Former Supercars Championship star and current-day broadcaster Greg Murphy is known for his loyalty to Holden and a decorated career in Australasia’s most popular racing series. But, for a period of time in the late 1990s, the Kiwi was juggling test drives and potential contracts with a raft of different categories. And one of these was the British Touring Car Championship with Williams Renault.
Speaking on the latest episode of The V8 Sleuth Podcast with Aaron Noonan, Murphy reflected on his forgotten test with the Formula 1 come BTCC squad in late 1998 in France, in preparation for a possible 1999 berth. The test came about after Murphy lost his drive with the Holden Racing Team at the end of 1997, forcing him to widen his scope for possible options in 1998 and beyond.
“I was a bit naive,” Murphy said of his role in losing the HRT drive. “But also I was pretty distracted at the time trying to chase [Indy Lights]. I wasn’t playing the game anywhere near as well as I should’ve been and didn’t really have anyone representing me or anything like that.
“I was angry at the time that I’d been given the boot. But, you look back on it and it was pretty obvious that, with Brock leaving, I suppose I just assumed that they were going to sit and wait for me to make my decision with what I was doing and I would be sitting there alongside [Craig Lowndes]. But obviously Skaifey was looking for a drive and subsequently went on to do amazing things for HRT.”
Murphy accepted a co-driver role with HRT in 1998, plus occasional regular season cameos in the team’s development Holden VT Commodore. He also continued too pursue open-wheelers in the US and he also competed in the AMP Bathurst 1000 with Triple 8. It was parallel to this that a BTCC opportunity presented itself.
“Graeme Moore from Sydney, who had spent a lot of time doing super touring and all sorts of other racing as well, he was the guy, someone that worked quite hard to get me a shot [at Williams]. He also used Alan Jones, because of his connections and knowledge there at Williams, to get me a test over there,” Murphy said.
“It was a real busy time because I was doing stuff in New Zealand, some Formula Holden, some testing I was doing in America with Tasman and Steve Horne. Scott Dixon and I were flying backwards and forwards all over the place at the time. It was a crazy end to 1998, enduros with HRT, Formula Holden stuff, Tasman series stuff back in New Zealand, Tasman Motorsport Indy Lights testing, and also this test with Renault at Circuit de Nogaro in France.
“I ended up getting shipped off over there, Jason Plato was the other driver. He was at the test, very helpful but [the weather] was miserable, absolutely miserable. It was freezing cold.
“I was trying to get some laps in this thing, and front-wheel drive, tyre temp and all that stuff, really tricky in a car I’d never driven before at a track I’d never been to before. It was still an incredible experience, and we got through the test. All I remember about that track is, if we think Sydney Motorsport Park has high tyre deg, I reckon there was half a lap on a set of brand new Michelins at Nogaro before they went off. It was just unbelievable.”
Following the test, Murphy met with illustrious team owner Frank Williams. But no drive was forthcoming.
“The test was the test, I don’t from memory believe it went overly well. I then jumped on a plane and flew back to England, and was going to meet Frank Williams to discuss an opportunity with the race team. I remember going out to Oxford, and [Frank Williams] was obviously a very busy man. I was sitting there at the Williams HQ waiting for him to turn up, and eventually ended up in his office.
“The meeting was reasonably short and quick. The thing I remember most about sitting there, being talked to by Frank, was at the end of it all he said ‘so how much would you expect to be getting paid by us if you were given the drive?” And I was like, that is out of left field! I was like “umm, uhh”. I did not expect to be asked what I should be getting paid. if he was going to employ me to drive his racing car for 1999.
“Anyway, I didn’t get a second interview, so that was the end of that. It must’ve been the wrong answer. I think I said something along the lines of what I was getting paid in Australia, I don’t know. Maybe I undersold myself so much that he thought ‘we’re never hiring this bloke’,” Murphy laughed.
Murphy would not have been the first New Zealander to join the BTCC, given that both Paul Radisich and Craig Baird had been competing in the series during 1998. Aaron Slight then joined the series with Peugeot in 2001.