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Murray makes his mark in rally championship

September 20, 2004

Murray makes his mark in rally championship

Palmerston North's Sam Murray was the revelation of this year's National Rally Championship, winning the Rookie and Group A titles even though he was not going to compete in the series 12 months ago.

Driving a Subaru Impreza WRX owned by Peter Day, Murray wrapped up the Rookie award at the Nelson Rally where he finished second overall and then finished fifth on the Tarmac event held in the Waikato to take the final Group A title in the sport's history.

His efforts have not gone un-noticed by Subaru of New Zealand and Murray has won $10,000 from the company due to his success.

Late last year, Murray went to Palmerston North businessman Day and said he had a couple of sponsors to help fund Day's national championship campaign, if Murray could have the use of the car for some regional rallies.

"I thought about it for a while," said Day. "And it made more sense for Sam to do the national series and I would just do the odd club event."

So Day reverted to the role of team manager and Murray's performances improved with each event to the extent Day never got into his own car to do a club rally.

"With the way Sam has gone it would've been silly to risk the car in other events," said Day.

Murray's success this year is all the more meritorious as he did not compete at all in 2003, apart from a trial drive in the Impreza right at the end of the season. He only did one event in 2002 and two rallies in 2001.

"Sam fitted in real well with the rest of my team," said Day. "He's gone faster at each event."

At the start of the season Murray set himself three goals - victory in the Rookie Championship, which is run for drivers competing in the national championship for the first time. He also targeted a top 3 place in the Group A class against vastly more experienced drivers and a top 5 overall position in the championship.

"The goals were based on finishing every round," said Murray. "We had to drive conservatively enough to finish and not damage the car."

It was a steep learning curve. With co-driver Stuart Jenkinson, Murray had to get used to the pace notes, a Subaru he had never driven before and events he had no experience of.

"It turned out better than we could've hoped," said Murray.

The season started with a fifth place at Otago, followed by fourth in Southland. He was lying second at the end of the first day at Rotorua, only to be sidelined by gearbox problems. Then he was third at Hawkes Bay and second at Nelson.

"Maybe we could've won there if we hadn't got two punctures," said Murray.

Already plans are afoot for the partnership to continue in 2005. Day has the Impreza for sale to make way for the latest 2005 model WRX STI to be run in standard production, Group N form, which will become the main class in the National Rally Championship next year.

"I quite enjoyed running the team this year," said Day. "We all think Sam's got the ability to bring the championship back to the Manawatu."

Murray is quite relaxed about moving back to a less powerful Group N car. His previous spasmodic outings in the sport were in an older Group N car. "I think I can adapt to the class again and now we've got experience of the events it's going to be easier."

And he believes the Subaru is the car to have. "It handles great and is real fun to drive on winding gravel roads. We were a bit down on power for tarmac, but that's only one event."

Murray's victory in the Group A and Rookie titles, adds to Chris West's success in winning the overall championship in the Subaru Rally Team New Zealand Impreza WRX STI, as well as taking the standard production class title.

West and Murray with Masterton's Richard Mason in another Group N Impreza WRX STI also won the Teams Cup.


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