GREG MURPHY’S FORGOTTEN INDYCAR TEST

Greg Murphy aboard the Project Indy Reynard. Pic: Instagram

SCOTT McLaughlin isn’t the first Kiwi Supercars star to attempt a bold switch to Indycar in America.

While McLaughlin had a clear pathway between the categories thanks to Team Penske, in the 1990s Greg Murphy got as far as an Indycar test but fell short of securing a race seat.

Murphy’s subsequent Supercars career made him a childhood hero to McLaughlin, but those Bathurst heroics may never have happened had his own American dream become reality.

A then 25-year-old Murphy had been plotting his Indycar bid while in his first full Supercars season at the Holden Racing Team in 1997.

It’s one of many topics to feature in the 2015 book ‘Murphy: An Illustrated History’ – of which limited stock is available at a discounted price through the V8 Sleuth Bookshop.

Between the 1997 Australian Touring Car Championship finale at Oran Park and the Sandown 500, Murphy flew to Indianapolis for an Indy Lights test at the Putnam Park road course.

The test was with fledging team Project Indy that was fielding a full-time entry in the CART Championship Series and had a dormant Indy Lights program.

A Peter Adderton-led consortium supporting Murphy had raised the funds for the Lights test with the Andreas Leberle-owned team, but the opportunity to drive the Indycar came as a surprise.

Murphy attended the test to drive the Indy Lights car. Pic: Instagram

“Our Indy Lights test had gone really well. I’d done a fair few laps and the guy who owned the car had been watching the times,” Murphy told the V8 Sleuth Podcast powered by Timken.

“He was obviously thinking ‘here’s an opportunity, I don’t really know who these guys are but if the kid is any good maybe there’s a chance he can end up in an Indycar’.

“What he did was say ‘if you call it quits on the test with the Indy Lights car and save putting more miles on it you can do a few laps in the Indy Car’.

“That doesn’t take a lot of thinking time [before making the decision]! So I strapped into the [Reynard] and off we went and did a few laps.

“Unfortunately, it had a bit of a misfire going on so I didn’t get as many clean laps as I would have liked to have got but it was my only experience of a fully-fledged Indycar.

“At the time I remember going ‘this is where I want to be and this is what I want to be doing, there’s no doubt about it’.”

Murphy affirmed his backers tried hard to get a deal together to race with the team, fitting around his HRT commitments.

Murphy was limited to six laps in the car. Pic: Instagram

“There was a fair bit of effort and work put in to trying to raise the money and a lot of ideas were put forth to try and put the budget together to do a deal,” he said.

“The Indy Lights deal was around the $800,000 to $900,000 USD at the time, which now comparatively is quite cheap, but that was a lot of dough.

“For the Indycar side of things, I think it was a $4 million USD kind of deal back then in the late 1990s to try and do something there.”

Although Murphy says HRT was supportive of his US ambitions during 1997, he feels it may have played a role in being left out of the squad’s full-time line-up the following year.

Murphy undertook more Indy Lights testing during his V8 Supercars sabbatical in 1998, as well as running a British Touring Car test with Williams, before returning to the Australian series in ’99.

“There’s no real regrets because we gave it a shot,” concluded Murphy, who whose subsequent Bathurst wins in 1999, 2003 and ’04 added to his victory with HRT in ’96.  

“Maybe we could have done things differently or better, who knows?

“But it got to the point where I had to make a decision: do I go and be a paid driver in Australia and really build that or continue to search for the millions to go and do the American dream?”

Murphy will return to his open-wheel roots when he contests the New Zealand Grand Prix, held for Toyota Racing Series cars at Hampton Downs, on January 22-24.