Following a totally dominant performance at the championship’s only away round in Zandvoort some four weeks previous, Niall Murray came into rounds seven and eight at Rockingham Motor Speedway with a healthy 31-point advantage at the top of the table.
The only driver to qualify on pole position so far this season, Murray’s Bernard Dolan Motorsport run Van Diemen RF99 has set the pace in the championship so far this year. However at the end of Friday’s pre-event test, it seemed as if Murray’s reign at the top would be in jeopardy, as the unique characteristics of the American-influenced speedway seemed to play into the hands of his Ray and Mygale shod rivals.
Niall worked hard with his team overnight, and what had initially been a margin of over a second, Murray closed the gap to less than four tenths of a second in qualifying, to place himself in fourth position for the day’s opening race.
Despite being his first time not to start off the front row in race one, Murray was very much within striking distance approaching the high-speed first corner. Knowing a first lap charge into the lead would be his only chance before those in front made a break, Murray got a superb launch off the line to promote himself into the lead at the end of the opening tour.
However hot on his heels was main championship rival James Raven, in the Ray GR14/15 whom had started from pole and was keen to return to the front. By lap three, Niall was now down to second, but was clearly pushing hard to stay with the leader. A Safety Car at the end of lap six looked like it could spell further disaster for Murray, as it allowed those behind him to close up on the restart.
Now forced to fend off the attentions of American rival Chase Owen, Murray quickly broke the tow and his advantage in second returned to just under a second by the end of the first green flag lap after the Safety Car. From there, Niall consolidated his second position to the flag, securing some more valuable points to aid the retention of his championship lead.
Thanks to his runner-up finish in race one, Murray was now back on the front row for the start of race two. Clearly at one with his car when it came to race starts this weekend, Murray projected his MurrayMotorsport.com Van Diemen into the lead at the end of the opening lap, again with main rival Raven in tow. Once again, Murray could only hold off the Ray until lap three, before slotting into second position.
On lap seven, the Safety Car was briefly deployed, again hampering Murray’s charge. Hoping to turn a negative into a positive and use the reduced gap to challenge the leader, Murray was now in a dice with Pasma for second. The Mygale driver initially made a dive at Chapman which Niall was able to cover, but coming into Pif Paf, a glance in his mirror showed a locked-up Mygale coming at speed as Murray gave him room to avoid ruining both of their races. As a side effect, this avoidance also allowed Chase Owen through into third, sending Niall down to fourth. With little time remaining, Murray closed the gap down to just three tenths of a second behind Owen as the chequered flag was waved after 13 laps.
Niall Murray – #5 Bernard Dolan Motorsport Van Diemen RF99:
“It was a fairly tough weekend here at Rockingham. We realised pretty quickly in testing, where I was over a second off the pace, that it seemed to be a track that suited the softer Ray and Mygale. We made every change possible in testing and managed to get on the pace in the end. Thanks to two good starts, I managed to lead both races from fourth and second, but just didn’t have that extra bit to keep the guys behind, so ended up finishing second and fourth. I’ve lost a bit of my championship lead but still 13 points ahead! Onwards to Brands Hatch now in four weeks where we know the car is strong, so hopefully we can get a good result there! Massive thanks to Bernard and Dave for running the car fantastically all weekend.”