Jones and Malvern recovered from a difficult qualifying session that left them at the back of the GT3 field to rampage their way up the order, taking full advantage of the drenched conditions to move their Team Parker Racing Porsche GT3 into third place before the race was halted.
The red flag with still 20 minutes of the race to run was brought out due to the deteriorating conditions, which both sealed the team’s third place, but also denied them the chance to improve on what was already a superb result.
Much of the Portimão weekend was blighted by rain, with both qualifying and the race taking place in mixed or worsening conditions. But that actually played into the hands of the rear-engined Porsche, which enjoys strong traction in the wet that effectively makes up for the car’s heavily restricted power output under the series’ Balance of Performance rules.
Having dialled the 992-spec 911 GT3 R into the 2.9-mile Algarve track during practice, qualifying proved a very difficult test with rain starting to fall as the session went green. Jones took the wheel and headed out on slicks in the hope that he could take advantage of what grip there was to set a quick time, but with the rain intensifying as he went out, it meant the gamble didn’t pay off. The #18 Porsche would start from the back of the GT3 order.
However, with nothing to lose and persistent rain drenching the track for the 110-minute race, it only added to the drama of the team’s comeback on Sunday morning.
Jones took the race start on full-wet Michelins and immediately made progress, passing GMB Motorsport’s Honda NSX driven by Lars Engelbreckt Pedersen before pulling more moves to ease the Porsche up to ninth. At this stage in the race Jones was in full flow, lapping seconds faster than those ahead of him and, despite having to throttle back for several safety car and full course yellow interruptions as others fell foul of the worsening conditions, Jones brought the car up to sixth by the time the pit window opened and he could relay to Malvern.
Despite being briefly blocked in the pits, the team got the car serviced and Malvern back out in position, and the Pro driver put on his own charge. Zapping past Anders Fjordbach’s older-generation Porsche before then pulling a fine pass on Patrick Kujala in the Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan. With a podium in sight, the result was confirmed when Charles Bateman spun the sister Team Parker Porsche, allowing Malvern through for third before the race was again neutralised by the safety car as the standing water grew, and then eventually halted when conditions became too dangerous to continue.
Regardless, a third podium of the year was a superb way to cap Jones and Malvern’s maiden season of European GT3 racing, and leaves them fifth in the GT3 drivers’ championship.
Nick Jones said: “What a weekend that was! We had good pace through the entire event but we rolled the dice in qualifying and it didn’t pay off. But Sunday was a total turnaround. The Team Parker crew gave me a mega car for the conditions and I don’t think I’ve ever driven a better stint in my life. It was tricky with the increasing standing water and spray, but I just had confidence in the car and once I started overtaking people, I just kept on pushing. It’s the best I think I’ve ever driven. The team performed a near-perfect pit stop and Scott did what Scott does, moved us even further forward and we got the result. Champagne never tasted so good! I want to thank the entire team for their efforts and making this happen, not just for this race, but for the entirety of a memorable season. Let’s see what 2024 brings.”
Scott Malvern added: “What a turnaround! Nick had mega pace during the early stages and did a superb job to bring us back into the mix. That really set us up for the result. We actually got a bit unfortunate mid-race with the amount of full course yellows we had instead of full safety cars, which would have bunched the pack up more, and if that had happened I reckon we could have won this. But a podium is still a superb way to round out the year. The car was fantastic in the conditions, and I got to make a few strong moves to make up a few more places and then spent the rest of the race pretty much hanging on as the standing water was increasing with every lap. But I had a lot of confidence in the wet, even with the rivers forming around the undulations of the circuit. This was a result taken purely on skill and pace, and that’s a brilliant way to go into the winter. I couldn’t be happier.”
The SD Sealants-backed crew have enjoyed a successful first full year of European racing, scoring two podium finishes so far, with third place during the last event at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium following a second place in the championship opener at Monza in Italy.
While the summer months weren’t kind to the duo and their Team Parker Racing-run Porsche 992 GT3 R – some harsh Balance of Performance changes heavily restricting the car, and the sky-high temperatures of a scorching European summer making life tough for naturally aspirated machines like the 911 GT3 R – the result at Spa signalled a return to form and elevated the pair to fifth in the GT3 drivers’ championship.
Jones and Malvern have already benefited from a test at the Portimão circuit, and will gain further mileage this week as the crew aim to better understand the setup and tyre characteristics of the new-generation Porsche. Portimão is also where the pair’s European adventure began, with Jones and Malvern making their Le Mans Cup debut at the track this time last year as a toe-in-the-water before a full campaign this term.
With temperatures expected to be in the low 20s, and even with some rain forecast, it could be a dramatic finale as a 40-car field tackles the undulating 2.9-mile circuit on Sunday morning.
Nick Jones says: “I’m really looking forward to Portimão: it’s a great circuit and one that I know really well, and it’s always nice to get back to familiar ground as you always feel like you hit the ground running that bit more. We’ve definitely made some big progress across recent weeks, and I think that showed with our performance at Spa. I’ve lost some weight, and so did the car thanks to a BoP break that we were long overdue, and we got to show that we’re competitive again after a few difficult rounds fighting against a lack of power. To be on the podium again at Spa was brilliant, and I know the whole team will be pushing to finish this year on a high note and bag a few extra trophies this weekend.”
Scott Malvern says: “Portimão is actually one of the most familiar European tracks for us – personally I’ve driven 1000s of laps there now and I love the place. There’s so much elevation change and a great mix of fast- and medium-speed corners, so you have to be very precise with the steering and brave on the throttle to get the most out of a lap there. The older 991-spec Porsche suited the track very well last year as it’s traction-heavy and agile, so hopefully the new 992 will also go well there. We maximised our race performance at Spa, with the team making some great strategy calls and executing a clean pitstop, so all we can ask is to do the same again. Nick’s been driving really well recently, so we have to go into the last round with our eyes on the podium, which would be a great way to bookend the year.”
The final round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup gets underway with free practice sessions on both Thursday and Friday, before qualifying at 15:00 on Saturday, October 21. The 100-minute season finale is set for 09:00 on Sunday. Both qualifying and the race will be streamed live via the Le Mans Cup YouTube channel, with live timing available for all sessions via the official championship website.
Having shown top-three potential in Friday’s free practice sessions, the SD Sealants-backed pair recorded the eighth quickest time in Saturday morning’s brief qualifying session with Jones at the wheel; the Team Parker Racing Porsche 992 GT3 R machine still hamstrung by the series’ Balance of Performance rules, with the car continuing to run heavier than its rivals despite a 20kg weight break being applied ahead of the event.
Hoping for rain before the race, the famous Belgian weather eluded the duo during the near two-hour contest on Saturday afternoon, but drama elsewhere and a late charge ensured they still banked a well-earned podium finish.
Jones took the start, but within seconds it became clear that the event would not in any way follow usual conventions. A multi-car collision at La Source between several leading LMP3 cars scattered the field, with Jones doing well to steer through the melee and gaining a position in the process.
But a stopped prototype machine on lap two, and debris elsewhere, brought out the first of four lengthy safety car periods, with Jones moving up to fourth when the race resumed some 20 minutes later after rivals ahead made pit stops.
There was only around a lap and a half of green flag running before the safety car was brought back out following a heavy collision between two LMP3 cars on the approach to Fagnes. With another car pitting, Jones found himself as high as third, before he too stopped for the mandatory driver change, handing over to Malvern at the end of lap 12.
Action resumed again two laps later, with half of the race still remaining and the Porsche 992 in ninth position. But once more, green flag running was to be brief, as further drama in the LMP3 division, this time at the exit of the Bus Stop chicane at the end of the restart lap, brought out the safety car for the third time while the wrecked cars were removed from the circuit.
Over 15 minutes later, racing was back underway, and on this occasion, there was time for two racing laps before proceedings were neutralised again following a hefty shunt for Josh Skelton’s Nielsen Racing LMP3 car exiting the Les Combes complex, with Malvern holding eighth position.
Just 19 minutes were left on the clock when the field was unleashed, and Malvern wasted none of it by resuming battle and getting stuck into a multi-car fight.
He moved up to seventh when a Ferrari ahead stopped with a puncture at Eau Rouge, but the resulting full course yellow added to the frustration as his charge was temporarily halted once more.
The green flags finally flew for the final nine minutes, remarkably the longest period of uninterrupted racing in the entire contest, and Scott was right on the attack, passing fellow Team Parker-runner Charles Bateman on the restart for sixth, and then moved up to fifth at the expense of former F1 racer Jan Magnussen next time around.
With enough time for only two more laps, the train of cars contesting the podium spots were next in his sights, and when Kei Cozzolino’s Ferrari was pushed wide exiting turn nine, Malvern was up to fourth.
Remaining with the leaders on the final lap, there was contact ahead of him at the final corner, with Sennan Fielding’s Steller Motorsport Audi pushed wide by the Lamborghini of Patrick Kujala, and Malvern crossed the line right behind the squabble, and less than 1.5 seconds away from the winner.
However, that wasn’t the end of the story, as a string of penalties then further jumbled the order, but had the added bonus of elevating Jones and Malvern to third, sealing their spot on the GT3 podium for the second time this season, following their second place at the season opener in Barcelona.
The result means the pair run fifth in the drivers’ championship, with just the season finale at the Algarve International Circuit still to come.
Nick Jones said: “What a great weekend it turned out to be, even if the race was pretty crazy. My stint was regularly interrupted by safety cars so it became about keeping calm and not joining in the chaos going on around me. I made some really good forward progress during my stint and that set Scott up to do what he does. To bag a second podium of the year feels great, even if we were made to wait for it. The whole Team Parker crew has worked so hard and we’ve had to endure a lot of disappointing rounds recently with BoP, so results like this are great payback. Now we can go into the season finale looking for a strong end to the year.”
Scott Malvern added: “It felt brilliant to be back on the podium, and I feel it’s a result that we really deserved. Nick did a great job of keeping things tidy in the challenging opening stint, and then when I got into the car I just had to take every chance I could. I was pushing like mad. I think we maximised our own race with a great pit stop and two clean stints. The car definitely felt a bit better this weekend with some weight out and it was nice to be competitive again and fighting at the sharp end. I reckon with one more lap I could’ve passed at least one more car, but there just wasn’t time. Still, third is a great reward for us and the team, who have worked really hard to help us get back into the fight.”
The Michelin Le Mans Cup season finale takes place at the Autodromo do Algarve in Portimão, Portugal on October 21/22.
Unlike the previous few rounds at Circuit Paul Ricard in France and Motorland Aragon in Spain, Jones and Malvern have a lot of history and knowledge of Spa, having raced there on multiple occasions in both GT3 and GT4 machinery as part of the British GT Championship. The pair finished a strong sixth in class during last year’s round in the Ardennes.
In fact, when the duo first took delivery of the new 992-spec Porsche 911 GT3 R this year, the entire Team Parker Racing crew conducted the car’s first shakedown at Spa, getting some valuable miles under their belt early.
Another factor with racing at Spa in late September is that the event shouldn’t feature anywhere near the levels of extreme heat that made the trips to Southern France and Northern Spain such a challenge.
Heading into the weekend, Jones and Malvern have managed to score points in every Le Mans Cup event so far this year, even if luck hasn’t gone their way in recent rounds – best illustrated by a questionable penalty at the start of the last race in Aragon, which effectively wrecked the pair’s race before turn one. The new Porsche has also been subject to additional weight under the championship’s Balance of Performance rules, which has greatly held the machine back. However, the car is due to have a 20kg weight break for this round.
Regardless, the pair still run fifth in the Le Mans Cup standings, and are still in with a shout of fighting their way up the table before the end of the season.
Nick Jones says: “Spa’s such an amazing place, and a real privilege to get to race there. As a driver you never forget how it feels to take corners like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont. They’ve made some changes to the track so it’s not quite as ‘thread-the-needle’ as it used to be, but they’re still incredible challenges – it’s like being strapped into a rollercoaster, flying by the seat of your pants each time! I’m hoping for a good performance for this one. It’s a track I’m much more familiar with and I’ve been training hard for it to get the weight down, and having that bit of lead out of the car as well should be a real boost for us. We’re going in with eyes on getting back on the podium.”
Scott Malvern says: “I’m really excited for Spa, it’s one of those few tracks that it always feels so special to go to. You just sense the history of the place and it’s a hugely challenging circuit, especially in a modern GT3 car. Now, corners like Eau Rouge are easy flat for the Pro drivers in GT3, which makes it incredibly fast and shows how far GT3 cars have come, even in a few years. So many of the corners offer a big challenge, and places like Blanchimont [the fast left-hand kink near the end of the lap] require nerves of steel. But it’s a track Nick and I know well, and the game plan will be to maximise what we can do in our stints and pit stop and be sure to take any chances that come our way. On outright pace it’s no secret that we’ve struggled with the BoP recently, so hopefully the weight changes will bring us closer, and rain would be a great leveller. It’s been known to do that at Spa every now and then…”
Action for the Michelin Le Mans Cup gets underway with free practice on Friday, September 22, before qualifying takes place on Saturday morning at 11:55 CEST. The 110-minute race is scheduled for 16:05 CEST on Saturday. All sessions will feature live timing, and both qualifying and the race will be streamed live via the Le Mans Cup YouTube channel.
Jones and Malvern brought home a ninth-place finish aboard the Team Parker Racing Porsche 992 GT3 R, which at least bagged enough points to keep the pair running fifth in the championship, despite a challenging weekend at Motorland Aragon.
With temperatures approaching the 40s, the Spanish sun made for a gruelling event, with cockpit conditions reaching in excess of 50 degrees at times. Regardless, the two drivers pressed on and Malvern showed a glimpse of the Porsche’s potential by setting the third-fastest time during second practice.
However, when their rivals really showed their hand in qualifying, with the pole time eventually winding up a fell second faster than anybody had shown during second practice, it became clear the race would be a battle.
Due to the series’ Balance of Performance rules the new Porsche runs over 40kg heavier than any other GT3 car on the grid, and with less power to boot. Jones still managed to haul the car to the eight-fastest time in qualifying, which was a positive start.
But that’s where things got tricky. Jones made a good start as he looked to make up early ground, but was showed wide at turn one while having to avoid a multi-car clash between the LMP3 field ahead. That set Jones back to 10th, and then his progress was hindered by a string of safety car periods of prototypes that had become beached in Aragon’s gravel.
Things were then compounded when the car was handed a drive-through penalty for a start procedure infringement. Jones served the penalty right away, following the Steller Motorsport Audi which had fallen foul of the same thing, but both cars were soon back in for crossing the white line on pit exit, earning a second drive-through.
Those knocked the team out of contention, and left Pro driver Malvern in a private scrap with Sennan Fielding in the Steller Audi for eighth. Malvern fought hard to fend off Fielding, but ultimately could do nothing against the Audi’s weight and power advantage, crossing the line in ninth after a physically draining contest.
Nick Jones said: “There’s no hiding that we’re disappointed with that weekend, it feels like kit got away from us. It’s clear the car is being badly held back, but ultimately the first penalty wrecked our race before we even really got going. Then the second one was just bad luck as I was following the Audi closely out of the pits and we both fell foul of the line. From then on it was damage limitation. The heat made it a very physical challenge across the first stint, but it actually hit you worse when we got out of the car and the adrenaline subsided and you couldn’t get away from it. Still, the team did a great job as usual, and Scott pushed as hard as he could. We’ll keep fighting.”
Scott Malvern added: “The weekend was a tough one to take. It’s frustrating because we’re still not really sure what the first penalty was for, that killed our race early on and then the combination of the second penalty and the timings of the safety cars put us a lap down and there’s not much we could do from there. It doesn’t feel like a very fair fight right now with BoP, but we managed the tyres well and had some decent pace toward the end, plus the guys worked so hard on the car – wearing full fireproofs was not fun in 40-degree heat! We’ll reset and come out fighting again at Spa-Francorchamps.”
The next round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup takes place at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on September 22/23.
The 3.2-mile circuit, located at Alcañiz in Northern Spain, was never originally planned to be a part of the Le Mans Cup season, but organisers had to secure an additional fixture to replace the lost second round at Imola, which was cancelled following delays to building works in the paddock.
That means many of the teams and drivers will likely be heading to a relatively unknown circuit, so the grid could be jumbled from the usual order. Recent Le Mans Cup rounds haven’t been kind to Jones and Malvern, with oppressive Balance of Performance settings robbing the new Porsche 992 GT3 R of crucial straight-line speed.
After scoring a superb second place in the season opener in Barcelona, the Team Parker Racing-run machine struggled against its power deficit at both Le Mans and Circuit Paul Ricard, with Jones and Malvern fighting against the odds to keep up their record of scoring points in every race so far this year.
In preparation for this event, the team took part in back-to-back European tests at both Portimão in Portugal and Aragon to both learn the circuits and develop the setup for the new Porsche, focusing on both tyre wear and car balance across qualifying and race simulations.
The pair currently run fifth in the drivers’ championship, still well in sight of the top three, and the trip to the unfamiliar Aragon circuit could be just the reset the duo need to turn the tables.
Nick Jones says: “I’m looking forward to Aragon… even though we were never meant to be going there originally, I was really impressed with the place when we tested there recently. It’s a superb facility. The track is great fun to drive, very challenging with a lot of elevation change and some tight corners so there are lots of overtaking opportunities. I think we managed to dial the car in pretty well during the two-day test, so we’ll be going in with our eyes on some more points. Recent rounds have been tough for us being the sole new 992-gen Porsche on the grid, and we’re learning as we go. The BoP hasn’t helped either. It’s been a battle, but we’ve always been there scoring points and, as this circuit is a bit of an unknown to many, staying out of trouble could be key for this round. We feel prepared and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.”
Scott Malvern says: “Any change to the calendar is a challenge, especially when it’s a new circuit for us, but actually the summer break has given us a nice window for some testing work, so we’re perhaps better prepared for Aragon than we have been for either of the recent two rounds. We enjoyed a really good two-day test there, working through both qualifying and race simulations and trying to better understand the tyre degradation of the new 992 Porsche. It’s a new car and we’re still learning it, so track time is really valuable. Aragon itself is a tough track with a lot of big stops, and obviously the heat will make it a very physical challenge. It’s no secret that BoP hasn’t been kind to us recently, so all we can do is maximise our own performance across the weekend and hopefully a good result can come our way.”
Action for the fourth Michelin Le Mans Cup round at Motorland Aragon gets underway with two free practice sessions on Thursday, August 24 ahead of qualifying on Friday morning and the 110-minute race scheduled for 17:40 CEST Friday afternoon. Qualifying and the race will be live streamed via the Michelin Le Mans Cup YouTube channel.