pile up on the back straight. Tom Casey had been running second, but suddenly slowed, throwing those following into confusion.
Gary Woolsey came out of this worst, riding the wall and obliterating the front of his Tigra, bending it upwards at a highly incongruous angle and then limping back to the start/finish with the bonnet buckled up, smoke pouring out everywhere, and damage to the rear as well. All very NASCAR, and all very disappointing for Gary as this was another early exit from a major championship for him, and that’s without the colossal damage bill this little lot is going to incur. Late on Sunday afternoon, the twisted Tigra was seen being loaded into Colin Gomm’s spare space in his transporter, hitching a ride to an English ‘hospital’.
Gary wasn’t the only one to get involved however, as Des Cooney’s qualifying run was also at an end as a result of the shunt, his rear axle severely bent and wheels facing in all the wrong directions.
The completely restarted race saw Carter immediately assume the lead again, initially pursued by Eddie Wall, Barry English and Chris Haird. None of them were going to get anywhere near Carter however, and by flag fall he’d opened out a yawning half lap gap over the rest. They were headed home by Haird, who’d looked jolly handy going by the other placemen – as he often does at Tipp – with Jeff Simpson, Colin Gomm and Christie all looking similarly handy in the rest of the major places.
Orey Stanley got away first from pole in the last qualifier. But, following a brief fight with Stanley, it was going to be another flag to flag jobbie in this one for winner, Carl Boardley. It wasn’t going to be entirely plain sailing however.
Back in the battle for sixth/seventh/eighth/ninth places, Murphy had to survive a scary moment when a wayward Brendan O’Connell had him riding the lower apron of the wall exiting turn four. Then White’s car got all loose coming into three, Colin drifting out onto the marbles. Maximum oppo-locko looked like it was going to save the spin for a moment, but didn’t. Similarly, Willie Hardie got loose in more or less the same spot, clobbered Andy Holtby, and sent Holtby into a wild spin down the home straight which brought out the yellows.
The resumption saw Boardley unfazed by the interruption and soon leaping away into a commanding lead once more, while Stanley drove well to keep an insistent Mark Heatrick at bay. The defending champion was around a quarter lap to the good by the finish, while Stroud got home fourth in this one, only to lose a couple of places to the steward for spinning O’Connell near the end.
Unusually, all the race winners had very poor results in their other heats. Boardley’s ultimately unsuccessful fight with Casey in his first race had put paid to a great overall result for him, while White’s spin meant he’d finished stone last in his second race. Thirteenth wasn’t a terrific finish for Carter in his other race, similarly, twelfth in his other race hadn’t done Blackman any favours either.
All of this meant two reasonably good results were enough for the front row. Murphy’s second and fifth got him pole, while Matt Simpson’s brace of fourths put him alongside. Jeff Simpson and Richardson shared row two, with Gomm and Martin the next rank. Proving conclusively that winning and doing not much else isn’t a great idea under the trusty Longhurst points system, the furthest forward winners were Boardley and Blackman on row five.
With Gary Woolsey obviously a non-starter, and Neville Stanley unhappy enough with his car to rule himself out, that brought non-qualifier but ‘best of the rest’ Sylvia Tobin onto the back of the grid. Although Cooney’s car was now re-fettled and he too would have been eligible to run, he elected not to start from so far back, letting Hardie into the race instead.
The Grid Front
The race was really won and lost on the opening lap, as Murphy beat Matt Simpson to the punch at the green flag, with Jeff Simpson, Richardson, Martin and Christie all slotting in behind.
Simpson stayed in touch for a time, but the leader was soon edging away and extending his advantage, at first to around a quarter of a lap. It was entirely indicative of the way the win was ultimately going to go. That might sound like it was a dull race, but it certainly wasn’t, with the fight for the places raging throughout.
And why wouldn’t it, with those places reading like a who’s who of hot rodding. Second thru eleventh started out as Simpson (M), Simpson (J), Richardson, Martin, Christie, Boardley, Blackman, Carter, White and Haird.
Martin went out with a blown gearbox, before Boardley came into the picture, taking to the outside to pass Christie before towing the Ulsterman along with him after the others ahead. White went by Carter exiting turn two, and then a serious dice ensued, as Jeff Simpson fought to stay ahead of Richardson, Boardley and Christie, the quartet all the while wading through copious traffic.
Boardley got down the outside of Richardson along the back stretch, Christie needing no further example of what to do from the world champ and swiftly following suit.
Richardson had more trouble in store as Blackman and White were chasing to join in too. But first, White managed to put a superb three wide, back straight pass on Blackman as they rounded the back marking Wall car. Colin was obviously loving the three wide stuff, and did it again to take Richardson, this time involving the lapped Stroud car.
By now, Jeff Simpson was having to square up to Boardley and Christie, and this battle was as hard as it comes, Carl riding the wall along the back straight at one point. He came out of the clinch in a shower of dust, with his driver’s door hanging open briefly and still refusing to back off! But the moment had allowed Christie his chance, John darting under Carl in yet another three wide encounter, this time involving Heatrick.
As the brakeless Richardson pulled up on the infield, White finally caught up with the Simpson/Christie/Boardley fight – as if it wasn’t warm enough in there already! And somewhere along the way, Boardley must have found time to re-fasten his door into the bargain, as it was no longer gaping open either. That problem solved, Carl immediately set about redressing the situation with Christie, before once more taking to Simpson’s outside, this time making the pass stick as they tore out of turn four.
Leaving Slim to face up to Christie and White, Boardley set off after Matt S, still running some way ahead and at last closing the gap to the leader as Murphy encountered more and denser traffic.
Christie took to Jeff Simpson’s outside to go by as they crossed the start/finish. That left White to try the same thing, providing a sight I never expected to see again, old rivals Simpson and White in door-to-door action! They touched just once, very gently rounding turn three, White sliding out wide and losing little ground. It seemed inevitable that it would be only a matter seconds before they were at it again, but suddenly Colin was falling back into Blackman’s clutches once more, the 718 car having also run into brake fade problems.
Boardley’s chase of Matt Simpson was briefly interrupted by having to lap Tommy Maxwell but, having survived that, it was soon 303 v 41 for second spot. Boardley tried every avenue of attack until he finally got through down the inside leaving turn two, with Christie once again close enough to copycat the move, hard on Boardley’s bumper.
Had Boardley and Christie not left themselves so much to do after qualifying, it might have been a different story. But all that hard dicing had simply allowed Murphy to open out his lead again, to half a lap by flag fall, and so he deservedly took his highly popular big win after a few near misses in the past.
I know I seem to say this every year, but it may be that the less said about the Davy Evans Memorial race the better, really. As one team member remarked in the pits “It’s just like the last race at the speed weekend; they all take their brains out”. Quite.
Anyway, in amongst the spinning and, in some cases, crashing, Compelli finally got himself on track and jolly nearly made it count too, as he led for lap after lap. Even when Cooney – clearly the danger man here for the win – caught him, Les still gave a good account of himself. But when Hardie, Gavin Murray and the flying Boardley caught up, it got really tough up front.
Cooney took over the lead, with Murray forging through to second, followed by Boardley. Carl tried his damnedest but couldn’t quite manage to get an outside pass on Gavin, particularly not when Hardie ran into Murray on the last bend, scattering the lot of them. Cooney still had a well taken win though, with Murray and Christie (pure class again throughout) second and third after Hardie’s two place penalty, Boardley having to settle for fifth. Graham Brown
Heat 1: 718 970 994 303 962 278 940 95 921 9 31 955 151 420 943 967 87 402
Heat 2: 911 976 944 983 369 3 348 61 115 961 41 6 85 984 923 761 960
Heat 3: 85 115 3 278 962 961 994 420 9 6 984 911 967 944 87
Heat 4: 41 923 960 303 970 402(X-2) 348 976 95 955 369 983 72 61 31 718
The 2008 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP result: 970 41 962 303 3 718 911 115 85 61 72 923 961 348 31 369 955 960 984 420 402 87