PUNCTURE ENDS FIGHTBACK


Matt Parry ended the European swing of this year’s GP3 Series in familiar fashion as a scoreless weekend in Belgium was followed by an equally frustrating visit to the Autodromo Nazionale at Monza in a carbon copy of his 2015 campaign.

The victim of two accidents at Spa-Francorchamps, Parry headed to Italy determined to get back amongst the points and bolster his fifth place in the overall standings, and began his weekend in solid fashion with the eighth fastest time in opening practice. However, the Koiranen GP team did not appear to have found the best set-up on the Welshman’s #14 machine and, when it came to qualifying, Parry struggled to make his usual mark at the front of the field and, instead of battling for pole position, found himself unusually far down the order.

“Practice and qualifying were very different this time around,” Parry reflected, as third on the grid in 2015 was replaced by a lowly 17th in 2016,“There was only eight-tenths of a second between me and pole position, underlining not only how competitive the GP3 Series and how important it is to get exactly the right set-up on the car, but also to put that to good use with the best lap you can produce. It only takes one of those elements to be out of synch to be back on row nine of the grid...”

Parry’s starting position – albeit not his lowest of the current season thanks to the GP3 Series regulations – put him in the heart of the ‘danger zone’ as the 22-car field headed into the tight right-left opening corner combination at Rettifilio but, amazingly, everyone made it through unscathed. It was all the more remarkable then that the 22-year old Sport Wales ambassador was able to immediately begin picking up places, passing cars even as the mistakes of others elevated him further.

With a couple of laps, the Koiranen driver was up to 13th place and, just a handful of laps later, he broke into the points positions, having gained no fewer than eight places over his starting spot. However, the gap to eighth – and the chance to start Sunday’s race from pole position – stood at around three seconds and, although he eventually reduced the deficit to just 0.4secs, Parry had to settle for ninth on the road, and the couple of points that came with it.

“While it was good to score points from where I started, ninth is possibly the most frustrating place to finish in race one,” he noted,“The difference between starting race two from the front of the grid or on row five can make or break your weekend – and I was on the wrong end of that this time around.

“I got a good start, and made the most gap on the grid left by [Giuliano] Alesi failing to complete the formation lap, but I held my breath through the chicane, especially after my first corner exit in Belgium last weekend! Fortunately, the usual Rettifilio accident didn’t materalise and I was able to begin picking off the cars ahead of me but, although I was able to get into the points, there weren’t quite enough laps to catch [Antonio] Fuoco and secure pole for race two.”


By contrast, the incidents in race two began even before the field reached the first corner, and Parry did well to avoid the contact between two cars immediately ahead of him on the grid to take the chicane in seventh position. A good exit from the Roggia chicane then allowed the Welshman to challenge points leader Charles Leclerc for sixth entering the two Lesmo corners, but stern defence from the Haas F1 test driver caused him to back off, dropping the #14 into the clutches of the chasing pack. Resisting the advances of former Formula Renault team-mate Jack Aitken saw the two cars make the lightest of touches, but it was enough to cut Parry’s left rear tyre and send the Koiranen car spearing off the track at high-speed approaching the Ascari chicane, the driver wrestling to keep control and avoid what would have been heavy contact with the barriers.

Although he rejoined the track after a hairy trip across the gravel trap and grass run-off, the damage was severe enough that the tyre was trying to part company with the wheel as Parry made an early return to the pit-lane. Again, the Welshman rejoined the fray but, with his front tyres flat-spotted in the incident, his race was already run. To rub salt into his wounds, two of the drivers that had been running ahead of him on the opening lap – namely ART team-mates Leclerc and Nirei Fukuzumi – contrived to collide and take each other out of the race, meaning that Parry could have been looking at a potential podium finish had Lady Luck not deserted him first.

“My first thought was on surviving the off at Ascari, rather than whether I had missed the chance of a podium finish,” Parry admitted later, “It was hair-raising to say the least, but I was always trying to get the car back on the track so that I could continue the race. I didn’t even feel the touch with Aitken. There was no movement from the car, but it must have been enough to slit the tyre and, unfortunately, that ended my chance of points.”

With the drivers immediately behind him in the overall standings each enjoying strong weekends in Italy, Parry’s small haul of points was not enough for him to hold on to fifth overall, but the Welshman has two remaining ‘flyaway’ rounds – in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi – to redress the balance and recover his position in the table.

“The two weekends since we resumed after the summer break have been tough for my championship position – just as they were in 2015,” Parry confirmed, "I have a fight ahead of me if I’m to reclaim a top five spot overall, but I’m up for it and can’t wait for the chance to get back on track in Malaysia at the end of the month.”

Round eight of the 2016 GP3 Series takes place in support of the Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit over the weekend of 30 September – 2 October.

 

Article created by Craig Llewellyn.