IT'S not surprising that Ovens driver Owen Murphy rates the Billy Coleman Award Young Driver of the Year Award he won in 2006 as one of his major achievements in rallying.
He’s also a double winner of the Irish Forest Rally Championship and while he hankers a return to gravel rallying, he’s also set his sights on a proper tilt at the Irish Tarmac Championship. In political parlance, a case of “ a lot done, more to do.”
Motorsport is in the Murphy DNA, his father Jerry made his rally debut in the Killarney Historic Rally, an event that Owen won last year to prove his father’s theory that you don’t need a Ford Escort to win the Killarney event.
As a child, Owen was a regular at rallies as Jerry (before he began competing) looked after tyres for fellow Cork driver Frank O’Mahony.
Owen began in karting at the age of twelve and in 1999 won the Junior Rookie Championship, during his time karting he raced with the likes of Carrigaline’s Brian O’Mahony, Mayo’s Emmet Queenan and Dubliner Aaron Coby.
A stretching frame expedited his exit from karting and a switch to autograss racing in a Mini (with seat that was positioned well back from the steering wheel) and while class wins followed, Owen quickly moved into the discipline of autocross where he campaigned a Suzuki Swift winning the Munster Junior Championship on two occasions.
All the time his rally debut was nearing and in 2004 at the wheel of a Peugeot 106 he started the West Cork Rally in Clonakilty with Niall O’Sullivan as his co-driver and the pair won their class. It wasn’t long before versions of the Peugeot 206 (XS and Cup) were on the scene as the Ovens driver also moved “into the woods” for forest rallying.
That debut season ended with the pair campaigning a Group N Subaru on the Fastnet Rally.
For about the next two seasons the cars changed from Peugeot to Mitsubishi, Talbot Sunbeam and Ford Fiesta while co-drivers changed even more frequently.
The Coleman award win in 2006 was accompanied by a Group N victory in the Irish Forest series.
“Winning the Coleman award was really special, while the prizemoney was a huge help, the prestige of the award was amazing.”
In 2007, Owen took part in Rally Ireland in a Ford Fiesta finishing second in class.
Stability eventually came in the 2011 season with the vastly experienced James O’Brien as co-driver and a first national title came via the Irish Forest Championship in a Mitsubishi Evo IX with outright wins in the Sean Conlon Tipperary Forest and Willie Loughman Carrick on Suir and Wicklow, he finished second in the Cork Forest.
Another title followed some three years later and in between he narrowly lost in 2013, retiring whilst leading the Bushwhacker Rally, the final round with London based Churchtown native Michael O’Brien eventually taking the laurels. While that was a major disappointment, his second place in the Mitsubishi to Brian O’Mahony (Subaru WRC) on the West Cork Rally was probably his “finest hour” in that event.
In 2014 he availed of the opportunity to drive an ex-Russell Brookes Sunbeam Lotus in the British forests but the lack of pre-event testing was a major handicap. The car belonged to London based Waterford native John Leahy.
Having achieved all he could with the Mitsubishi (winning the Munster Moonraker and Cork Forest again) the yearning for a more “modern” car grew. “The Mitsubishi was becoming out-dated and we wanted to move to something newer and closer to what the top competitors were driving.”
Owen, who also competes in navigation rallies, ended up acquiring an ex-Freddy Loix Skoda Fabia S2000 from Slovakia for the 2016 season. “The Skoda probably didn’t have the power of the Mitsubishi but it was much better in terms of brakes and handling.”
Sixth place on the Rally of the Lakes, second in Clare and fourth on the Cork “20” were the most notable results before the car was sold on to David Guest with Owen’s previous Mitsubishi, returning briefly to the Murphy set-up as part of the deal. A fleeting outing in the Imokilly Rally paved the way for its onward journey once more, this time to Donegal.
While the search for an R5 car was temporarily on hold, a Sunbeam Lotus filled the void - with great success - victory in the Irish Tarmac Historic Rally Championship where he was partnered by former national champion co-driver Anthony Nestor.
Victory in last year’s Killarney Historic Rally was special and not just on a personal note. “That was where my Dad (Jerry) started rallying and he always said that a Sunbeam could beat the Escorts, so it was also special for him.”
Owen’s last rally in that same Sunbeam saw him win the historic section of the Cork “20 International Rally despite troubles with a halfshaft. For the forthcoming Killarney Historic Rally, he will defend his title in a hired Mk. 2 Ford Escort.
While the Historic car was run by Jason O’Mahony and Mike Nelligan, Ttec Motorsport oversaw the era of the Mitsubishi and the Skoda Fabia S2000.
Owen is set on acquiring a R5 car for a tilt at the Irish Tarmac Championship but he’s not putting a date on any acquisition. “When is the thing, but I would love to have one for the West Cork Rally next March.” As for the opposition, he is under no illusion.
“When you see what happened this year and Craig Breen had to work for victory, it shows the pace is serious.”
Losing the 2010 Cork Forest Rally to John Reid (Toyota Corolla WRC) by 0.3 of a second still rankles with Owen Murphy, but just like the family tyre business, he knows that rallying is a precision game.