Solseal racers Nick Jones and Scott Malvern came within a whisker of their best-ever British GT Championship result during the season opener at Oulton Park over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, only for late technical trouble to deny them an outright race victory.
Struggling with overheating brakes on their Team Parker Racing-run Mercedes AMG GT4, Nick and Scott worked wonders in race two to lead the 21-car GT4 field for the second half of the race, only for the fading anchors to finally give up with just a handful of laps left.
While Nick and Scott picked up maximum points at the Oulton Park round last year, both felt it was more by default due to the race being rained off after only a handful of laps behind the safety car. While the disappointment of losing what would have been a maiden outright GT4 win under racing conditions, the duo still left the first round with a class podium in the bag and a solid points haul. And all this on a weekend that didn’t promise much early on.
The balance of performance settings used to equalise the speed of the different models of GT4 car on the grid weren’t kind to the Mercedes, which struggled with low-down torque and straight-line speed around the 2.7-mile track. Right from practice it was clear the Solseal Merc was lacking the outright grunt of its rivals, particularly the American Ford Mustangs that are new to the grid this year.
Regardless, Nick and Scott battled on and put on a strong showing in qualifying. Nick managed to put the car fifth in the Pro-Am class order for Sunday’s first race, while Scott put in a stellar lap to go second fastest overall and secure Pro-Am pole for race two, yet somehow he was still a second shy of the Mustang’s outright pole time, leading to some raised eyebrows up and down the pitlane…
Race one was all about damage limitation. With so many silver-graded drivers in the field this year, progress is difficult for amateur racers. Nick put in a consistent stint to hold the position and bring the Mercedes into the mid-race pit stops to hand over to Scott.
Rejoining behind a Century Motorsport BMW M4 and the rival Fox Motorsport Mercedes, Scott pushed hard and managed to overhaul the BMW before pressuring the Fox Mercedes, but couldn’t find a way past with the power deficit. P5 in class was simply the limit.
With some handy points in the bag from race one and the car in one piece – which isn’t always a given around the tight and fast Oulton circuit – all eyes were on Scott starting on the front row for race two.
When the lights went out, Scott held off the pack behind, but was unable to do much about the leading Mustang. But, knowing the Ford had longer to spend in the pits due to its all semi-pro driver pairing, wisely shadowing it proved a great option.
Team Parker called the strategy perfectly, getting Scott in to a quiet pit lane and sending Nick out as the race leader after a terrific service from the crew.
Once installed, Nick was faced with matching the pace of the higher-graded semi-pro drivers, and even a Ford factory racer. Many amateurs would bow to the pressure, but Nick put in a superb stint to hold the lead and dictate the pace up until the closing minutes, when the fading brakes refused to slow the car into the Hislops Chicane, putting Nick onto the grass and out of the lead.
Nick kept his head to recover in P3 overall but, unable to properly slow the car, the rival Jaguar crew managed to sneak past on the final lap. Regardless, Nick and Scott had shown race-leading pace, surprised many of their rivals, and come away with a class podium. They leave Oulton Park fourth in the GT4 Pro-Am points.
Nick Jones said: “I’m gutted. Race one just didn’t go our way and we really lacked straight-line speed, but race two was there for us to win, but when I went into the chicane with 5 minutes to go the car just wasn’t slowing down. I managed to keep it going but with no brakes I was a sitting duck at the end.
“We should have won it, but to come away with a class podium, given the circumstances, we have to see an upside to the weekend. Scott’s been a star and I know I drove well, so that can only mean good things for the rest of the year.”
Scott Malvern added: “The braking issue is something that only happened this weekend, but we’ve struggled with straight-line pace all weekend, so to lead the entire second half of race two was brilliant. I’m very proud of how Nick drove. He didn’t panic, went out and kept pace with works drivers and higher-graded drivers, in a car with overheating brakes.
“I didn’t push to try and pass the Mustang in my stint as I was trying to preserve the tyres and brakes for later in the race, but in the traffic Nick had to deal with there was no way to stop them fading. We need to look into why it happened with the team, and I have no doubt we’ll find a solution. Ultimately, this wasn’t our weekend, but when you leave a meeting disappointed at a podium finish, you know there’s a lot of potential there.”