At last – it’s Murphy’s Law!
Graham Brown After being runner-up in the World Final on a frustrating three occasions, Shane Murphy could have been forgiven for thinking that Hot Rod racing’s biggest prize was simply never going to come his way and that he was fated forever to be a ‘nearly man’. But he put all that behind him in the most emphatic way possible with a superb drive which finally saw him ascend to the top step of the podium, at the same time entering the history books as the first ever winner from the Republic of Ireland.
In fact, the result was complete Irish ‘lock out’, Northern Irish drivers filling the remainder of the first four places, with Jason Kew the first English driver home in fifth spot.
For the entire week leading up to the event the weather forecasters had been havering about what the conditions were going to be like for the weekend. Friday had been a gloriously warm, sunny and dry day – proper speed-weekend weather in fact, despite the date being a week earlier than usual. Luckily Saturday was the same, although hotter if anything, while we turned out to be extremely fortunate on Sunday as the lightest of drizzles commenced just prior to the big race, returned briefly during it, and then turned into real rain only once the chequered flag had fallen.
The entry had a couple of last minute revisions, with young Ulsterman Jaimie McCurdy sadly having to pull out of the event for family reasons. With none of the first four reserves from NI available to replace him, it was Simon Kennedy who got the unexpected call-up to represent the region instead. Another late withdrawal was German driver Winnie Holtmanns. It did look as though Stuart McLaird might have got the call to bring the field back up to strength but, despite appearing in the programmed entry list (mainly my fault I’m afraid) in the end Stu wasn’t destined to take part.
Davy Philp chose not to bring his lovely looking Corsa, and arrived with the borrowed and suitably re-liveried Willie Hardie Tigra instead. Other items of note included Rob McDonald having changed his colour scheme completely from mainly white to a very fetching mainly black….and gold! And on the roof too!! Obviously Rob has never heard the superstition about what happens to cars in World Finals wearing gold paint to which they are not entitled…. they don’t win, basically.
Mikey Godfrey on the other hand, had gone for an even more fetching shade, of pink! Mixed in with his usual colours, it certainly looked different.
This year’s again revised grid system no longer automatically placed all the points champions in Group One, as it had in 2013 and 14, but only the Northern Irish winner (Bell). He would still be joined by an additional second NI driver, whoever set the fastest lap time out of the rest of his countrymen. Given the somewhat less populated and competitive nature of the ROI and Scottish series, just the outright fastest of their entrants would appear in Group One this year. As ever, their respective lap times determined which order they would actually start in, with the top group comprising eight cars. This is not to overlook the fact that anyone who could out-run all the guys in that group would snatch pole away from the lot of them to make it a nine car group – which was exactly what Chris Haird did last year of course.
Following the usual un-timed morning practice session it was soon 10.30am and time for the cars to roll out and face the unforgiving timing beams.
There weren’t too many surprises this year, although I’m sure there were one or two disappointed drivers. There were quite a high number of cars though (eleven) that managed to go faster on their second lap than their third.
As if getting dumped into a World Final you weren’t really expecting wasn’t enough, Simon Kennedy then had the misfortune to get drawn first for his lap times. He wasn’t quite the slowest car in the field but his 15.27s fastest lap wasn’t really a benchmark either. Billy Wood was the first driver into the 14s, but the first man to look as if he was really making a bid for pole was Andrew Murray, who did a very tidy looking 14.71 on his final lap. You may remember that Murray would have been starting on the outside front row last year had his car not failed an inside weight check and been relegated to the rear of the grid. Although nobody knew it at this stage of course, he was destined to be headed for that outside front row slot again.
As the minutes ticked by and number of cars on the infield waiting to take their turn diminished, it really was starting to look good for Murray. No one had got any closer to him than Glenn Bell (14.76), although several potential ‘danger men’ had all drawn high numbers, with the notoriously-good-at-lap-times Haird, Kym Weaver and McDonald all still waiting to go. We didn’t have to wait for them to see Murray’s time eclipsed though. Murphy’s first run of 14.77 was already quicker than many people’s, his second lap of 14.88 would have been good enough both to beat Murray and take pole but, just in case anyone was in any doubt who was the fastest here, his last word on the subject was 14.65.
Naturally, all eyes turned to Haird after that – particularly given his performance last July – but his best of 14.81 wasn’t going to cut it. In fact, it was McDonald who got closest to the quickest boys with a highly commendable 14.70; it was just unfortunate that Rob hadn’t qualified in Group One this time round.
So all of a sudden, Murphy’s dream result had begun to look a lot more likely to come about. But even so, there was never any possibility of the pole sitter having things tooeasy, with Murray due to be starting right alongside him, and a second row consisting of 2012 winner Bell and defending champ Haird.
With lap times done and dusted the starting order for thirty-three of the eventual thirty four runners was sorted. That just left Betfred to chalk up their starting prices and Saturday night’s support car races to determine the final ‘wildcard’ place on the grid.
Saturday ‘Wildcard’ Support Races
Despite the potential prize of World Final participation we still only had twenty two entries although with lots of interesting cars and rarely seen or totally new drivers to NHRs among them.
The biggest talking point was probably whether reigning European champion Adam Hylands could pull a last minute World Final qualification out of the bag. But a close second in the talking point stakes was probably the appearance of Allan Ross in his venerable Toyota Starlet. It may have only started one race and not appeared again, but a lot of fans definitely enjoyed seeing in action, an example of the marque which first revolutionised NHRs over thirty years ago.
Another that almost falls into the historic category, and definitely into the category of crowd pleaser, was Dalton Scarlett’s VW Corrado. Decked out in a simple but superbly effective black and white flame job, I reckon that one used up a lot of pixels over the weekend. I’m pleased to say there’ll be more chances to see and photograph it for anyone who wasn’t at Foxhall by the way, as Dalton is on board for the whole of the 2015-16 season.
Other notes of interest included the return to NHRs of Tim Mabey with a Tigra A, the re-appearance of Jason Cooper, the equally welcome re-appearance of Colin Gomm after his short-lived return at the T500, Adam Heatrick having a run in the family’s SLK, and Colin Smith with his Bee-Em, the only World finalist to be doing double duty. We also welcomed total newcomers Tom Burgess (Peugeot 206), Richard Grey in his 206cc – the car some of you may have seen in the pits at Aldershot at the final qualifying round – and Richard Adams with the ex-Gary Woolsey Tigra.
Just ten of them would be eligible for the Wildcard slots, the others not having done the requisite four World Series rounds.
With Graeme Callender unfortunately non-starting the first heat, it was Cooper who set off at the head of the field, with every possibility of him staying that way on past performance. The race hadn’t gone very far however, when Tommy Maxwell, Les Compelli and Brett Walter all got together at the exit from turn four to bring out the yellows.
By that point Smith was up to second, so a challenge to Cooper’s lead now looked a distinct possibility. But in fact Jason was able to draw clear again leaving Smiffy to be tracked by the dicing duo of Hylands and Mark Heatrick. Hylands had already taken a blue flag when contact between the pair saw him go spinning, Heatrick pressing on to catch Smith and begin bumping him through the turns! Heatrick quickly pressured his way into a space down Smith’s inside along the home straight but still with a fair way to go in order to catch Cooper.
Heatrick had quite a long time available to do it though, as all this action had taken place prior to half distance, and he definitely was catching the leader too.
Behind them, Gomm, John Sibbald and Adam Heatrick were having an entertaining battle over the places with Sibbald nearly past Gomm down the inside of the back straight as they neared the finish, and Heatrick trying for an ambitious outside pass on both the others. With four to go, Jim Cowie and Dave Garrett both went spinning at turns three/four in an incident that looked quite likely to bring out the yellows. The caution didn’t happen though and now, with the flag almost in sight, Heatrick finally caught up with Cooper. It was too late for the Ulsterman to do anything about effecting a pass however and it was still Cooper’s race at the line. It was only after the finish that both he and Smith failed the rear weight check (at least they won’t have to worry about that anymore) handing the win to Mark Heatrick over the unchanged trio of Gomm, Sibbald and Adam Heatrick.
Adam Heatrick had pole for the second heat but was very slow away at the start and pulled the car up on the infield as soon as he could.
It was Sibbald who took the lead in this one with Aaron Dew swiftly past Cowie to grab second while Mark Heatrick was on the march again, by-passing Alistair Lowe to go fourth with apparently every chance of improving further on that. But before he could deal with Cowie, who should appear on his bumper but Hylands, the pair seemingly fated to be battling each other throughout the evening. Both of the NI drivers got past Cowie but, before they could make any further headway, Peter Elliott and Lowe both went spinning at turns three/four, accompanied by Scarlett, at which point it became clear there was oil down at that part of the track and a halt was called.
A lengthy clean-up operation ensued, with Lowe and Scarlett being apparently removed from the race. The VW was definitely leaking oil badly, but I’m not sure whether Lowe’s car was too.
It looked as though the Heatrick-Hylands scrap would be interesting when the race resumed and, with Sibbald still heading Dew, Heatrick and Hylands, the first four went quickly clear once the green came back out. But the duel between the NI lads was definitely slowing them up as Sibbald and Dew got further and further ahead, with Heatrick defending hard and Hylands all over him, trying the inside, outside, anywhere for a pass. He finally made it by coming off turn two but the leaders were long gone by then, Dew having managed to close up on Sibbald quite a bit in the dying laps.
So it was Sibbald (pole) and Mark Heatrick who ended up sharing the front row for the final, with Dew and Gomm on row two. Hylands had to settle for inside third row courtesy of his poor first heat but, in all honesty, this still looked likely to be a Heatrick/Hylands fight for the Wildcard. Sibbald probably had a different opinion, mind you!
It was Heatrick who broke first at the green flag but Hylands was by no means idling, and shot through to third on the opening lap before nipping under Sibbald at turn three to take second. Heatrick was already working on making good his escape but the chase was really on now for sure, and it wasn’t long before the two came together, just as they caught the back marking Elliott car. Heatrick went outside, Hylands tried to go inside and in the midst of it all, Elliott got sent spinning.
Hylands then went straight for an outside pass on Heatrick’s flame spitting car, and again, and again (blocked by a back marker) and yet again…Finally Hylands hauled himself ahead going down the home straight but Heatrick fought back on the next corner. This pattern was repeated over and over, and a Raceceiver warning to Heatrick about running Hylands on in the bends or a blue flag might have been useful. Hylands was also at one point incredibly lucky – or simply skillful enough – to miss the Cooper car, which was in the wall at the exit from turn two, by millimeters at most. That situation was definitely grounds for a yellow, and it was soon out too.
Little time was wasted getting back to hostilities however, with the Heatrick-Hylands dice still centre stage. They went at it side by side again until Hylands dropped back a touch and tried the “cut back” manoeuvre leaving turn four, got the door slammed on him and ran into Heatrick hard as they crossed the start/finish. That did finally enable him to muscle past, with Sibbald also able to take advantage of the situation, the three crossing the line in the order Hylands, Sibbald, Heatrick. But Hylands was docked, both for the contact with Elliott and the later one on Heatrick, while Sibbald was adjudged to have taken Heatrick wide exiting turn four on the last lap, so he didn’t get the win either, which meant that Heatrick somehow took the Wildcard and a place in the World Final.
World Final Grid
*Relegated to rear of grid for failing to attend Saturday’s mandatory ‘meet ‘n’ greet’ session.
The Race – 75 Laps
With Saturday having stayed warm and dry throughout, would the weather confound the forecasters’ predictions and stay completely dry for Sunday? It certainly didn’t look like it, with the day dawning heavily overcast and no two weather forecasters seemingly able to agree on when, or even if, the rain was going to arrive. But the cloudy conditionsstayed that way throughout the morning and throughout the field lining up too, as the minutes ticked down towards midday and zero hour.
In fact the first tentative rain drops began to fall precisely as the cars moved off to commence the first of their installation laps. Right on cue so to speak, and wouldn’t you just know it! It had stopped again by the time they were getting ready for the actual pace laps but it looked almost certain that there was more to come.
With the commencement of the rolling laps, there were a number of questions about to be resolved. Would Ireland finally crown its first World champion? Was Andy Murray about to put last year’s reversal behind him in the most emphatic way? Could Haird do it again from the second row? Could Jason Kew make the top step of the podium at last?
And then the green flag was out and it was finally game on. Murphy was clearly the first to break but this fairly untidy first start was going nowhere in any case, as Billy Wood spun to a stop in mid-track on the home straight to bring out the red flags for a complete re-start.
A much more disciplined second attempt still saw Murphy assume the lead, with Bell, Murray and Kew slotting in behind. But Haird’s title defence was very quickly over, ending in ignominious fashion as the gold roof holder was launched into a hairy airborne moment over the turn one kerbing as a result of a first bend melee, a moment which then sent him spinning and into retirement soon after.
He wasn’t the only one either, with English champion Kym Weaver another to see his chances all but evaporate in an early spin, and then, just as the race was settling down, the yellow flags came out after Danny Fiske crashed on the back straight following an incident with Wood which was going to earn Billy a disqualification later.
The order at the front was still Murphy heading Bell, Murray, Kew and Adam Maxwell with the lap down Weaver car the next in line and barring the way forward – at least temporarily – for the next group of placemen comprising David Casey, Carl Waller-Barrett and Ian Donaldson.
Bell had a quick ‘look’ inside the leader as green flag racing recommenced for another few laps with no change of order among the front runners. Then, with Murphy heading for his first really serious bout of traffic, John vd Bosch spun between turns one and two, becoming stranded on the kerb. The leader had to skirt around him and now rain had started spotting the track again to add to his problems, just as the yellows got another airing when vd Bosch’s car caught fire.
The blaze was fortunately soon extinguished and it didn’t look as though too much damage had been done. Other people’s races were starting to come unzipped as well though, with John Christie having to retire at this point with a broken axle which looked as though it had left some oil down at turn four too. While this was being sorted out and Christie changed career to Periscope cameraman, Dan Holden’s car signalled its displeasure at the delay by overheating and spraying water and anti-freeze onto the track at the turn four exit. And all the while those odd rain drops were continuing to moisten the track.
The race restarted and with that the rain started falling in slightly more earnest. And now it became clear pretty quickly that the slipperier surface favoured Bell rather than Murphy, Glenn taking to the outside almost immediately and making a confident sweep that took him easily to the front. To add to Murphy’s woes, Murray was all over him as well.
The lead pair did manage to drop Murray again though, and Murphy stayed right in Bell’s wheel tracks but with the passing of half distance, there was no sign of Bell making any unforced errors. Was it going to be yet another runner up trophy for Murphy?
There was still some racing going on further back too though, with Casey, Waller-Barrett and Derek Martin all enjoying a lively dispute over sixth thru eighth. Casey nearly lost his loose looking car altogether exiting turn four and going down the back straight, but Waller-Barrett wisely stayed away from him rather than trying to pass at that moment. That briefest slackening of the pace did tempt Martin into trying an outside move on Carl though. Then there was a collision at turn four between Dick Hillard and Godfrey, Hillard spinning.
But as the spotty rain ceased once more, it looked as though the pendulum had swung back in Murphy’s favour. He was able to close onto Bell’s bumper and apply some pressure, the fact that there were backmarkers and possibly some passing opportunities looming ahead probably not having escaped Shane’s notice.
Donaldson began trailing smoke from the left rear (probably a wheel bearing) and attracted a technical disqualification.
The lead pair continued cutting through the traffic with no problems but suddenly Murphy was able to take advantage of a little pit bend slide by Bell to sneak underneath him along the back stretch and regain the lead. And from that point on, the destination of the title was never really in any more doubt, Murphy at first inching away from Bell, then pulling away fast, and then positively charging ahead to open up a sizable gap for the first time.
Behind Bell, there was a fair gap back to Murray now too, who had an even bigger advantage over Maxwell, who had a bigger gap still between himself and Kew. It wasn’t quite all over yet but, with Murphy not slackening the pace even once he could afford to and only eleven cars left on the lead lap, the end game was definitely approaching.
It turned out to be an interesting last portion of the race though.
Casey and Waller-Barrett were still at it for sixth and seventh spots, with the latter having already attracted a couple of black crosses and the pair side by side for much of the time. Colin Smith looked to be another victim of wheel bearing trouble and departed the fray. Ten laps from home, it became apparent that Murray was now closing slowly in on Bell. And a few laps later, when Glenn was momentarily delayed by a couple of duelling back markers, that was all it took for Murray to come rushing up. A minor bump between the pair put Murray alongside and ahead half a lap later.
Almost needless to say, that little altercation ensured that the leader had escaped for good, with Murphy left a quarter of a lap ahead, less than five to go, and only eight cars still on the lead lap. And pretty soon the chequered flags were out and down for the first ever Republic of Ireland victor. He had certainly waited long enough, paid any dues that might have been necessary and driven a fine race to clinch his gold roof.
Oddly enough, in my very first conversation with Betfred this year, I told them I couldn’t see this year’s World champion speaking with anything other than an Irish accent and it would seem my statement was completely justified, with Murray, Bell and Maxwell completing the top four ahead of the first English racer – Jason Kew – in fifth.
When a jubilant Murphy clambered from his car he was clearly elated with his win and when I asked him how it felt, responded, “A lot better than second anyway!”
Had he had any problems along the way?
“Oh yeah, the restart and the rain kind of caught me out. I didn’t want to be over-excited and I know the line is better out wide, but I said to myself, ‘why hand it to him?’ But then Glenn got the run on the outside and I was like….aw…we’re finished. And he waspulling away. But I just kept my head and got it back. Then he got a bit wide down the bottom and I was there to get up the inside of him. Easy in one sense…but it wasn’t easy!”
As for those occasional odd flurries of rain drops, the cars had barely stopped when it finally started to rain properly and pretty much set in for the next couple of hours. It was not soon enough or torrential enough to cool some heads though, apparently….
Sunday Support Races
World Final “Revenge” – the Betfred Trophy
By the time the World finalists came back out for their next race, it had been raining solidly for some time and the track was definitely wet, unlike last year’s race which was neither one thing nor the other.
Twenty two cars made it back out although Lee Pepper was a last minute non-starter. The rest stormed away into the clouds of spray with Paul Frost leading and Nigel McCauley having a lurid slide that he did well to gather up, pressing on at undiminished speed to take up the lead with one lap done.
McCauley, who I have a sneaky feeling might just be more of a World contender next year, soon settled into his task and simply pulled further and further clear, leaving Frost to dispute second with vd Bosch, Fiske and Stewart Doak. Frost was doing a fair job of holding them off too until he suddenly pulled the car up. Fiske then burst through to second but nearly a quarter of a lap back now, as vd Bosch and Shane Bland got together at the end of the back straight, the Dutchman ending up in the wall.
McDonald, Doak and Adam Maxwell wound up in a rare old scrap for third, the trio taking turns three and four, three wide at one point! Maxwell got past Doak in that clinch and then took McDonald coming off turn two, only to have the Scot take him back at the other end of the track. Some side by side running followed before they were joined by Bland and things heated up still further. But eventually, McDonald was able to shake off all this attention and claw his way up to Fiske, pressing him hard until rewarded with an inside pass going through turn one.
McDonald was beginning to make inroads into McCauley’s lead in the last five laps too, but it was way too late to alter the outcome, the Ulsterman accepting the flag still a long way clear of any pursuit. McDonald, Fiske, Doak, Maxwell and Bland followed him home, all of them having kept this an entertaining race from green to chequers.
Nick Thomas Memorial
It was a drawn grid for this, the first and only race of the weekend to mix World qualifiers and support racers, and when that draw placed Weaver on pole and Adam Maxwell alongside, it seemed a reasonable wager that one or other of them was likely to take a win. When Weaver’s car snapped sideways at the green allowing Maxwell to surge ahead that did indeed seem like that might be the end of it as far as the victory was concerned.
But it still wasn’t going to be a dull race.
Weaver may have instantly gathered up his ‘moment’ but he had another problem too, in the shape of Hylands, who was pressing hard for a way past and getting ‘rather insistent’ about it too, as he could see Maxwell clearing off into the distance. Christie posted another retirement and then Bland took a spin which brought out the yellows. They were soon off again, though minus McDonald who made a very slow restart and then stopped.
We soon returned to “as you were”, with Maxwell swiftly regaining his lead and Weaver and Hylands back to dicing hard over second. Kew lost fourth spot to the new world champ and then the Weaver-Hylands battle came up on Elliott, Hylands and Murphy both managing to relegate Weaver in the resulting schmozzle.
Now it was Hylands versus Murphy for second, an interesting scrap for sure, but one which made certain nobody was ever going to close down Maxwell’s by now considerable lead, Adam taking the flag to round things off for the weekend. GB
‘Wild Card’ Heat One: (482),960,(491),278,629,342,55,23,54,214,344,44,308. NOF
‘Wild Card’ Heat Two: 629,23,54,960,482,871,308,278,44,22,214,344,43,153. NOF
‘Wild Card’ Final: 960,23,54(-2),629(-2),217,777,871,308,278,22,344. NOF
World Final: 970,997,9,76,174,162,261,20,117,92,996,4,42,955,155,152,27,615,998. NOF
World Final “Revenge”: 4,117,304,996,76,42,962,174,209,20,9,115,970,161. NOF
Nick Thomas Memorial: 76,54,970,209,304,9,20,955,996,23,115,155,152,308,44,43. NOF
Penalties: 482 and 491 both disqualified from Wild Card heat one after failing the rear weight check. Both less than 0.5% over. 54 dropped two places for contact with 43 and 960 in Wild Card final. 629 dropped two places for taking 960 wide in Wild Card final. 305 disqualified from World Final for contact with 304. 964 loaded up due to incident following World Final. 92 initially dropped two places in World Final for jumping a re-start, penalty later rescinded after it was discovered the car ahead of him was in trouble and had slowed, waving him past. Note that all results & penalties are subject to official confirmation.
Martin Kingston and Ed Fahey‘s superb photo albums from the weekend are in the nationalhotrod.com Gallery