The final result may not show it, but Matt Parry and the R-Motorsport team left round two of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup in good heart, having taken significant steps in the development of their Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
Running the all-new Vantage for only the second time in competition, the team was not expecting a repeat of its stunning 2018 appearance at Silverstone – where it took pole position and the race win – but hoped for an uptick in performance after a frustrating opening weekend at Monza in April.
Two days of pre-race testing allowed Cardiff racer Parry and co-drivers Matthieu Vaxiviere and Maxime Martin to begin finding a better balance for the car’s handling, before underlining the progress with seventh and eleventh positions on the timesheets in Saturday ’s two official sessions.
Unfortunately for the trio, qualifying proved to be a very different story, with their Monza misfortune appearing to raise its ugly head right from the start. With each driver’s best lap time averaged out to establish the starting grid, not getting the chance to complete a flying lap was always going to count against the #62 and, when Vaxiviere’s opening phase effort was negated by red flags, the team was already up against it.
Parry, however, was determined to show what the car was now capable of, making the most of a clean run to post not only the second fastest time in Q2 but also one of the fastest of the entire qualifying session. Even though Martin also posted a top 20 time, however, the damage had been done, and the R-Motorsport car would start an unrepresentative 35th on the 48-car grid.
“As happened at Monza, we probably exceeded the team’s expectations through both testing and practice,” Parry noted, “It was clear after round one that we needed to make some changes with regard to the handling of the car, but that came together quite quickly and showed in both free practice and pre-qualifying.
“Unfortunately, with Matthieu being denied a flying lap and having to rely on his warm-up run, it was always going to be tough to nail a decent grid slot.
“On a personal note, however, I was delighted to post a lap of 1m 59.177secs on my run, less than a tenth off the fastest time in that session and amongst the best of the day overall. That really showed the potential of the #62 car over a single lap, but it was going to need significant race pace in order to progress from row 18!”
With Martin also being required to stand in for a sick team-mate in the sister R-Motorsport entry, the Belgian started the race and his veteran savvy paid dividends as he avoided a multi-car pile-up on the opening lap, boosting the #62’s position on track as a result.
Having breached the top 20, however, Martin’s work was undone slightly when another full course caution period arrived at just the wrong time, costing the car valuable time to its rivals and leaving Vaxiviere buried in traffic as he took over behind the wheel. With the race also proving to be something of an incident-fest, a series of safety car interruptions further prevented the French driver from being able to make up places, although he still managed to hand over to Parry with the car inside the top half of the field.
R-Motorsport’s concerns over its race pace also proved to be well founded, meanwhile, with all three drivers struggling to get the best out of the tyres during their stint. Although he was able to gain a handful of places before the chequered flag, the Welshman had to settle for 17th position as he returned the grey-and-blue Aston to parc ferme.
“Although we finished higher than we started, it was another one of those days,” Parry sighed, “The need for a good qualifying spot was obvious here and it is hard to think about what might have been knowing that someone else’s incident in Q1 cost us that shot.
“We all struggled for ultimate pace over our race runs and that is something that we’ll need to look at before the next round, but we’ve definitely made great strides since Monza and that should stand us in good stead going forward. We just need to pull all the strands together, but I’m optimistic of a good weekend at Paul Ricard.”
Round three of the 2019 Blancpain GT Championship Endurance Cup – the Paul Ricard 1000km – takes place in the south of France over the weekend of 31 May-1 June.