Matt Parry and the #23 GT Sport Motul Team RJN Nissan made a second consecutive appearance amongst the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup point-scorers after a dogged drive secured seventh place at the 70th Total 24 Hours of Spa.

Following a dramatic introduction to twice-round-the-clock endurance racing in the #22 Nissan at last year’s Spa event, Parry was confident that both he and the 2018 line-up in the lead GT-R NISMO GT3 would be able to build on the fifth place result they took from round three of the series, at Paul Ricard, in early June. Playing themselves back into the 4.4 mile Belgian circuit during the opening practice runs on Thursday morning, the trio of Parry, Alex Buncombe and Lucas Ordonez upped the ante in Pre-Qualifying to snag ninth fastest time, before embarking on the chase for a place in the Superpole session during that evening’s Qualifying session.

With each driver’s fastest time being aggregated to determine the order, the #23 crew were frustrated to find their combined effort come up just one place – and a scant 0.021secs – shy of making it into the final phase of qualifying, leaving them to focus on the remaining session of night running before turning their attention to the start of the 24 Hours on Saturday afternoon. Again, the Nissan showed its potential after dark and, although a red flag prevented Parry from getting behind the wheel in Friday’s pre-Superpole warm-up session, the entire GT Sport Motul Team RJN expected to be able to make a run to the front once racing started late on Saturday.

“Qualifying was tough, and therefore it was a little gutting to miss out on a spot in Superpole after the great effort the team put in in the run-up to the session,” Parry admitted, “To miss out on a top 20 slot by such a small margin, especially when we had been sitting 20th with two minutes remaining, was particularly frustrating. We probably should have made it through easily, but tiny errors on each of our runs ultimately added up to the couple of hundredths by which we missed out.

“Having said that, the #23 car had shown its potential in each session and we knew that it was particularly potent at night, so we were looking forward to the getting the race underway and showing what the team was capable of.”

The team’s optimism was well-founded, with lead-off driver Buncombe able to pick up some early positions before a well-timed pit-stop to take advantage of a virtual safety car intervention in the opening hours vaulted the Nissan up the order and into a top three place. Able to maintain its new-found position as the race continued to cycle through various driver changes and stops for fuel and tyres, the #23 only lost ground during the mandatory ‘service stop’ where each car were required to make mechanical changes on safety grounds.

After opening up with an hour behind the wheel following Buncombe’s opening shift, Parry went on to show his endurance mettle by running three successive double stints, followed by a triple as another safety car period controlled the pace for almost an entire hour. The Nissan crew rose as high as a genuine second in the overall order during the night, and Parry even led briefly as the pit-stop cycle unwound prior to the #23’s service stop, but the team’s hopes of a first podium finish were undone as other cars caught a break with the safety car, leaving the red-and-white machine to take the chequered flag in an eventual seventh spot.

“Whatever the result, just getting to the end of a 24-hour race is a major achievement,” Parry noted, “That said, this was a great run for the GT Sport Motul Team RJN operation, which got both its entries to the chequered flag for the second year in a row. Coming home seventh also meant that the #23 car was the first non-German manufacturer across the line, something that fans of this race will recognise as a notable achievement in itself.

“Having started 21st on the grid, I think we were all a little baffled to find ourselves in third place, but the credit to the team for some tasty strategy and getting the car in early under that particular safety car. From there, it was great to be able to maintain a spot in the top ten, only moving down the order as the various pit-stop cycles took effect. That meant that the team scored points at each of the three stages of the race where they were awarded and, while we reckon a podium would have been possible without the lottery of safety car appearances, it builds nicely on our fantastic run to fifth at Paul Ricard last time out.

“It was an honour to take the chequered flag at the end of the race, and it capped a performance I think I can be happy with across the whole weekend. The Nissan’s pace after dark is already well-known, but it was nice to set the #23 car’s fastest lap of the race during the night. That that lap also featured well in the top ten overall is just a bonus… On the flip-side, I found out that the GT-R NISMO GT3 is definitely not at its best having to cruise around at 80kph behind the safety car – you notice just how uncomfortable it is at that speed and you can’t wait to get back to racing!”

The fifth and final round of the 2018 Blancpain GT Championship Endurance Cup takes place at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona over the weekend of 28-30 September, with extensive live and highlights coverage on the Eurosport and Motorsport TV channels in the UK and online.


Article created by Craig Llewellyn.