Monza did not provide the result that either Matt Parry or GT Sport Motul Team RJN were hoping for after a stellar qualifying effort, but both acknowledge that there are plenty of positives to take from the opening round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup.

Race one of the new season was the first competitive out for Nissan’s latest GT-R NISMO GT3 and, with only limited testing allowed before the 51-car field assembled in Italy, Parry and team-mates Lucas Ordonez and Alex Buncombe were still seeking the ideal set up for their #23 machine through Saturday’s free practice and pre-qualifying sessions. With work on the car ongoing between sessions, improvements were made throughout practice, allowing the crew to move into the top 20 overall by the end of pre-qualifying. A long night in the garage then yielded an even bigger step before the new-for-2018 qualifying session on Sunday morning, and the three drivers responded by posting a combined time good enough to secure the final spot in the top ten on what proved to be an extremely close-fought timesheet.

“Qualifying tenth was a mega result,” Parry claimed, “Although the team had been working hard since the pre-season test at Paul Ricard, and again throughout the opening day here in Monza, no-one really expected us to make that much of a jump in performance, but we tried something different for qualifying and it worked. It’s a testament to the effort of the boys in the garage and I’m glad that we could reward them for the long hours they’ve been putting in.

“The new-look qualifying format definitely adds some extra excitement to the session. Whereas, last season, it all rested on the quickest driver in the team, this year everyone gets to play a part and the use of aggregate times certainly kept the timing screens ticking over. I was happy with my run in the opening session, and for Lucas to post one of the quickest times of the weekend during Q2 before Alex secured the top ten start, it was very obviously positive for the team. The teams and cars are so evenly matched in the Blancpain GT Series that Sunday morning is definitely going to be one of the highlights – and toughest parts – of every round.”

With 24-year old Parry due to take the second stint in the three-hour race on Sunday afternoon, Buncombe lined up for the 3pm start – and was the hapless recipient of the #23 car’s first major problem of the weekend as an issue with the starting procedure left him in neutral. Stranded on the grid, the team had no option but to start from pit-lane, at the tail of the massive field, immediately negating all the progress that had been made in earlier sessions.

Once released, and clear of the few incidents that peppered the opening laps, Buncombe made swift work of moving up the order, quickly progressing into the top 30 and, as driver changes took effect at the end of the opening hour, eventually reached as high as 18th before handing over to Parry. The initial driver change went without a hitch but, as the Welshman went to pull away, the team realised that the right rear wheel had not been fitted properly, and the time needed to correct the problem dropped the Nissan out of the top 30 once again.

Immediate hopes of a recovery drive were then dashed when Parry, attempting to accelerate out of pit-lane, found himself unable to shift up through the gears, forcing him to pull over on the side of the circuit to reset the car’s systems. Although he was able to resume and complete his schedule stint, ongoing problems with the right rear corner hampered the team’s ability to make progress and, even though Ordonez was able to bring the #23 to the chequered flag, he did so several laps down, having used his hour behind the wheel as a data-gathering exercise for future rounds.

“It’s a frustrating way to start the season, especially after the promise that our run in qualifying had shown,” Parry admitted, “However, we have to remember that this is an all-new car and that there will always be teething troubles. Hopefully, we will have got most of these out of our system before round two, because there is certainly a lot of potential in the 2018 GT-R NISMO GT3. We still need to find the real sweet spot in the set-up, but our pace in qualifying was matched by decent lap times on race pace, so there is much to be positive about heading to Silverstone.”

Round two of the 2018 Blancpain GT Championship Endurance Cup takes place at Silverstone (UK) over the weekend of 19-20 May, with extensive live and highlights coverage on the Eurosport and Motorsport TV channels in the UK.


Article created by Craig Llewellyn.