Sprint Gas Racing drivers Greg Murphy and Jason Richards might have claimed an unexpected second place in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, but remained far from completely happy after feeling that they had been robbed of victory in the early stages of the race..
Murphy was hit by Craig Lowndes' Triple Eight Ford approaching turn two on the opening lap, sustaining steering arm damage that would plague the #3 Holden for the rest of the 161-lap event. Having got so close to the Lowndes/Whincup car by the end - albeit aided by several safety car periods - the Tasman team believes that the impact ultimately cost it a win.
“We were so competitive all weekend and we knew we could win it, so to be hit before the second corner cost us the race,” Murphy fumed, “Second is good, but first place was taken away from us by Triple Eight. They forced us to make an unscheduled stop early on, and then there was a very real fear that we'd have to strop again to fix the damage. We were lucky we could drive through it. I can't believe he didn't get a penalty.”
Despite the steering problem, and struggling with an over-heating engine in the closing stages, Murphy and Richards never gave up, pushing and passing FPR's Steven Richards before attempting to hunt down Lowndes on the final sprint to the flag.
“Watching those last 15 laps was breathtaking,” Richards admitted, “We were in third, and I would have been happy with that, but 'Murph' fought so hard to get past Steven. When he did it, a big cheer went up in the garage, but then he tried to mow down Lowndes. If we didn't have engine problems and we had a few more laps, he might have done it. Who knows?
“Before the race, we all thought we had the pace and the package to win but, after Lowndes hit us, I begun to think we might struggle. We thought we might have to pit to repair the damage, but decided to stay out as long as we could. The car was harder to drive, but we managed to stay in control. It says a lot about the car that, even with bent steering, we were able to push hard and do good lap times. We pushed hard all day and were supported well in the garage. It was a great team effort."
Second place was the Tasman-run team's first Bathurst podium since 2005, and Murphy's first since he took the last of his four wins there in 2004. Despite his obvious discontent with the Lowndes incident, the Kiwi remained ebullient over the result.
“This is absolutely massive,” Murphy admitted, “To be up here on the podium again is unbelievable - I can't believe we did it. Jason and the team did a sensational job, and it was fantastic to be able to chase down the leader. It's been a while since we've been able to do that, but the car was fast right through to the end.”
Getting past Richards was an important move for Murphy, not only because it elevated him to second, but also because it gave the Sprint Gas car some vital cool air as it battled both low fuel levels and an over-heating engine.
“We had just enough fuel to get us home, so when the safety cars came out it was a relief,” Murphy said, having been instructed to switch on the reserve, “It was a bit touch and go.
“Then the engine started to overheat and I had to nurse it. That was hard because I could see Richards, and then Lowndes, ahead of me. I did everything I could to chase them down, aware that the engine was struggling. We were lucky to get it home really.”