Murphy Prototypes at Le Mans 2016: the Pluck of the Irish
Murphy Prototypes came to Le Mans in 2016 for their fifth consecutive challenge on the 24 Hours at La Sarthe. Team Principal, Greg Murphy, centred upon the established partnership of Marc Goossens, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating – three drivers who already race together regularly with ViperExchange.com SRT Viper GT3 in the USA. Not only does the trio have a deep seated understanding of each other, but Goossens and Bleekemolen have a total of 23 Le Mans starts between them. Marc Goossens made his debut at La Sarthe in 1996, and has contested the 24 Hours from WSC and LM prototypes to GT. Bleekemolen hasn’t missed a start at Le Mans in ten years, and took a class win in 2008.
The Murphy Prototypes Nissan-powered Oreca 03 open-topped LMP2 prototype has been part of Le Mans for the last five years, with a proven track record for speed and reliability. The car came with the colourful backing and distinctive livery of Gas Monkey Energy Drink and “Cruisin’ with the Monkey”, the brainchild of Gas Monkey Garage founder and classic car enthusiast Richard Rawlings. This was topped off by branding for Ben Keating’s own ViperExchange dealership. .
The weather for qualifying and practice was very mixed. Few can have remembered a week at Le Mans when it rained so hard. In practice and qualifying many teams, Murphy Prototypes included, were simply denied the opportunity to perfect an optimum set-up for the track. Having to start the race behind the safety car, in an open-topped car beneath a torrential downpour, became a critical factor in the team’s fortunes.
It was not until fifty minutes after the start that racing finally got under way, and Jeroen Bleekemolen made a strong impression for Murphy Prototypes. From 20th in LMP2 on the grid, the Dutch driver had the #48 Oreca through to a peak of 11th early into the second hour. A determined strategy of smooth, consistent lapping, keeping free of trouble, was paying dividends, but four hours into the race the full impact of the weather hit home. Water had worked deep into the car’s electronics, and the first casualty was the visual display, followed swiftly by the dashboard itself.
Elusive electronic faults are the hardest to isolate and the only solution was to replace vast tracts of wiring and circuitry. By the fourth hour, the #48 was classified 57th out of 60 starters. That heralded an heroic fight-back, through the night and into the early hours of Sunday, that saw Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Goossens driving with skill and determination, dragging the #48 back up through the ranks. Just before ten on Sunday morning, Murphy Prototypes moved into 24th overall and a great result looked possible.
However, with three hours to go, the car lost power at the Ford Chicane before the start-finish straight. Marc had to turn across from the chicane onto the grass to make the entrance to the pit. Once the car was into the garage, the team had to work hard to fix the problem. After another 30 minute pitstop, Marc was able to get back out and climb a few positions before handing over to Ben Keating for the final stint to finish the race.
Ben saw out the rest of the race with a solid stint, crossing the line in P15 in the LMP2 class, and P34 overall. Considering the car had been practically last after 3 hours, the crew and the drivers really pulled together as a team to deliver a result.
This is the final year at Le Mans for the Murphy Prototypes Oreca-Nissan 03. The LMP2 regulations change from next year, so Team Principal, Greg Murphy is looking forward to a new package and a new challenge for Le Mans in 2017.
Jeroen Bleekemolen’s reflections on the race:
‘I finished at around 11am on Sunday. The car was running well and it was a very enjoyable final stint. We posted some solid times. The weather really started to warm up and that had a very noticeable effect on the track. With the track temperature going up, we have to use a different compound of tyres, so we changed to the mediums.”
“With just one or two laps to go, I noticed some steering issues with the car. There was no front-end grip. Luckily, it happened just before the pit arena, so I was able to come in immediately and get the team to have a look. It turns out I had collected some rubber or debris on the front, under the bodywork. It was fixed in the garage. Marc leapt into the car, and we were on our way again for the final push.”
Marc Goossens reflections on the race:
“For my final stint, the car was running okay until about one hour into it. I came into the Ford chicane, and the car felt like it cut into neutral. As I had passed the entrance to pits, I decided to turn across from the chicane and over the grass to make the entrance to the pit. The radio started playing up, and then I had to kill the engine to try to reset it. Once we got the car into the garage, the guys worked hard to fix the problem. It was frustrating as we had been making up the places.”
“Throughout the stint, the car got better and better, developing more understeer. That’s what we had wanted to have earlier in the week. The track changed and really suited our car, so we were able to deliver faster lap times before I handed over to Ben to finish the race.”
“Its always great to make the finish at Le Mans – its always spectacular at the end. The Murphy Prototypes team worked really hard to get the car prepped for the race, and then right through the race to fix the issues we had. Finishing Le Mans is always an achievement in itself, and its a great reward for the team.”
“Ben, Jeroen and I are a part of a group that has worked together a number of times over recent years, so to finish P15 in class and P34 overall after such a tumultuous race feels like a great result. Fantastic performances from the mechanics, the engineers and the rest of the team to make it all come together.”
Ben Keating’s reflections on the race:
“Doing the final stint in the Murphy Prototypes Oreca-Nissan was a great experience. Finishing Le Mans is a big deal, because racing for 24 Hours is extremely challenging. With such a great team of drivers, I was disappointed that we were not further up the field. We had problems a couple of times during the race, but to finish was really special.”
“I came to this year’s Le Mans wanting to do well, but I now really understand how special it is to finish. This year is the first time that finishers do a full lap at the completion of the race, and to see the hundreds of marshals and support crews out there waving their flags was truly special. In the open top car, you really engage with the fans, clapping them and giving them thumbs up. Amazing, amazing – like nothing I have ever experienced’.
Greg Murphy reflections on the race:
“We are delighted to have finished the race. This is our fifth Le Mans, so we know that this race can throw anything at you. We are a bit disappointed to have spent so much time in the pits. The rain at the start really caused problems for our electronics, and further gremlins around midday today saw us loose all the gains that we had made since Saturday evening. Without that, I am sure that we would have a had a top-five performance.”
“Nevertheless, it was a good end for the Murphy Prototypes Oreca-Nissan O3, as it is the last year for this type of car in the Le Mans 24 Hours. The car showed speed. I would like to thank the drivers, the mechanics, the engineers and all the fans who support #murphysmen at LM24. Thanks for all your support on the road to Le Mans and during the race. See you at La Sarthe in 2017!”