Greg Murphy Q&A
AMC: It’s 20 years this year since your first Bathurst win. Can you rewind and give us a sense of the pressures of lining up alongside the ‘new hot thing’ of the time in Australian touring car racing?
Greg Murphy: In 1996 everything was so much smoother than when I drove with HRT in 1995. The fact Lowndesy had had such a good year in the car in the series and was dominating; I think that was also confidence inspiring.
I was always just that little bit off him when we went testing that year. He was just at one with the car so I was always trying to play catch-up.
At Sandown the thing was fantastic and we came away from that feeling bloody comfortable about where we were going and Bathurst was the same, albeit I got to Bathurst and Lowndesy was definitely on the money immediately and very comfortable.
I was still playing that co-driver role and trying to catch up. It was harder around there – the fact it was Bathurst and from memory I found it tough to find my rhythm, which came in the race.
AMC: The cars of that era are so much different to those of today. HRT 033 was built using a production-based body shell, whereas now they’re a purpose-built series-generic racing chassis. Can you compare and contrast?
GM: Things have evolved slowly. I suppose for a few of us, the way you used to drive the cars was more by the seat of your pants and not as technical. You were precise but it wasn’t like it is now where everything is analysed to the millimetre. We didn’t think about it like that then simply because we didn’t have the tools that we do today.
It was based on simpler sorts of data and lap time and it just didn’t have that nth degree of analysis. Back in the 1990s it was all about testing because you were able to do so much of it; it was about being comfortable in the car and throwing tyres at it to understand what you had to do in qualifying.
We did a lot of miles and laps and that’s why Bathurst 1996 was also the arrival of Greg Murphy. Today, Murph reveals a little secret from race day. He also says he was eager to exit the race-leading Commodore and allow Lowndes to do the final stint. we were fast. You just kept on improving the car, it was all more passive sort of stuff than the micro stuff that is so much a part of going racing now.
You do have to drive the New Generation Supercar differently now to how we drove the cars in the 1990s because of what you are searching for and what the engineer can work on to improve those little one percenters.
I don’t think we worked on one percenters back then, the percentages of gain were bigger. It was more about choosing the right tyre, getting the most out of it and driving it by the seat of the pants. That was the way the Brocks, Johnsons, Bowes, Mezeras were doing it.
AMC: You have a little secret from the 1996 Bathurst race that not many people know about. You very nearly pin-balled the car off the wall and out of the race, correct?
GM: I actually clouted the wall where Chaz (Mostert) hit the wall in 2015. I kept it quiet at the time; it’s not a secret now though. I had come out of the Dipper and I hooked third gear and the thing was snaking all over the place.
I gave it a dab of the throttle and it ran up the wall on the left-hand side and I thought ‘oh shit, it’s all over, I’ve stuffed it, what a cock up.’ But it straightened back up and it still stopped and turned and I never said a word on the radio and carried on!
Then I got my rhythm and it felt good. We started to circulate at a pretty good pace so I got rolling and from that point on it dried up and we never looked like going back to wet track running.
I got back in for the second stint and had a battle with Dick (Johnson). The car was fantastic so I was pretty comfortable by that stage and I knew what I could do. Once we were back in front it was funny because the guys came on the radio and asked how I was feeling. They asked if I wanted to stay in the car for the last stint; I never expected to hear that!
It was Craig’s car and his deal so it caught me by surprise. I didn’t want to sound like I didn’t want to, but deep down… I didn’t want to! I just wanted to hand over to him.
I asked them what he wanted to do and they said that he wasn’t fussed. But I said, ‘No, he needs to be in the car for the finish’ and he went to the end. It was all a little surreal when we won that race.
AMC: What stands out about that car from a driving point of view?
GM: The car was very good because it had been tuned pretty well. Craig had driven it for the second half of the year and it had a pretty good setup. The way we liked the car was very similar as well so I didn’t really have to do too much to it
to make it comfortable for me because straight out of the box it felt fantastic.
The Bridgestone was a very good tyre and the team worked very closely with them in their testing. The car was extremely well balanced and nice to drive.
One thing that took a little bit of getting used to was the fact that there was no power-steering in it. Craig never used it, but we’d done a fair bit of training leading up to the endurance races and I’d done a lot of testing, so I was fairly comfortable and it wasn’t a real worry.
It was a dream to drive. We knew it was fast and always competitive and all we had to do was basically keep it on the track and not make any mistakes and you’d pretty much win anything you went in.