MAGIC MURRAY MAKES IT TWO
National FF1600 champion takes second Festival win in convincing style. By Stephen Lickorish FORMULA FORD FESTIVAL
Niall Murray. Two words that were on the lips of virtually every person in the Formula Ford Festival paddock last weekend. Anyone who can win 12 races in the FF1600 National Championship is a favourite for the final, but the way in which Murray blitzed the field on route to semi-final one victory meant he was almost universally tipped as the man to beat.
Murray had already laid down a marker with the fastest time of anyone in qualifying before emerging victorious from heat two. But it was his four-second winning margin in his semi that really turned heads.
“Coming into the weekend I knew I would have a pretty good chance but it was very close between four or five cars in qualifying,” said Murray, who carried the confident aura of someone in complete tune with their car all weekend.
Scott Malvern was the only person who could, perhaps, stand a chance of beating him. He too had won his heat and semi – thanks to an amazing move around the outside of Luke Williams through Paddock Hill Bend and up to Druids – and was determined to put up a fight.
“I think the start is going to be everything,” said the 2011 winner. “I’m going to try and give him something to worry about.”
He certainly did. By dint of a safety car in his semi lasting a lap shorter than in Murray’s, Malvern started from pole. And, importantly, he kept ahead as the lights went out.
Murray was not perturbed and set about harassing the Geva Racing driver. Then on lap two came the move. Murray’s Van Diemen RF99 drew alongside Malvern exiting Clark Curve and the pair banged wheels as they went side-by-side down the pit straight with Murray eventually sealing the breathtaking move into Paddock.
“He was trying to defend as best as he could,” explained Murray. “I knew what he was trying to do but there was just enough room to get through Paddock Hill Bend.”
Malvern was understandably frustrated. “He was being quite generous with his pushing of me,” said the disappointed Mygale GV-15K racer. “I had the start I wanted – it all went to plan and I was holding him up for a while.”
Third-placed Chris Middlehurst had a brilliant view of the action in front. “I couldn’t believe they both stayed on,” he said. “They interlocked wheels and there was smoke coming off the tyres! I held back because I didn’t want to be hit.”
But they were all able to continue and once out front Murray started to pull away. There was no way anyone could stop him. And sure enough he claimed his second Festival win (2013 being his other triumph) by 3.7s.
“It was just amazing,” he enthused. “It’s never comfortable because you know if you make a tiny mistake they’re probably going to close straight back in. I lost concentration a couple of times and then I was just winding down the laps.”
Malvern hung on to second but admitted to making a couple of mistakes in his attempts to keep pace with Murray on the straights. “I feel we had a car good enough to win the race,” he commented.
Those mistakes drew the chasing pack much closer. An error at Clearways for Middlehurst meant that was briefly headed by Team USA Scholarship driver Oliver Askew, but he soon got back ahead while the American was out with a puncture ( see sidebar). It was then a fight between Middlehurst, Williams, Stuart Gough and Chase Owen for the final podium spot.
After a terrific scrap it was former Formula Renault BARC champion Middlehurst who took the place, while Williams passed Gough for fourth at Clearways with a lap to go.
“I’m made up with third,” beamed Middlehurst, who consistently improved throughout the event. “That’s better than I expected!”
Heat one winner Gough was left ruing a set-up change for the semi that didn’t work and meant he started fifth for the final. “Coming fourth or fifth is irrelevant – I was hoping to get third,” he said, having rounded out the final podium for the past two years. “I got fastest lap and it’s good to be fighting up there – you’ve got to take the positives from it.”
The other Team USA Scholarship driver, Kyle Kirkwood, put in a strong display to claim seventh from 16th on the grid. Any hopes of finishing higher were dashed by an off for frontrunner Patrik Pasma at Clearways in the early stages which split the top six away.
A number of other potential frontrunners were already out of the running by this stage. A first-lap collision in the opening heat had a significant impact on several drivers’ weekends. An over ambitious move by 2004 Festival winner Joey Foster on Owen and Canadian scholarship driver Parker Thompson ended in disaster. Owen wasn’t aware of Foster’s dive up the inside and the duo collided, delaying Thompson, while Stephen Daly’s miserable Festival run continued as he was caught up in the melee. Foster’s subsequent grid penalty for his semi wrecked his chances.
Last year’s Walter Hayes Trophy winner Graham Carroll headed home after the semi thanks to engine woes, while fellow Scot Neil Maclennan showed good pace before hitting the barriers in the second semi when the safety car boards came out and his car snapped to the left when he slammed on the brakes.
But none of these drivers could get close to Murray. “It’s been an amazing season really,” he said. “Walter Hayes Trophy is the only thing left on the list and nobody has ever won the two titles in the same year…”
Before the illustrious finale of the Formula Ford Festival, the winner of the Historic Final had to be decided with a grid filled with Pre90 and Pre82 cars. The honours went to Alan Davidson; the County Antrim man navigated his Mondiale from sixth on the grid to take victory. After getting a blistering start and taking advantage of Job Van Uitert’s excursion over the greenery of Graham Hill Bend, Davidson soon found himself leading the pack.
With a faster car than his nearest rivals, Davidson could stretch his lead to a comfortable margin allowing the scrap for the final podium places to ensue. While Conor Murphy looked likely to claim second, a resurgent Van Uitert, who had finished an impressive ninth in his semi-final, carved through from down the order after his first-lap blunder to pip Murphy in the dying stages of the race.
The festival weekend also brought the return of the Formula Ford Masters race, the one-off shot for supremacy between former stars of series, with Ireland’s Stephen Daly the surprising winner. Daly, who had been tipped for a place in the festival final, had been blighted with bad luck all weekend, scoring a DNF in his heat and getting a puncture in the Last Chance race. As a late call-up to the grid following a number of no-shows, the festival timetable proving too much for some cars. Daly began from the back, but his Ray proved too strong for the rest of the pack. Former F3 driver Jay Bridger and Rory Smith rounded out the podium.
With Adriano Medeiros only needing one point to secure the Classic Formula Ford title, the Brazilian driver claimed it in emphatic style taking pole position and both race wins. Despite finishing the first race and sealing the title behind the safety car after Alaric Chester’s wheel came off at Graham Hill, Medeiros managed to get a proper celebration as he crossed the line 15 seconds ahead of Stuart Kestenbaum in race two.
Alastair Kellett confirmed his place as the Fiesta champion, becoming the second champion from Class D to take the plaudits in the past three years. The Irishman beat John Cooper and Jamie White in race one. But he couldn’t take the double, as a quick start from Cooper in race two meant the champion had to settle for second ahead of White, as the same trio took the top three places.
With the overall championship all wrapped up, all eyes were on Class C to see who would take the individual class championship. A clean sweep of pole, race wins and fastest laps still wasn’t enough for Specialized Motorsport’s Simon Horrobin as he had to concede the title to team-mate Sam Priest. Priest had led the championship for a number of months and added to his tally with second in race one and third in the finale behind junior graduate Aaron Thompson.
A brace of victories for Bradley Burns wasn’t enough for him to pip Harry Gooding to the 2016 Fiesta Junior Championship. Despite going off at Druids in race one and deciding not to go out in race two the Jam Sport driver confirmed the title he’d had a grasp on for most of the season.
There was a champion’s procession in the Sports 2000 Pinto with Colin Feyerabend taking victory, while in the Duratec Championship Michael Gibbins was crowned champion with second place behind Patrick Sherrington.
Andy O’brien celebrated his 2016 championship victory with two comfortable wins in the