Sunday
Sep192010

SCI Interview: David Murry

To new fans of the American Le Mans Series, David Murry is just one of the drivers of the Robertson Racing Ford GT, but fans that have been around the sport for a while know that Murry is one of the fastest and most prolific drivers in American sportscar racing over the 20 years. He’s raced in every type of car and in every series out there, from Continental Challenge to Grand Am and ALMS, and has competed as a Porsche factory driver in a prototype at Le Mans. When he’s not racing, David does a lot of driver coaching and even has his own track day organization (David Murry Track Days) where he shares his experience and knowledge with enthusiast drivers and amateur racers. We caught up with David at Mosport to talk about some of his greatest racing memories and new memories being made with the Ford GT.
 
Haueter: You’ve driven a lot of different race cars over the years. Which ones stand out?
Murry: All my racing memories are good memories, but some of the milestones were driving for the Porsche factory in the LMP1-98 prototype at Le Mans in 1998 and driving the Jim Matthews prototype here in the U.S. It was great racing with Michele Alboreto as a teammate at the Petit Le Mans, driving Jim’s Riley & Scott prototype. Michele was also driving another one of the prototypes with Porsche the same year I raced with them at Le Mans and we had a good battle for about an hour. That was a really special event for me, because of Michele. I first met Michele when we went testing at Paul Ricard before Le Mans. I was actually slated to drive with Michele and Stefan Johansson at Le Mans, but when we went for the race Porsche asked me to switch to the other car (Murry drove with James Weaver and Pierre-Henri Raphanel). Michele was a pretty special guy. I had a lot of respect for him because here’s a guy that’s run Ferrari F1 and he was a real gentleman and treated me as an equal.

Haueter: How did you like driving a Porsche prototype in your first time at Le Mans in 1998?
Murry: I didn’t even know about Le Mans growing up. When I got involved with Porsche, I went to the test for it and was one of a dozen other drivers they had invited to do laps in an older 911 GT1, which was the ex-Jochen Rohr car. I got five laps in the car with new tires and then got another five laps later in the day. That test went well and I was quick, so they invited me to a test in France to drive the newer GT1 and that went well too, so they hired me for Le Mans. We went to test at Paul Ricard first and they had the two 911 GT1-98’s there and also the two LMP1-98 cars and I was one of the first to drive both. I drove them back-to-back and the lap times were about the same, but the LMP1-98 car had understeer. I figured if we fixed that, the LMP car would be faster. So when they asked me which car I would rather drive and I found out Joest was running the LMP car and had won Le Mans a bunch of times, I chose it. I went to Le Mans not really knowing anything about it, but realized how big a deal it was after pre-qualifying. It’s a big, monumental event. I did it again in 2000 and 2001, and we’re planning to run Le Mans again next year with the Robertson Racing Ford GT.

Haueter: Any particular seasons stand out in your career?

Murry: One was in the early 1990’s, driving for Lotus in the Esprit in the IMSA Supercar Championship. My driving in the Esprit is what actually got me noticed by Porsche. Another was driving with Lloyd Hawkins in a Porsche 944 and 968 in the IMSA Firehawk Series. In 1994, we won the Firehawk championship with Lloyd and then in 1995 I raced a Porsche in World Challenge in a 911 GT2 Turbo and won the championship in that. Those were two special years and led into racing with Porsche at Le Mans.

Haueter: Do you still consider yourself a Porsche driver at heart?
Murry: I do – Porsche has been such a big part of my career and I still have relationships with them. I still work with them when they launch new cars to the media, like the Panamera and the new Cayenne Hybrid. It’s pretty cool to be driving an American car in the ALMS this year though, with the Ford GT.

Haueter: The Ford GT is one of the coolest cars out there. What’s it like to drive?
Murry: It’s a dream to drive and does everything it’s supposed to. Now it’s only a matter of getting more speed out of it. That’s our biggest deficit right now. We don’t have the outright pace to qualify well, but once we get our car in race trim we’re fairly competitive. At Road America, I was running in second and the Ferrari passed me and then the Corvette was in front of me and I passed the Corvette legitimately to move into second place. For us, things like that are major deals.

Haueter: Is there any interest at all from Ford in the ALMS program?
Murry: One issue is that they don’t make the car anymore, but there’s still a lot of interest in the program from Ford. Back in the 1960’s, the GT40 did so much for Ford and for American racing. Today, Ford realizes what a monumental task that was and they don’t want to devalue the brand by possibly coming back and not being as successful. But when we’re racing it, you can tell they have a lot of interest in it.

Haueter: What’s been the hardest part of development with the Ford GT?
Murry: Our team manager H. Smith is a brilliant fabricator. He’s been making continuous improvements on the car, in ways that make the car more reliable and easier to work on. We’ve been able to make it faster and faster, but the difficult part is that you’re chasing a moving target. Having driven for factory teams, I know what those guys are capable of. With that in mind, their development rate is going to be at a certain angle and we need to be working at a steeper angle than them. Of course, having a brand new car, we had more room for improvement, but now we have to work harder to close the gaps even more.

Haueter: What’s the Ford GT like to drive?
Murry: It has the same basic platform as the Ferrari and has the engine where it’s supposed to be to make a proper race car. Each car in the series has its own strong points. The Ferrari and our Ford GT can carry good speed in the long round corners. The Porsche is brilliant in slow-speed corners, in putting down power coming off the corners. The BMW is good in a lot of places, especially over bumps and maintaining high-speed momentum. The Corvette is also a really good all-around car and the ALMS has done a good job of making all the cars very close. Being a private team up against factory teams with all their resources makes it a real challenge for us, but we have a really good team.

Haueter: Have you been happy with the effort Dunlop has given the team?
Murry: They have their plate full with BMW, but they’ve been making strides with our car too. Not many years ago if you didn’t have a Michelin tire, you just couldn’t compete. Today, Dunlop has been giving Michelin a real run for their money and BMW has proved that by winning some races and being very competitive with the Ferrari and Porsche.

Haueter: How have David & Andrea Robertson improved as drivers over the last year?
Murry: They’ve done incredible. I was doing high a high 1:19 or 1:20 at Mosport and Andrea did a 1:22:3. On a track like Mosport, that’s very good and David was right there too. They both have different characteristics. David is a more technical driver, and Andrea is strong when we’re on tracks where you just drive by the seat of your pants. It’s been very rewarding to see them get better and better. They’re so much more aware in the car now too, in traffic or when something goes wrong with the car. They’re both much more calm and methodical in the car now.

Haueter: Does Kevin Doran still have any involvement with the development of the Ford GT? (Doran’s race shop built the original car)

Murry: Kevin built the car, so we still buy some pieces from him, but we do most of the work in-house at the race shop in Atlanta. Kevin will be at the Petit Le Mans and will engineer and run the second car.

Haueter: You’ve driven all the big sports car endurance races. How do they compare?

Murry: Le Mans is the big one. I also really enjoy both Daytona and Sebring. Daytona is a long race and we’ve had some really good races there. You can be out there at three in the morning running hard and swapping places with other cars and that’s really enjoyable. Sebring is shorter, but you’re busier with the track. Petit Le Mans has more of a flavor of Le Mans. The atmosphere is similar but you don’t have the long, lonely straights. At Le Mans, there are fewer cars per mile so you can be out there running by yourself, so it’s a different deal with the traffic.

Haueter: Will traffic be an issue at the Petit Le Mans this year, with 45 cars on the entry and the Audi and Peugeot prototypes coming over?

Murry: With cars like the Audi and Peugeot prototypes there along with the GTC Porsches, it’s going to be difficult with the speed differences. The downforce is the biggest difference. The GTC cars don’t have any downforce, so are not very quick in the high-speed corners. The prototypes are just the opposite of that – they’re flat through a lot of the corners. Even with the GT cars we sometimes feel like we’re in the way, so I can’t imagine how it’s going to be for the GTC cars at the Petit Le Mans because Road Atlanta has the high-speed corners.

Haueter: Has it been a problem this season having the slower GTC cars on the track?
Murry: Some of the GTC cars were struggling initially with learning how to race on the same track with the faster cars. It’s getting better now. One problem was that the GTC cars were going 8mph faster than the GT cars on the straight at Miller Motorsport Park, so the GT cars had to pass them in places where you really didn’t want to. If they didn’t help you out with getting by, it was almost impossible. ALMS ended up putting a smaller restrictor on the GTC cars which made them slower so it’s been easier to get by them since they made that change.

Haueter: You have our own track day organization now. How’s that going?
Murry: We started up David Murry Track Days  (www.davidmurry.com) at VIR last October and are having our second event this October. We want to expand, but want to build a following first and make sure it’s a good healthy event. It’s very different from any other track day but it’s been difficult to get that message out. I’ll talk through the track corner by corner with all the drivers on the first morning and then I’m available all day to anybody that wants to go through their data or their video. We have video cameras in all the cars so we can go through the laps with any of the drivers and give them feedback and things to work on. I’ll do another discussion on the morning of the second day, maybe talking about setup, and then am available all day again. We also have Synergy Racing there on at the track to help out with anything people may need with their cars. It’s open track, so there’s no waiting around for sessions to start. You get true quality track time and it ends up being less then $50 an hour for the amount of track time we give.

Haueter: Is your son Dylan going to follow in your footsteps?
Murry: He’s 9 and already racing go-karts, and has done the Andretti camp. He loves doing it! When he was at the Andretti camp he in the same karts as everyone else and was beating some of the instructors there. I just need to make sure I get him a good kart for his other races!

« AT SILVERSTONE - Gallery by Regis Lefebure | Main | IndyCar's death warrant. »