Eighth place in this weekend’s 4 Hours of Le Castellet - round four of the European Le Mans Series - was a satisfying outcome for the Murphy Prototypes endurance racing team. The performance by all three of its drivers: John Coleman (England), Kevin Ceccon (Italy) and Seán Doyle (Ireland), as well as the reliability of the car, signalled that with a little more good fortune, the result could have easily been even more impressive.
Prior to the race at the Paul Ricard Circuit, the team confirmed that it was continuing with its programme of showcasing up-and coming talent this season. For the first time, the scheme included 22-year old Kevin Ceccon and whilst an experienced single-seater driver, this would be the Italian’s first ever race in a prototype sportcar He later announced that he was regarding it as a springboard towards his endurance racing career.
Continuing to benefit from the scheme, Seán Doyle - also 22 - is the only driver out of the trio to have raced the team’s LMP2 Oreca 03R before, whereas Jonathan Coleman is already an experienced sportscar driver and had competed in the ELMS earlier this season. And whilst he tested with Murphy Prototypes previously, this would be Coleman's first competitive outing with the team.Not withstanding that this weekend was his debut in an LMP car, an impressive performance in Saturday morning’s Free Practice session meant that Ceccon was nominated to drive in qualifying, the young Italian affirming the team’s decision by posting the sixth-fastest time. In keeping with the week leading up to the event, a cloudless sky greeted teams on Sunday morning, meaning that conditions would be hot and dry for the race - a first for this year’s ELMS.
Coleman was chosen to drive the first stint. A clean start, followed by some evasive action in order to keep out of trouble in the first sequence of corners, meant the Englishman emerged in ninth place at the end of the first lap.
A consistent performance and not putting a foot wrong for the whole of his 40-minute stint saw Coleman make the team’s first scheduled pit stop to change drivers having held onto ninth. A small issue installing Ceccon into the car, caused the stop to take a little longer than expected and he joined the race in 11th place.
He quickly dialled himself in and, after just a few laps Ceccon’s times were matching those of the top three drivers in the race. After making up some of the deficit, an efficient second scheduled pit stop by the team combined with the Italian’s good work, meant that when he embarked on the second half of his double-stint, he was up to eighth. Although gaining on the cars ahead, Ceccon was unable to get close enough to make up any places and, following an inspired drive, he ended his shift exactly as scheduled with 90-minutes of the race remaining.
A perfectly executed stop for fuel, tyres and for Doyle to take over driving duties enabled the young Irishman to join the race and remain in eighth place. After getting to grips with a new set of tyres, Doyle soon settled into his rhythm and whilst he did all he could to improve the position, consolidation was to be the order of the day.
And that’s exactly what he did. With the car not missing a beat and after impressive showings by all three drivers, the team came away from the event satisfied in the knowledge that the outcome of the weekend was closer to where it should be in terms of performance. The team now looks towards the fifth round of the European Le Mans Series that takes place at Spa on 25th September.
Team Principal Greg Murphy
“I'm happy with the job the team and all three drivers did today. It really was a great combined effort. While there were things that didn't quite go our way during the race, such as the timing of the full course yellow periods, our lap times were good and, if circumstances had fallen more in our favour, then a better result was definitely on the cards. The car ran extremely well, so it's good to be getting closer to where we should be in terms of performance and we can all be proud of that.”
“After testing with the team previously, it's been great to finally race with Murphy Prototypes. I didn't want to get caught up with any other competitors at the start of the race and perhaps I was a little too cautious, but I wanted to make sure I brought the car back for my teammates. Everything felt really good throughout my stint and I was pleased with the way I was able to get through the traffic. Overall I’m happy with the result we achieved today.”
“With one-hour 45-minutes of driving, this is the longest race I have ever driven and I’ve really enjoyed it. I was very pleased with the way I dealt with it physically and mentally and it reassures me that I want to be involved with sportscar racing. I was also happy with my times - especially as I was on worn tyres for a significant part of my double stint. I must admit that the traffic was a new concept for me, but once I got used to it, then it was no problem. I really must thank the team for their work and supporting me in my first endurance race.”
“Having never driven on this track before this event, I knew I had a lot to grasp, but having a double-stint in the race really helped with that. It took me a while to get used to the tyres and the circuit, but I was pleased to be able to consolidate our position and to lap consistently towards the end. Once again, I have to thank Greg for the continued opportunity to drive in the ELMS and the team for doing such a great job this weekend.”