This weekend at Silverstone Circuit witnessed something very special, when young up-and-coming Irish racing driver Seán Doyle was given the opportunity to compete in the European LeMans Series for the first time and proved, without doubt, that natural talent can overcome any amount of previous experience.
Having worked with the Murphy Prototypes endurance racing team for the past year as a team and guest liaison coordinator, the 22-year old from Wicklow was handed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on Saturday (16th April) to show just what he could do behind the wheel. And show them he did.
With an in-built passion for speed, his motorsport career began at an early age, when he raced radio-controlled cars with great success. In fact, by the age of 12 he had progressed to international level. As soon as he was old enough to race a full-size car, he entered the Irish Junior Rallycross Championship at 15 and then, after two years, progressed to the circuits to race in the Ginetta Junior Series.
Seán has since been a regular competitor at Mondello Park - Ireland’s well-established international racetrack - first in the Global GT Lites and then the Supercar series’. His achievements in these various formulae underlined his ability to be able to step into any type of car and be competitive - right from the start - a talent that has seen him nominated as Young Irish Racing Driver of the Year no less than four times in succession.
In 2012 Seán joined an elite group of young Irish people when he was appointed as a Nissan Generation Next Ambassador, an initiative instigated by Nissan Ireland to support and promote future sporting and business talent. Seán currently works as a driver coach at Mondello Park.
With a gap in it’s driver line-up for the first round of this year’s European Le Mans Series, a six-round international championship that attracts many of the best drivers from around the globe, the Murphy Prototypes team needed someone they could trust to fill the vacant position in it’s LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype category 2) Nissan-engined Oreca 03R.
Whilst Seán had never driven a LMP2 Prototype sportscar before - the likes of which can be seen competing at Le Mans in the hands of professional drivers - the decision by the team was, in fact, an easy one. And here’s why: since the team started out in 2012, it has earned a reputation for finding and developing young talent.
Two such drivers are Brendon Hartley, a New Zealander who raced with Murphy Prototypes in 2012 and 2013 before being signed as a Porsche works driver and teammate to former Red Bull F1 driver Mark Webber. Brendan has since gone on to become FIA World Endurance Champion, as well as finish second at Le Mans in 2015.
Another prodigy who has raced for Murphy Prototypes is Brazilian driver Pipo Derani, who had first taste of sportscar racing with the team in 2014, before stepping up to the World Endurance Championship in 2015 and the IMSA Series in the USA.
Seán joined two other legends of Irish motorsport who were driving for the two-car Murphy Prototypes team this weekend: highly experienced GT and saloon car specialist Michael Cullen and the Irishman who is regarded as one of the best Porsche racers in the world, Damien Faulkner. It was also their first event with the team, which meant that for the first time in over a decade, an Irish driver would compete at this level of international motorsport.
With just a few hours on a simulator and no more than 15-minutes driving the Oreca on Friday, Seán handled his impending debut into the international motorsport arena with consummate professionalism. Unfortunately for the team, Damien slid off an extremely slippery track during the morning’s qualifying session, which meant he would start from the back of the grid.
A determined drive saw Faulkner pass 32 cars and, when he handed over to Doyle a third of the way into the four-hour race, he was in 12th place. A well executed pit stop saw Doyle join the race in tenth and, for the next 50-minutes he proceeded to consolidate the position by extending the gap between himself and the driver behind and close up to the competitor in front.
Doyles’s lap times belied his level of experience and the timing screens showed that it had not taken him long to match the pace of the front runners, some in more advanced machinery. In fact, at certain points during his stint the young Irishman was circulating the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit faster than the race leader!
When he completed his stint and returned to the pits, there was rapturous applause from his crew, race engineers and team principal Greg Murphy as he climbed out of the car and handed over to the next driver - Englishman Shaun Balfe - who completed the race.
“I couldn’t be any more impressed”, said team Principal Greg Murphy. “Seán did everything that was asked of him and more. Clearly, he seized his opportunity with both hands and not only brought the car home with no issues whatsoever, he improved our position in the race and showed beyond doubt that he has the talent to compete at this level. I therefore hope that he can achieve the commercial support that’s needed to sustain a motorsport programme and we can continue to help him establish the career in motorsport he rightfully deserves.”
Seán himself was delighted with the outcome of his international race debut:
“Ever since I started out I have wanted to race at this level. So what happened this weekend was the culmination of many years of work. Driving a Prototype Sportscar is nothing like I’ve ever driven in the past, as the power-to-weight ratio and the down-force generated by the aerodynamics provides a completely different experience to anything I've driven before. I was happy I could adapt so quickly and to do a good job for the team. It’s been such a privilege to drive the Murphy LMP2 car and I can’t thank Greg enough for giving me this incredible opportunity. I hope I’ll have the chance to do it again very soon.”