500 MRCI – Murray Grows His Legend

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Dublin driver, Niall Murray, is well known as an accomplished racing driver.  He has won the coveted Emerson Fittipaldi Trophy in Formula Vee racing and the Martin Donnelly Trophy in Formula Ford 1600 racing.  He was the 2018 BRSCC British National Formula Ford 1600 Champion.  On Saturday 28th March 2022, he appeared at Kirkistown Racing Circuit in the three Legends races.

For the benefit of those who do not know what the Legends cars are about, they are 5/8th scale 1930s American Stock car replicas, powered by 1,200cc engines.  They are fast, light and very equally matched.

At this meeting, fourteen of them turned out.  They have a rolling start.

In race one, it was Clonskeagh’s Geoff Richardson who grabbed the lead.  Tallaght’s Derek Hogan got swamped by Murray, Dundrod’s Ivor Greenwood, Cabinteely’s Greg Richardson and Dublin’s Gordon Brown.  On lap two, Murray demoted Richardson for the lead and these two fought over it for the remainder of the race, with Murray taking the win.  Peter Barrable, from Swords, had been making very steady progress through the field from eighth place on the grid and on the final lap he passed Greenwood for third place.  Richard Spence and Colin Hamill, both from Ballymena, were making their Legend debuts and they both got home successfully.

In the second Legends race, Peter Barrable shot straight into the lead and this time Murray, starting from fifth place, put in a mighty first lap to get up to second place. Geoff Richardson also made a great start from seventh to run third at the end of lap one.  For the remainder of the race Barrable and Murray passed and re-passed each other at almost every corner.  At the finish they both exited Maguire’s Hairpin together and dragged for the line, with Murray getting the decision by just 0.08 of a second! Geoff Richardson held on to third place.

In the final Legends encounter, the race was stopped after a big accident on the first lap at Debtor’s Dip.  Unfortunately, one of the drivers had to be taken to hospital, where he remains, at the time of writing. Thankfully, he does not have major, life-changing injuries.  The restart was over a shortened five laps.  Once again, Murray was starting from fifth place on the moving grid.  He passed Hogan, Greenwood and the two Richardsons to lead at the end of the first lap!  Once again Murray and Geoff Richardson kept each other company all the way to the end, with an even closer finish of 0.01 seconds, in favour of Murray, at the line. Greg Richardson was a further 0.7 second behind in third.

 

 

Fourteen Fiestas took the start of the first Fiesta race. Neville Anderson, from Banbridge, was on pole but he was passed by both Belfast’s Paul Stewart and Portadown’s Derek Graham, who was making a return to racing after many years.  Derek’s son, Michael, was demoted by his father’s progress, to fourth place.  These four broke away from the pack but it was announced that both Stewart and Anderson were receiving a 10 second penalty for out-of-position starts.  That meant that the Grahams were 1st and 2nd on corrected time.  However, both Anderson and Stewart continued to battle.  Anderson held on to the lead on the road, while Stewart fell as low as fourth on the road before moving back to third.  At the end, the official results were Derek Graham winning from his son, Michael. Anderson was third, Stewart fourth. Dan Keelan, from Dublin, was fifth and Craig Brown, from Newtownards and also making a comeback after some years, was sixth.  For those who read my scribblings, I did tip Derek as a man to watch!

In the second Fiesta race, Stephen Walker, from Helensburgh in Scotland, was on pole but he got a woeful start and dropped to sixth place on the opening lap. Derek Graham led at the end of lap one but he was overtaken by Paul Stewart on the next tour. On lap three, Neville Anderson passed Graham and Stewart to take the lead but that only lasted one lap before Stewart was back in front.  However, from fifth place on the grid, Michael Graham had been making steady progress and on lap five he passed both Stewart and Anderson to take the lead! Stewart dropped to third while Anderson gave chase.  On lap nine he led once again but on the final tour, Graham Junior got past again to take the win and create Fiesta history at Kirkistown. This was the first time a father and son had each won a race in the same class, at the same meeting.  Stewart was third. Derek Graham was fourth.  Dan Keelan took another fifth place and Strangford’s Megan Campbell, who had been having car troubles all day, rose from tenth at the start to sixth at the end.

 

 

The Formula Vees had opened the day’s racing with their race for grade B and C drivers.  Sixteen cars took the start! Jordan Kelly, from Buncrana, who, to be honest, is a B driver on a technicality, led from start to finish.  Sean Newsome, from Ashford, was in second place until a mistake on lap five sent him down to seventh, which is where he finished.  Donal Downey, from Naas, had started second but had dropped as low as fourth before regaining his starting position and that is where he finished.  Ger Byrne battled his way through to take a very creditable third place.

The Formula Vee Final was the ninth race on the programme and seventeen cars made the start.  Jordan Kelly led away again but this time he had Ashford’s Lee Newsome for company.  Behind these two a typical Formula Vee Mighty Battle was taking place between Bohernabreena’s Anthony Cross, Tara’s Tim Murray and Sean Newsome, who was third at the end of the first lap. By lap two he was fourth and Murray was ahead. A lap later and Newsome was back to third with Cross fourth.  Cross was third at the end of lap five.  He found himself fifth on lap eight.  Donal Downey had got in on the act on lap six and by lap seven he was now third behind Kelly who had been passed by Lee Newsome.  Sean Newsome’s car began giving trouble and he fell away to retire on lap ten. On lap eleven, Kelly regained the lead from Lee Newsome and held it to the end.  One lap later Cross passed Downey to claim and keep third. Fourth at the end was Downey. Fifth was Murray and sixth was Robert Fleming, from Kildare.

The Superkarts have had some changes over the Winter, with a number of drivers graduating from the 125cc class to the 250cc machines.  One such driver is Aaron Newell, from Ballygowan.  Over the past few weeks he has been trying to sort out the engine in his new 250cc Anderson Maverick superkart. It was giving him no end of trouble.  However, it all came good in the first of three races for these fiercely quick machines.

 

 

When the lights went out a great battle began between two Newtownards drivers, Stuart Coey and Alan Witherow.  They swapped places over the first three laps before Witherow’s machine began to falter.  Meanwhile Newell was progressing from fifth place. On lap four he passed the slowing Witherow for third place behind Moira’s Liam Fox, who would stop at the end of the lap, putting Newell into second place.  One lap later, Coey’s machine also went sick and Newell was into the lead. Craigavon’s Brian Jones and Waringstown’s Richard Dewart were now fighting over second place, with Dewart securing the position on lap eight.  In the 125cc class, Comber’s Alan Crossen had a runaway win from Millisle’s Ross Witherow and Hillsborough’s Noel Lindsay.
For the second Superkart race Liam Fox had sorted out the gremlins in his machine and he led from start to finish.  Aaron Newell similarly held second place for the duration, but there was little between them. The gap at the end was just 0.3 seconds!  The battle for third place was mainly between Brian Jones and Bangor’s Colin Menary, with Menary establishing superiority on lap two. Richard Dewart was fifth.  Once again, Alan Crossen dominated the 125cc class from Noel Lindsay.

The third Superkart race had an unusual twist at the end.  Liam Fox took the lead at the start and held it to the end.  Colin Menary did the same with second place.  Aaron Newell and Alan Witherow had a good battle for third, with places changing on the fifth and sixth laps, before Newell got a break, eventually finishing 3.7 seconds in front.  However at post-race scrutiny, Menary’s kart was found to be under weight and Colin was disqualified from second place.  In the 125cc class, Alan Crossen won again from Ross Witherow and Noel Lindsay.

There was much anticipation about the Roadsports races. Fifteen cars were taking the start.  There was talk about how Carrickfergus driver Steven Larkham would shape up against his uncle, Jim Larkham, from Newtownabbey.  Belfast’s Ian Leinster was entered in his super-quick Midget.  John Benson, from Holywood, was back in his fast Crosslé 37S and Niall Fitzsimmons, from Crossgar, was going to be in the mix in his Radical Prosport.  Not many were talking about Banbridge driver, Mark Crawford, and his Caterham Superlight but he qualified on pole and totally dominated the first race from start to finish! Fitzsimmons got the better of Jim Larkham off the line but he retired at the end of lap six.  Steven Larkham stalled on the grid and got away in twelfth place. Leinster took over second place when Fitzsimmons retired.  Benson had contact on the first lap and retired.

 

 

Meanwhile a fantastic four-way battle was taking place in the NI Sevens class. David Mutch, from Belfast was leading from Banbridge driver, Paul Thompson, and Donaghadee brothers, Richard and Mark Francis.  At the end of Lap one it was Mutch from Thompson, Mark Francis and Richard Francis.  By the start of lap three Steven Larkham had passed all four and Richard Francis had passed Paul Thompson and his brother Mark. On lap five Thompson re-passed Richard Francis.  He continued to pressure Mutch and got past on lap nine. On laps ten and eleven Mutch and Richard Francis swapped twice before positions were finalised in favour of Mutch.

The second Roadsports race saw Mark Crawford shoot off into the lead again.  Jim Larkham made his customary careful start, falling behind Niall Fitzsimmons. Steven Larkham passed John Benson on lap one. David Mutch, Paul Thompson and the Francis brothers were at it again right from the start.  At the end of lap one it was Thompson from Richard Francis, Mark Francis and Mutch.  By lap four, Mutch was in front of both Francis brothers.  Fitzsimmons had retired at the end of lap three, so Jim Larkham was now chasing Crawford from second position.  Ian Leinster had made a mistake on lap two, dropping from sixth to twelfth but he was on a recovery drive. By lap six he passed Banbridge driver, Brian Elliott, in a Radical Roadsport, for fifth place overall.  Richard Francis had also passed both brother, Mark, and David Mutch. Mutch came back again on lap eight and Richard retired two laps later.  On the last lap, Jim Larkham had finally got to the rear of Mark Crawford’s Caterham and he worked his way past, taking the win.  Steven Larkham was third. Ian Leinster got fourth. John Benson was fifth and Brian Elliott got sixth. In the NI Seven class Paul Thompson won. David Mutch was second and Mark Francis was third.  Jimmy Dougan, from Killyleagh finished fourth.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, Ballina driver Dave Parks would have no luck at all.  In the first FF1600 race he retired from a lead he had held for eight laps.  Portadown driver, Noel Robinson had been his closest companion on the track until that lap but then Ballymena’s finest, David McCullough, came past, followed by Ballycastle hot-shoe, Brandon McCaughan.  One lap later, Ballina driver Rob Parks also passed Robinson for third place.  On lap twelve he passed McCaughan to record his highest placing at Kirkistown.  At the end, McCullough won from Parks, Robinson and McCaughan.  The Randalstown Rocket, Alan Davidson, never really got his afterburners working.  He had an unusually low finish of fifth.  Ballymena veteran, Henry Campbell, rounded out the top six.

The second FF1600 race was a dramatic affair.  Dave Parks got a great start and led the for six laps, as he had done in the first race. David McCullough was coming from the back again, after a bad qualifying session.  Noel Robinson was in second place, chasing Parks, until McCullough came past on lap four.  Brandon McCaughan was in fourth place. Alan Davidson was in a steady fifth position and Henry Campbell was sixth. On lap seven Parks and McCullough collided at the fastest part of the back straight, both cars spearing off into the barriers.  The race was stopped while the drivers were attended to and the wreckage removed.  Both drivers were largely okay.  On the restart, Robinson took the lead and won the race.  Davidson got the better of McCaughan on lap nine for second place and Campbell moved up to fourth.  Giovanni Romagnoli, who was visiting from London, finished in fifth place in his unusual Nomad Maranello. There were no other finishers.

 

 

In the combined GTs/Saloons/Modi-5-Cup race, Stephen Colbert, from Dungannon, was driving Gerard O’Connell’s RSR Escort GT.  It was the fastest car entered and he duly disappeared into the distance, lapping the entire field. The only other GT was Warrenpoint driver, Paul McAlinden’s SHP Wildcat. He qualified fifth overall and was up to second, before falling back. He eventually finished where he started, in fifth place. Ralph Jess, from Ballynahinch, took the lead in the Saloons in his BMW M3. Nutt’s Corner driver, Donal O’Neill, gave chase in his Seat Cupra. Greer Wray, from Lisburn, was chasing in third place. In the Modi-5-Cup, Newcastle driver, Eugene McCann, took the lead on lap one from Moira’s Francie Allen, who was having his first outing in this class. Derry driver, Gavin Kilkey, and Crossmaglen’s Jim Kennedy, were having a great tussle, further back.  As the race progressed, in the Saloons, Jess was able to maintain a 40 meter lead over O’Neill. On lap five, Pete Murray, from Clonmellon, went off at the Crosslé Chicane in his BMW 330.  This brought Dundonald driver, Keith Wray, in a similar car, up to eight place on the road and fourth in the Saloons. On lap seven Kilkey passed Keith Wray.  Kennedy and Keith Wray began to battle closely from lap nine onwards. On lap eleven, Colbert was coming to lap O’Neill and Jess.

O’Neill wasn’t held up at all but Jess lost half of his forty meter advantage.  On the next and final lap, both drivers were coming to lap the battling Wray and Kennedy.  Jess got baulked and O’Neill was through into the lead.  The final standings were; GTs, first was Stephen Colbert, second was Paul McAlinden, Saloons, first Donal O’Neill, second Ralph Jess, third, Greer Wray. In the Modi-5-Cup, first was Eugene McCann, second was Francie Allen and third was Gavin Kilkey.

The final race of the day was the second GT/Saloon/Modi-5-Cup encounter.  Once again, Colbert took off, never to be headed.  O’Neill got a poor start, almost being passed by Francie Allen in the first of the Mazdas. Jess took the Saloon lead once again.  Greer Wray also got a poor start, falling behind Allen and Pete Murray.  By the second lap, O’Neill was chasing Jess hard.  From lap four to lap eight he brought the gap right down.  Meanwhile Murray, Allen and Ballyhalbert’s David Cousins were having a great battle, before Cousins spun on lap nine.  Greer Wray had established himself fourth on the road and third in the Saloons from lap four.  On lap twelve, as Jess and O’Neill rounded Debtor’s Dip, they came to lap Keith Wray.  The marshals were waving blue flags at Wray to warn of their approach.  Wray took the inside line and Jess seemed to follow him.  O’Neill did not need a second invitation. He went round the outside of both of them and into the lead.

The final results were GTs, only finisher was Stephen Colbert, Saloons; first O’Neill, second Jess, third Greer Wray. MX5s, first Francie Allen, second Eugene McCann and third David Cousins. However, McCann was later excluded for being underweight and this moved Jim Kennedy into third place.

So ended a wonderful day of motor racing, bathed in sunshine from start to finish.

 

Words: DONAL O’NEILL | 500 MRCI Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY
[Images must not be used in any way without prior written consent of the photographer]

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Graham is a photojournalist and motoring writer with over 20 varied years of coverage from manufacturer press launches to international motorsport and motoring events throughout the world. Graham is a full member of the Guild of Motoring Writers and Ulster Motor Writers Association.

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