Dublin’s Niall Murray has today re-written the history books, having become the first Kent-engined driver to win the Overall Brands Hatch Formula Ford Festival twice, with a superb victory at the historic Brands Hatch Indy Circuit.
Murray came into the weekend as one of the hot favourites after a dominant season in the British Formula Ford 1600 Championship, where with 12 race victories he secured the title and with it, the coveted prize of a ticket to the shootout stage of the Mazda Road to Indy programme.
Right from the beginning on Wednesday, it was business as usual for Niall with most stopwatches confirming the Firhouse man as one of the fastest drivers on circuit. In true Festival style however, Murray wasn’t going to have it easy with just four tenths of a second splitting several of the key players ahead of the weekend. Opting to park his car early on Friday, Murray felt he had done enough to prepare for Saturday’s qualifying.
When the official timing began on Saturday morning, Niall’s pace was confirmed, topping the timesheets in qualifying by a slender three hundredths of a second over his nearest rival in second. Starting from pole position for Saturday afternoon’s heat two, a superb get-away as the lights went out allowed Murray to control the field throughout the race to take a superb lights to flag victory by just under half a second and with it, the fastest lap of the race for good measure.
Having secured a pole position start for Sunday’s Semi-Final one, Murray was hoping he could replicate his previous get-away and lead from the front when the lights went out. Sure enough it was a textbook launch for the Murray Motorsport backed driver, leading into Paddock Hill bend and already starting to open a slender advantage. However Murray’s good work would instantly be un-done with a mid-pack collision necessitating an early Safety Car. More importantly however, this Safety Car now looked set to have an impact on the starting order for Sunday afternoon’s final. With the action getting back underway on lap six, Niall made the most of commanding the restart to lead into turn one and again start to re-build his lead. Hoping to undo some of the Safety Car damage, Murray set a string of fastest lap times on route to a winning margin of over four seconds.
Despite a brief Safety Car window in Semi-Final two, it wasn’t enough to set a slower overall time than Semi-Final one, meaning Niall would start the final from the outside of row one. Yet again it was a superb start off the line for Murray and immediately he went for the lead around the outside of poleman Scott Malvern into Paddock Hill bend. The optimistic move wasn’t to be and Niall slotted back into second on the run up to Druids.
Knowing an early move for the lead would be key to securing victory, Niall’s big advantage was out of Clearways and towards the end of lap two he began his charge. As Murray drew alongside the race leader however he found himself getting pushed very close to the pitwall. But despite the robust defence of the race lead, Niall was past coming into Paddock Hill bend and now put his head down to try and make a break. Within just a couple of laps Murray was away and over the remainder of the race, built up a fantastic winning margin of just under four seconds, to secure his second Brands Hatch Formula Ford Festival victory.
Niall Murray – #5 Bernard Dolan Racing Van Diemen RF99:
“Unbelievable! Absolutely delighted to take the Festival win again! Cannot thank everyone involved enough for making it happen. Bernard Dolan, Sam Dolan, Dave Healy and Morgan Dempsey Jnr for running an amazing car all year, it’s been the fastest car all weekend and I’m very happy to be able to reward them with the wins!”
Walter Hayes Trophy, Silverstone, Northamptonshire, UK – Saturday 5th & Sunday 6th November 2016.