MUR­RAY DOES THE TRE­BLE

Ir­ish­man makes his­tory by adding Wal­ter Hayes glory to his 2016 col­lec­tion. By Rob Lad­brook

Motor Sport News - - Walter Hayes Trophy - Pho­tos: Jakob Ebrey, Steve Jones

There were more than a few fur­rowed brows when Niall Mur­ray crossed the line in his heat, los­ing by just 0.093s to Wayne Boyd.

That in it­self wasn’t un­usual – Boyd is a reg­u­lar win­ner at the Wal­ter Hayes Tro­phy and not an easy driver to beat. But what was un­set­tling for some was that Mur­ray fell less than a nose short while run­ning with half a gear­box.

If he could do that with dis­con­nected gear link­age, what could he do with a fully func­tion­ing Van Diemen?

The an­swer was sim­ple – Mur­ray dom­i­nated this year’s Wal­ter Hayes Tro­phy. This sea­son has been noth­ing short of sen­sa­tional for the Ir­ish­man, who has be­come the first driver ever to win the holy trin­ity of For­mula Ford events, tri­umph­ing at the Martin Don­nelly Tro­phy, Fes­ti­val a few weeks ago, and now the Wal­ter Hayes.

Like him or loathe him, Mur­ray drove ex­cep­tion­ally in the tricky wet fi­nale, lead­ing ev­ery lap from pole to take the glory by the sec­ond-largest mar­gin ever seen at the Wal­ter Hayes – fall­ing one tenth short of Scott Malvern’s crush­ing 2013 vic­tory.

The win in the dif­fi­cult con­di­tions was a vin­di­ca­tion for Mur­ray, who has been the cen­tre of much spec­u­la­tion over the le­gal­ity of his en­gine, which has been stripped and in­spected mul­ti­ple times this year and deemed clean at ev­ery in­stance.

“I’m ac­tu­ally glad the fi­nal was wet,” said Mur­ray. “We’ve had a lot of crap thrown at us this year with peo­ple say­ing my en­gine was bent and it was all the car. Well, in that race I could have had a one-litre en­gine and it would have made no dif­fer­ence, the con­di­tions meant it didn’t come down to power, as there was so lit­tle grip.

“It’s good to win in a race like that. It proves that it was me that won it, not my car.”

Af­ter his heat dif­fi­culty, Sunday was more like a serene cruise for Mur­ray, who was never re­ally trou­bled on his way to a semi-fi­nal win and then the big one later that af­ter­noon.

The only man who looked ca­pa­ble of chal­leng­ing Mur­ray, Boyd, had his own is­sues, and they ul­ti­mately con­spired to strip us of the tight bat­tle that was bub­bling un­der.

The first semi fi­nal gave us a glimpse of what could have been. Boyd started that race on pole, with Mur­ray back in fourth. But, by the time the pack ran into Brook­lands, Mur­ray was ahead.

“He’s got a mon­ster en­gine in that car, I just can’t live with him on the straights,” said Boyd af­ter Mur­ray used the tow to slip past. “I’m hav­ing to take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.”

Boyd was run­ning in the new John Loe­bell-built Me­d­ina chas­sis, which was fresh out of the box for the Wal­ter Hayes. The car was fit­ted with the same Neil Bold en­gine that ran Graham Car­roll to vic­tory in the event last year, so it had its own proven pow­er­plant. But what did dif­fer was the set-ups each driver was using.

“We’ve tried a lot of rad­i­cal things to try and find trac­tion with the rear over the course of this year – some have worked, and some haven’t – but now we’ve prob­a­bly got the most sta­ble rear of any car here,” said Mur­ray.

His point was proven by his clear trac­tion ad­van­tage ex­it­ing both Beck­etts and Wood­cote, where he could pull lengths on Boyd. But, with the tight tail, there had to be some sac­ri­fices with the front end. Mur­ray took no­tice­ably wider lines through cor­ners to max­imise his drive out of them, whereas Boyd could en­ter the turns faster with the more pointy Me­d­ina.

“I was way faster into the cor­ners, and he was often more side­ways,” said Boyd, who wouldn’t let Mur­ray es­cape in that semi. He chased hard, and ben­e­fited when Mur­ray’s cho­sen lines picked up oil from ex­pired run­ners. But even then Boyd couldn’t get past. Things were made even tougher when Boyd was de­moted by one row for the fi­nal for a track lim­its penalty, mean­ing he could only start as high as row three and would be de­pen­dant on some­body else tak­ing the fight to pole­man Mur­ray.

Step for­ward Team USA man Oliver Askew. Might­ily im­pres­sive at Brands Hatch be­fore a punc­ture ru­ined his Fes­ti­val party, Askew took a hard­fought win in his semi fi­nal to se­cure the front row along­side Mur­ray.

That race was a great four-way fight be­tween Askew, Luke Wil­liams, Michael Moy­ers and three-time WHT win­ner Joey Foster, with all four trad­ing the lead.

Askew had to pick his mo­ment, and it came on the last lap when he slipped around the out­side of fight­ing lead­ers Moy­ers and Foster on the en­try to the com­plex to snatch the win.

Askew felt con­fi­dent he could tackle Mur­ray, and then the rain ar­rived. Askew had never raced in the wet. Ever.

Mur­ray didn’t get a great start on the soak­ing track, but his trac­tion was still enough to hand him a one-sec­ond lead by the end of the first lap, as Askew fought to stay with him on a track he had to re­learn as he went.

“I had no idea where the grip was, so I

TRO­PHY

was guess­ing ev­ery cor­ner where to brake and how hard to get on the throt­tle,” said Askew. “It was a real learn­ing curve.”

Askew chased as best he could, but ceded time to Mur­ray in the early laps that he wouldn’t get back. When he skated off at Brook­lands af­ter out­brak­ing him­self, it was game over.

“This year has been a dream,” said Mur­ray, whose per­for­mance made the fi­nale a pretty se­date af­fair in the end. “I can’t thank the team enough for what we’ve achieved to­gether.”

Askew was a de­lighted sec­ond, ahead of the fight of the race for third. Boyd made up ground to run fifth be­hind Stu­art Gough, who had strug­gled in his semi with a cracked wish­bone mount that led to rear in­sta­bil­ity. As good as he is in mixed con­di­tions, Boyd had never driven the new Me­d­ina in the wet. “I was strug­gling to see and didn’t re­ally know the lim­its of the car, so I was driv­ing to where I could see to be safe in­stead of where the grip ac­tu­ally was,” said Boyd, who en­dured a spin at Brook­lands that dropped him out of con­tention.

Moy­ers’ chal­lenge ended when he skated into the gravel at Luffield and dam­aged his clutch, and Wil­liams did the same but beached him­self. Foster strug­gled for grip in the wet, sug­gest­ing in­cor­rect tyre pres­sures led to his is­sues and a spin at Beck­etts.

Last year’s vic­tor Car­roll was also strug­gling, com­plain­ing of a lack of straight-line speed from his Fir­man. He wound up just 17th.

The fi­nal podium spot came down to a fight be­tween Rob Hall, Josh Fisher and the charg­ing Kyle Kirk­wood. Af­ter a ti­tanic fight to even make the fi­nal, Kirk­wood drove su­perbly to climb from 23rd to en­ter the fray. He snuck ahead of Hall through Luffield on the penul­ti­mate lap to run in what would have been a sen­sa­tional podium place, but Fisher had the fi­nal say, snatch­ing the last step with a late-brak­ing move into Brook­lands on the fi­nal tour.

Satur­day’s heats pro­duced some crack­ing com­pe­ti­tion, and also a fair dose of con­tro­versy when two pre-event tips both ef­fec­tively lost their shot at glory in the very first out­ing.

Ben Nor­ton qual­i­fied on pole for Heat One, but was elim­i­nated when Team USA man Kyle Kirk­wood tipped him into a spin as he at­tacked for the lead headed to­wards Brook­lands ( see below).

With the lead­ers out of the way, Jordan Dempsey headed the fight with Luke Cooper for sec­ond. Cooper spun on oil when at­tack­ing for the lead at Brook­lands late on, hand­ing sec­ond to Matt Hamilton with Robert Barrable third.

Rob Hall took ad­van­tage of trou­ble for Heat Two ri­val Stu­art Gough to win. Gough took pole but was then pinged back to sec­ond for a track lim­its in­fringe­ment. Hall spun his wheels at the start, al­low­ing Gough back ahead, but he couldn’t pull away. “I was strug­gling to get the fron­tend to bite for some rea­son, and didn’t have the grip,” said Gough, who fell be­hind Hall on lap four. Oil dropped at Brook­lands lim­ited pass­ing chances and al­most caught Gough out. He held the slide to chase Hall to the flag as Felix Fisher bagged third.

Fes­ti­val win­ner Niall Mur­ray prob­a­bly should have won Heat Three af­ter forg­ing a one-sec­ond gap on the first lap, but gear se­lec­tion prob­lems hin­dered him. “The gear link­age broke and I had no third gear and couldn’t find sec­ond for most of the race,” said Mur­ray, who was jumped by Wayne Boyd for the lead. Mur­ray held on and re­grouped to chase Boyd to the flag af­ter hold­ing off pres­sure from Josh Fisher in third.

Heat Four will go down as one of the races of the sea­son, as Joey Foster came out on top of a fran­tic six-car lead bat­tle. Foster took pole ahead of Michael Moy­ers, but no­body could break the tow. Soon a train con­sist­ing of Foster, Moy­ers, Josh Smith, Chase Owen, Luke Wil­liams and Ab­dul Ahmed formed, with the lead be­ing traded al­most ev­ery lap into Brook­lands. Five of the six driv­ers took a turn in front be­fore Foster made the de­ci­sive dive down the in­side of Owen a lap from home.

“It was just amaz­ing as no­body could get any space and no­body re­ally wanted to be in the lead be­fore the last lap as the tow is so strong around here,” said Foster. “My car is mega this year. It’s fi­nally something I can fight with.”

Wil­liams grabbed sec­ond ahead of Moy­ers, Smith, Ahmed and Owen.

Ed Moore snatched a late win in a su­perb Heat Five, af­ter tak­ing ad­van­tage of the fight ahead of him. Team Canada man Parker Thomp­son and Richard Tar­ling traded the lead ini­tially, be­fore Neville Smyth and Moore closed in. Moore pounced when Thomp­son and Tar­ling ran wide at Copse when fight­ing two laps from home. Thomp­son held on for sec­ond ahead of Smyth and Tar­ling.

While one Team USA driver strug­gled, the sec­ond shone as Oliver Askew took a crush­ing win in Heat Six. It was the only race of the day to fea­ture a red flag stop­page when James Raven and Stephen Daly had a scary in­ci­dent af­ter hit­ting oil at Beck­etts, with Daly’s car vault­ing over the front of Raven’s.

When rac­ing re­sumed Askew bolted clear of de­fend­ing WHT cham­pion Graham Car­roll and Chris Mid­dle­hurst. The pair gave chase, but ended up trip­ping over each other through Brook­lands as a clash of wheels sent both spin­ning. Car­roll re­cov­ered to hold sec­ond, al­beit eight sec­onds adrift of Askew, with Bas Lein­ders in­her­it­ing third. Mid­dle­hurst was eighth.

Mur­ray toured clear of Team USA’S Askew for win Mur­ray’s win­ning run con­tin­ued

USA’S Oliver Askew fought hard for his semi fi­nal win against Joey Foster Bas Lein­ders (32) failed to make the fi­nal af­ter this clash with Matt Cow­ley

Scott An­drews (left) had a tor­rid week­end

Boyd beat Mur­ray in heats, the one time Mur­ray was headed

Luke Cooper spins leav­ing Dempsey clear for his heat win

NOVEM­BER 9 2016

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