Solseal racers Nick Jones and Scott Malvern returned to the British GT Championship podium at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps, but were forced to fight all the way to the flag to net their third rostrum finish of the season.
The reigning British GT Pro-Am Champions came into the seventh round of the year with high hopes of making headway in the championship after a string of bad luck across the course of the season.
In that sense it was mission accomplished, with the Solseal-backed Team Parker Mercedes-AMG GT4 finishing the race ahead of the GT4 Pro-Am leading Aston Martin at Spa. However, both Nick and Scott felt the race could have yielded more had it not been for a few minor niggles.
First off, the current Balance of Performance settings, which are designed to create even lap times across all of the different manufacturers in GT4, sapped the Mercedes’ power so much in a straight line that fighting against the dominant McLaren and Aston Martin crews was always going to be difficult. In the UK the deficit isn’t as noticeable, but the long straights on the Belgian Grand Prix venue highlighted the weakness more than anywhere else. The team also struggled with front tyre degradation across the entire weekend, meaning the grip of the car decreased steadily as the race wore on.
Nick and Scott also didn’t have time to test at the track prior to the round, so were always playing catch up to a certain degree. Regardless, Nick put in a strong qualifying to go third fastest in class in tricky wet conditions on Saturday, even after having his fastest lap disallowed for straying beyond track limits. Scott then equalled the result with a time good enough for third in Pro-Am and sixth overall. However, with four McLarens filling the top five overall in the Pro qualifying segment, the writing was on the wall.
When Sunday’s two-hour race began, Nick got a good start and clung on to the top-10 overall before the front tyres began to wilt in the warm conditions. Nick soldiered on, despite being plagued by oversteer as his grip lessened toward the end of the stint. He got the car to the mid-race pit window in one piece and handed over to Scott.
The Team Parker boys timed their stop perfectly, and Scott rejoined fourth in the Pro-am order, and right on the tail of the Pro-Am Championship-leading Aston Martin of Martin Plowman, which had lost time with a gearbox problem during its stop. Knowing he had to finish ahead of the Aston to have any hope of cutting into its points lead, Scott stalked the Vantage before diving inside it at the fast Malmedy right-hander and muscling past.
From then on it was a game of cat-and-mouse as Scott had the speed through the fast, flowing second sector of the lap, but not the grunt in a straight line to get past the HHC Motorsport McLaren ahead. Each time Scott attacked, the McLaren’s defending would allow the chasing Plowman another go at him. However, Scott drove superbly to stave off the Aston’s attacks and secure third in the GT4 Pro-Am order.
The result leaves Nick and Scott fourth in the class standings, 30 points off the GT4 Pro-Am lead with two races of the season remaining. The title defence is not over yet.
Nick Jones said: “That was a really tough weekend, and actually I felt quite under-prepared for it after not testing before hand. That put us on the back foot from the start and limited the time we had to get the car into the right window setup-wise. My stint was really hard work and I just had to pick my battles and get the car to the mid-race pit stop in one piece to see what Scott could achieve. In truth, we didn’t expect to be on the podium, and perhaps got a bit lucky, but to spray the champagne at Spa is always something pretty special.”
Scott Malvern added: “That was probably the hardest-fought podium we’ve ever had, from probably one of our toughest weekends. It’s highlighted a few areas where we could use with being a bit better on our preparation, but it is what it is. Nick had a tough stint, but he was always thinking about where we could make back time, and he timed the stop well and really attacked the in-lap to limit the time loss, which was great. My stint was just hard work. The Mercedes didn’t have the straight-line pace to compete really, which made overtaking and defending really tough. I was just focused on keeping Plowman behind me to try and make up some ground in the championship, and thankfully we did that. A podium at Spa is always great, and there have been plenty of positives from the weekend.”
The penultimate round of the British GT Championship takes place at Brands Hatch on August 3/4.