Fresh from an encouraging debut in the Formula Renault Eurocup at Paul Ricard, Formula Renault Northern European Cup points leader Matt Parry took on – and beat – some of the best that Italy could offer in the Formula Renault ALPS finale at Imola.

Invited to contest the double-header round by the frontrunning Koiranen GP team, following an introduction via the Caterham Racing Academy scheme of which he is a member, Parry travelled to the former San Marino Grand Prix venue hoping for a good result with which to head to the FRenault NEC showdown at Zandvoort this coming weekend.

With a copious amount of practice time – something denied him at the Eurocup round the previous week – the Welshman was able to build both his confidence and pace, and was soon lapping as quickly as the championship frontrunners. By the time qualifying came around, the three hours of preparatory track time had firmly established a top three, with Parry joining champion-elect – and Ferrari protégé – Antonio Fuoco and Prema Powerteam colleague Luca Ghiotto at the head of the pack.

“Imola is an amazing circuit, and it was great to be invited to drive here, particularly in a competitive series like ALPS,” Parry commented, “There are several notable differences between the series and the others I have driven in this year and, despite starting out on the back foot, having never been to the track before, I was soon able to get amongst the pacesetters.”

Qualifying second in his group, behind Ghiotto, saw Parry line up on the inside of row two for the opening race on Saturday afternoon but, despite being close enough at the start to take a look at Fuoco, he wisely decided not to interfere with the title battle. The attempt to take second place away from the Italian – who arrived at Imola with a 400-strong following from his home town – also resulted in damage to the front wing of the #5 Koiranen machine, making the remainder of the race, which was staged on a wet track, tricky for the 19-year old, but he kept the car on track to claim a podium finish at the end of the 13 laps.

“I knew that there was a lot at stake for the two drivers on the front row, so I didn’t really get involved with them,” Parry confirmed, “However, when the opportunity presented itself, I had to have a look, didn’t I? Unfortunately, I tweaked my own front wing, which made the car a handful for the rest of the race, but I was still able to bring it home in third place.”

With the grid the same for race two on Sunday afternoon, but with the title confirmed in Fuoco’s favour, Parry knew that he had the potential to challenge for victory, but was made to wait as a first lap incident saw the field neutralised behind the safety car for several laps. When racing resumed, the Briton quickly dispensed with Fuoco, but found that former Sud-Am F3 champion Bruno Bonifacio also had designs on a podium finish, the pair running side-by-side down the hill back towards the pits. Determined not to give up the place, Parry found himself on the grass, but kept his foot in and rejoined the track in second spot.

He held onto the position to the end of the race but, even though he again took to the podium, knew that there was a stewards' investigation looming over him as a result of his move on Bonifacio. Sure enough, some time after he had collected the second-place trophy and posed for the obligatory photographs, Parry was informed that he would be penalised an additional 25 seconds on top of his race time, dropping him to an unrepresentative 15th in the final result.

“What more can I say…. I was racing in an Italian competition, on an Italian track, against Italian drivers, in Italian teams and with Italian stewards,” Parry smiled ruefully after the decision had been announced, “I didn’t think I had impeded Bonifacio – in fact, I deliberately left him room – but the stewards decided that I had forced him off the road and imposed a time penalty that took me out of the top three.”

With nothing to gain by protesting the decision – as he was ineligible for championship points and wasn’t involved in a championship battle – the Welshman chose to reflect on another positive weekend.

“I achieved what I wanted from the weekend, showing the strength of the Northern European Cup by splitting the frontrunners in the ALPS series,” he noted, “I really enjoyed racing with Koiranen GP, a typically cool Scandinavian team, and would be delighted to work with them again in the future.

“For now, though, my attention is firmly on the final round of the NEC, and wrapping up the title at Zandvoort this weekend under the guidance of Alex Fleming at Fortec Motorsport.”

Round seven of the 2013 Formula Renault NEC season takes place at Zandvoort, in the Netherlands, this weekend (12-13 October), with Parry carrying a 75-point advantage into the triple-header title decider.


Article created by Craig Llewellyn.