MURRAY SPRINGS A SURPRISE S
Northern Irishman tops the regulars at Foxhall Heath. By Graham Brown
hane Murray produced something of a shock win in the traditional World Final warm-up event, the Motorsport News Thunder 500.
The Ulsterman took a heat and final double which helped him to lift the title for the first time.
He was kept extremely honest by Billy Wood, who battled hard with the eventual winner throughout the 40 laps. English and European champion Carl Waller-barrett eventually claimed the other podium after Brett Walter been handed a penalty after the finish.
The meeting attracted the usual cosmopolitan entry associated with the event. Comprising cars from all over the UK regions and the continent too, they included a number of drivers who haven’t qualified for the upcoming World Final in any case and former 2.0 Hot Rod world champion Murray was perhaps the most notable of those interlopers.
With the rain that struck Friday’s press and test day gone, the grid took up their drawn-for grid positions on a bone dry track for the opening heat.
They’d barely come under starters orders before a misunderstanding about whose bit of track was whose meant Kym Weaver slammed into the barriers during the installation laps. This was doubly unfortunate as Weaver must have been fancying his chances from the inside second row.
Instead it was pole man Stewart Doak who grabbed the lead with Jason Kew darting past Jaimie Mccurdy to go second. Wood followed him through as Mccurdy was forced backwards.
The battle for the lead continued with Doak under pressure from Kew, Wood, Dick Hillard and Mccurdy. The vanguard swelled to eight cars with the arrival of Brett Walter – looking particularly sharp with repeated swoops up the outside line – Shane Bland and Keith Martin, the latter having a run in the ex-john Christie car.
Walter’s unprecedented show of pace had carried him all the way up to third when Kew finally made his own move onto Doak’s outside. That put the first four cars into two pairs in side-by-side mode as they took the five lap board. Kew claimed the lead as they exited turn two and Doak was relegated to fourth as Walter and Wood got through in the ensuing scramble as well.
Walter was clearly still up for a go at Kew’s lead too but they’d run out of laps by this point. And, although Walter had raised a few eyebrows, many had also noticed Murray’s speedy climb through the pack from the back of the grid to seventh place.
Heat two was slightly less dramatic, with the reversed grid putting Murray almost at the front and looking a likely winner.
He was actually beaten away by Aaron Dew but Murray soon forged through on Dew’s inside at turn three when the leader let him see an inch or so too much daylight.
After that Murray just got further in front and in fact the only interruption to the leader’s run was a caution period thrown after a couple of cars spun to a stop on turn three.
Walter’s fifth spot in that second heat enabled him to beat Murray’s aggregate performance and annex pole for the final. But with the Ulsterman right alongside and row two occupied by WallerBarrett and Wood, there weren’t going to be any easy wins on offer here.
Walter clearly knew just how much of a threat Murray represented – particularly from the outside front row, which has been giving better starts at Ipswich for a while now – and edged his rival so wide at the green that he almost allowed Waller-barret past the pair of them into the first turn.
The manoeuvre forced Murray back to fourth as CW-B and Wood both went by him but had consequences for Walter, who got penalised out of a podium spot at the finish.
In the meantime though, Walter had the lead, albeit with Wood and Murray hard on his heels. WallerBarrett had briefly passed by Colin Smith before Smith’s car cried enough and he was out.
Wood’s persistence in looking for a way down the leader’s inside was eventually rewarded leaving turn two, Murray eagerly following Wood through and wasting no time going for a pass of his own on the outside. When that didn’t work, he tried a cut-back leaving turn four instead that nearly did, the dice allowing Walter and Waller-barrett back into contention too.
There followed a bout of tight side-by-side racing with Murray inching ahead of Wood on the straights only to have him fight back again in the turns.
Even when what looked like the inevitable came to pass and Murray finally got ahead, it still wasn’t over, with Wood sticking to him like glue and thorny groups of backmarkers providing every chance for a last-minute upset.
The leader did manage to eke out an advantage of a few feet going into the last two laps to take a wellearned victory over Wood and Walter, although Walter’s two-place penalty would elevate WallerBarrett to third and Shane Bland to fourth place.