Matt Parry and the #23 GT Sport Motul Team RJN Nissan looked set for a strong final showing in the 2018 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup before opening lap contact effectively scuppered their bid for points.

Back-to-back scoring finishes at Paul Ricard and Spa-Francorchamps had established the #23 crew amongst the pre-race contenders for the top ten in Barcelona and, even after the experienced Lucas Ordonez was forced out of his home race by an injury suffered in training, the revised line-up of Parry, Alex Buncombe and Jann Mardenborough remained a strong one. With the limited amount of practice time available to the Blancpain teams ahead of qualifying, the GT Sport Motul Team RJN Nissan garage was a hive of activity as the drivers and their mechanics worked through the usual run plan, adjusting and fine-tuning the #23’s set-up for the Spanish Grand Prix venue.

“This was the first time we had been able to take the 2018 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 to the Circuit de Catalunya, so the challenge was to set the car up for Sunday’s race,” Parry explained, “Although Jann knew both the team and the Nissan, he also needed time to acclimatise to everything, but naturally he was on the pace quickly, and we could then concentrate on the rest of work we needed to do.”

Such was the all-British crew’s progress, the #23 featured in the top ten times by the end of the pre-qualifying session on Saturday evening, giving all involved a sense of confidence heading into the timed session first thing the next morning. Qualifying, however, proved to be difficult affair, with a series of warning flags serving to slow progress at crucial times, and traffic brought about by the 53-car field denying many drivers, including those in the Nissan, a clean flying lap.

“Qualifying was super messy,” Parry confirmed, “I only got one flying lap, and it was the same for the other guys. In the circumstances, it was great to see our names up in P8 at the end, although that soon changed! Barcelona’s layout is not the most favourable for the Nissan, but the 2018 version was definitely better in the areas where we were weak before, so this was a great effort all round.”

The ‘change’ Parry referred to came at the end of the session, when it was decided that some cars had been unfairly penalised by having times deleted during yellow flag periods. With their laps restored, it pushed the #23 Nissan down the order, transforming P8 into P13 on the final combined timesheets. While that was still the car’s second-best showing of the season, questions still lingered over its long-run pace, making the opening phase of Sunday’s race vital if it was to challenge for points.

Entrusted with the task of moving the #23 back up the order, Parry took the start of the race for the first time in 2018, and initially looked as if he could establish a solid foundation from which the rest of the team could build over the three hours. A great getaway and strong run through the opening sequence of corners moved the Nissan into the top seven, only for contact from one of the Rowe BMW entries to push Parry wide between turns 4 and 5, dropping him into the melee of the chasing pack. Worse was to come as, now out of position, further contact was almost inevitable and, when Parry tagged one of the McLarens a couple of corners later, putting it out of the race, a penalty was the only option open to the stewards.

“It was different to be starting, rather than waiting for my turn to come, but the first lap set the tone for the rest of the race,” Parry lamented, “The touch from the BMW knocked me offline and into the pack and it was a case of ‘elbows out’ after that just to try and hold position. Unfortunately, there was no way to avoid further contact, and it was unfortunate that the brush I had with the McLaren ended up being terminal for them. Getting a penalty after that effectively took us out of contention for any sort of result as I dropped to the bottom end of the top 40...”

Fortunately, the Nissan escaped serious damage from its various incidents and, through the combined efforts of its three drivers, had recovered to 22nd place by the time the chequered flag fell at the end of the three hours. With only seven retirements throughout the field, however, the #23 crew had to work for every one of those places, a hard way to end a season that had begun to show real promise.

“We gave it our all, but were struggling with rear tyres that were getting too hot,” Parry revealed, “The thermal degradation was such that we lost a lot of the grip that we had in the opening laps and really had to manage the situation, which dropped us away from chasing the lead pack. That would have been the same without the incidents on the opening lap, so who knows what we could have achieved, but we brought the car to the chequered flag again, maintaining our 100% finishing record for the season. We’re obviously sorry that Lucas could not be in the car with us for the final race, but thanks to Jann for filling in, and we hope to be back next year!”


Article created by Craig Llewellyn.