MATT GOES THE DISTANCE


Matt Parry and the #22 Motul Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 crew made it to the end of the Total 24 Hours of Spa despite a series of blows that would have floored lesser teams.

Like a Hollywood prizefighter, the #22 rose from the canvas on no fewer than three occasions across an eventful weekend at the Blancpain GT Series’ blue riband round in Belgium, refusing to accept even an ‘eight count’ as it battled to the chequered flag on its 24-hour race debut. The car eventually took 30th place in the 63-car field, but its story was about more than the result.

Having warmed up with a near miss on the points positions at last month’s six-hour Paul Ricard 1000km, Parry and co-drivers Struan Moore and Matt Simmons were confident of giving the Motul Team RJN-entered Nissan a good run in the twice-round-the-clock marathon, a feeling bolstered by a solid start to the weekend, with Parry putting the #22 into the top ten in the pre-qualifying practice session on Thursday afternoon.

Although placing only 27th in initial qualifying, the Nissan team remained confident of a good grid slot as the GT-R NISMO GT3 was expected to perform better in the cooler conditions of the night session, but Parry was hit by the first low blow of the weekend, when a puncture at 145mph sent him hurtling into the tyre wall at Raidillon at the start of his first flying lap in the dark. The 23-year was fortunate to escape the 7.5g, 100mph impact without injury, but the same could not be said for the #22 machine, which would require a complete rebuild before it could take part in the race.

“I went out on a set of new tyres and everything was okay on the out-lap,” Parry recounted, “I went into Eau Rouge as normal, but felt the car drop as I took the left-hand kerb and then carry on going straight. I had no way of correcting the car, or even trying to stop it, with the puncture…. It was a pretty big hit – probably one of the biggest of my career – but the medical team were great and I was out of the car pretty quickly. Fortunately, too, there were no better guys than our crew on the #22 to put the car right...”

The Welshman’s faith in the RJN team proved well-founded for, having agreed to another ‘all-nighter’ on a week of long shifts, the crew had the #22 Nissan ready to roll again in just 12 hours, allowing the three drivers to shake the car down during Friday evening’s half-hour warm-up session.

Forced to start from the pit-lane when the race finally got underway on Saturday afternoon, the #22 crew found that fate wasn’t quite done with them, as Moore suffered an early mechanical problem that stranded him out on track at the far end of the 4.4-mile circuit. Unable to return to the pits, the driver had to repair the car under instruction from RJN mechanics – who had taken a quad-bike to the exit of Les Combes to offer guidance from the safe side of the armco – before managing to get back into the race at the cost of eight laps.

With a stop-go penalty for work carried out during the original rebuild also adding to the #22’s handicap, Parry, Moore and Simmons faced an uphill task if they were to race through the field and secure a result commensurate with the car’s potential, but all three stuck manfully to their task, especially as the ‘new’ car did not have the usual cockpit air-conditioning, and was without a working drinks system for the first three hours of the race…

“You don’t realise how much difference the air-con makes until you don’t have it…,” Parry noted, “It was really hot at Paul Ricard – much hotter than here – and we didn’t feel a thing in the car, but I can’t describe how hot it is without the air-con. When you stop in the middle of a double stint, you can feel the heat just radiating through the cockpit while the car is being refuelled. We were trying to deflect air into the car with our hands while we were going down the straights, but that just added to the challenge, especially before we got the drink system working… It doesn’t matter how fit you are, you get so dehydrated while you’re driving that you can start to lose focus, so it was good that the team managed to get that repaired - but we would have paid large sums of money to have the air-con back!”

All three drivers, rotating on an hourly basis during the hotter daylight hours before switching to ‘double stints’ during the night, were able to make up places, hauling the #22 through the bottom half of the field and into a secure 24th spot as the race moved into its final hours. The car proved both reliable and robust while others fell by the wayside – both before and during the typical Spa rainstorm that hit the circuit overnight – but then had one final sucker punch in store for the RJN crew as it developed a driveshaft problem with the chequered flag in sight.

Determined not to be beaten, especially that close to the end, the team swung into action once more, completing a driveshaft and gearbox replacement in just 25 minutes to send Parry – who again recorded the fastest lap in the #22 car - back out on track for one final blast to the flag. The prolonged pit-stop cost the crew six places, relegating it to 30th at the end of the 24 hours, but the sense of what had been overcome almost made up for the disappointment of not being able to challenge for points.

“It’s an incredible experience – there’s nothing like it to compare in my career so far,” Parry commented, “It’s been a challenging week, what with the accident in qualifying and then the small issue at the start that saw us fall back eight laps, but it was a fantastic fightback from all the team. We stayed out of trouble on track and so wanted to get the car to the finishing line as a reward for the boys and the effort they put in to get us out there in the first place.

“Anything in the top 20 would have been an incredible result, but the whole combination of elements that the Spa 24 Hours throws at you has been unbelievable, so we’re going to take this experience forward and, hopefully, be back next year.”


Parry’s next outing in the #22 Nissan will come at the fifth and final round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya over the weekend of 30 September-1 October.


*Watch reaction to Matt's qualifying accident - and other moments from his debut season with the #22 Motul Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 - in the VIDEO section of this website*

 

Article created by Craig Llewellyn.