Matt Parry put on a familiar late charge in round three of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup at Circuit Paul Ricard, but still came up just short of his maiden championship points in the #22 Motul Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.

Taking part in the longest race of his career to date, the Welshman completed two hour-long stints in the six-hour Paul Ricard 1000km, the second taking the Motul Team RJN-entered Nissan through to the chequered flag, which fell at midnight local time. It was the first time that Parry had raced in the dark - as the entire Blancpain field geared up for the blue riband Spa 24 Hours in July - and, along with team-mates Struan Moore and Matt Simmons, guided the #22 car to eleventh place in the final results, one position shy of the points.

Having attempted to acclimatise to the changing day-night conditions on Thursday evening, the crew paced themselves through opening practice on Friday, eschewing the new tyre option to get a handle on the French circuit before chasing times in the second of the day’s two sessions. Mediterranean temperatures remained high throughout, forcing the RJN squad to look for innovative ways to keep cool as they went about their task, but the #22, having been as high as P2 during the 90-minute session, eventually clocked a time good enough for eighth overall, hinting at strong qualifying potential on Saturday morning.

Parry again took the third and final stint in the grid-setting session but, despite using his new tyres productively to post the car’s best lap of the weekend to that point, found himself down in an unrepresentative 25th on the final timesheet as a familiar foe interrupted the pursuit of pole position. As had been the case in round two at Silverstone, the 23-year old had to contend with a large proportion of the 58-car field also chasing times on the 5.8km layout, but blamed himself for failing to build on the team’s earlier momentum.

“Although my time was faster than Struan’s thanks to the new tyres, I was kicking myself after falling foul of traffic when the rubber was at its best,” Parry confessed, “To put it simply, I got mugged as I left the pits, with a number of cars getting by me onto the back straight. That meant I had to deal with a busy track on my hot lap, and I lost six-tenths in the opening sector alone. With the tyres being at their optimum on lap one, that was the difference between starting 25th and potentially starting in the top seven!”

With six hours of racing ahead of them later that same day, the grid position was perhaps not as crucial as it would have been for a more familiar three-hour Blancpain endurance event, but the three-man crew knew that, with good reliability levels throughout the field, they would have to fight their way up the order as day turned to night.

The close nature of the racing throughout the field meant that the #22 briefly lost a handful of places but, once the opening salvos had been exchanged, it was onward and upward for the Anglo-Australian trio. With strong stints from each of the three drivers, the car became a fixture in the top 20, with fluctuations in the running order as each pit-stop cycle played out promoting it as high as eleventh at one stage. After Simmons and Moore had completed their second shifts and night had fallen over Provence, Parry returned to the cockpit for the final hour, taking over in P14 and aiming to pick up the remaining four places necessary to secure points.

Inexorably, the #22 continued to move forward, picking off cars ahead of it, eventually moving into P11 with 20 minutes left on the clock. Frustratingly for Parry, however, his final quarry remained elusive, leaving him one place out of the scoring positions. Despite that, the former single-seater ace was delighted with the team’s performance and exhilarated by his first experience of racing into the night.

“Nothing can prepare you for doing 180mph in the dark,” he grinned, “It’s a very different discipline to what I’ve been used to, but I adapted quickly enough and was happy with my times, especially posting another fastest lap in the top ten overall. It’s a shame I ran out of laps at the end as I reckon a points finish – to go with that of the other RJN Nissan – was a strong possibility.

“The atmosphere at night was incredible and the entire event was good preparation for Spa, which will be another big test as we race for 24 hours at one of my favourite circuits. There was a certain amount of lighting at Paul Ricard, which made it easier to race at night, but Spa is a lot longer and will be a lot darker! I expect it will another intense event, especially with the competitiveness of the Blancpain field. My first stint this weekend was pretty hectic, with a bit of contact along the way – James Calado might be my cycling buddy, but I won’t be buying him coffee for a while…!”

Parry’s next outing in the #22 Nissan will come at the official pre-race test at Spa-Francorchamps on 4 July, with round four of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup taking place at the iconic Belgian venue between 27-30 July.


Article created by Craig Llewellyn.