Rubbing has always been a part of racing, even at the highest levels. 99 per cent of the time you get away with a little nudge here and there, but at Donington Park Solseal racers Nick Jones and Scott Malvern became victims of that lesser-seen one per cent as the slightest bit of contact had big consequences to their British GT Championship challenge.
Nick and Scott were well in the running for another outright GT4 class podium during the sixth round of the season, but slight contact with another car caused a punctured radiator in their Solseal-backed Mercedes-AMG GT4 that ruined their race. However, quick work from the Team Parker Racing crew got the big Merc back out to take the chequered flag, and at least salvage some points from an otherwise disappointing weekend.
It wasn’t the ultimate example of unrewarded pace, but it was close to it, especially considering how strongly the weekend had begun for the team. After using the two Saturday free practice sessions to hone the car’s setup and work out pit strategy and timing, both drivers were confident of a strong result in qualifying. And they got it.
Nick took the first session and immediately established the car within the top 10 overall. But as the times dropped, Nick went for one more flying run. He was set to improve his time significantly, but a sideways moment at the Melbourne Hairpin cost him. His time was good enough for second in the Pro-Am order and 16th overall – just a second away from overall pole.
Scott then took the wheel for the Pro session, and proceeded to obliterate the lap record… twice. Running in clean air, Scott set the fastest GT4 time of the entire weekend to run 0.5s under the existing lap record from 2017. And then bettered that on his final attempt to knock 0.55s off the class benchmark. On combined times it meant the Solseal Mercedes-AMG would start fifth overall, and on Pro-Am class pole.
The performance was there for a strong run on Sunday, even with the pair having to serve an extra 20 seconds on their mandatory pit stop as a success penalty following their stunning outright GT4 win last time out at Silverstone.
Nick took the race start, and settled into a rhythm quickly, holding sixth in the overall order and matching the times of the higher-rated semi-pro ‘Silver’ drivers. But disaster struck when he lost a place to Lewis Proctor’s McLaren exiting the Melbourne Hairpin. As Nick attempted to follow the McLaren’s line through Goddards, it braked mid-corner and Nick lightly nudged its rear bumper. It should have been no harm done, but something from the rear of the McLaren went through the front bodywork of the Mercedes and punched a hole in the radiator.
With water and oil increasingly coating his windscreen, Nick soldiered on in vain, eventually having to pull into the pits for repairs. The chance of a class win had gone. The Team Parker engineers set about repairing the car with the intention of salvaging some points and got Scott back out, by which time the car had lost 18 laps.
To be classified in a British GT race, each car has to complete 75 per cent of the full race distance. That equated to 50.2 laps at Donington. Scott took the flag on his 51st lap to salvage a handful of points for ninth in the Pro-Am order.
The results leave Nick and Scott fifth in the GT4 Pro-Am standings ahead of the next round of the season, another two-hour race at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium in July 20-21.
Nick said: “Just when we thought our bad luck was over… Having watched the video back, it’s the slightest of touches to the rear of the McLaren and we think the air-jack socket went through the bodywork and punctured the radiator. I tried to keep going, but there was oil and water pouring onto the screen and I couldn’t see where I was going so I had to pit. The team did a great job to get us back out, but the result had gone. Still, we showed the pace was there this weekend and I was really happy with my stint otherwise, so it’s not all bad.”
Scott said: “Nick was just incredibly unlucky. You’d get away with that kind of contact any other day of the week, but we paid a heavy price. The guys got some putty to fix the radiator but when I rejoined AMG advised me to keep the water temperature under 120 degrees, otherwise the car would go into ‘limp mode’. Trying to manage that in a race situation was a nightmare. It was fine when I was heading into the wind, but I was having to make sure the temp was under 10 from the Melbourne Hairpin otherwise it would rise to over 120 before the end of the lap. Still, I’ve now had two lap records in two rounds, so we’ve definitely got some positives to take away.”