The British GT season got underway with two races around Oulton Park on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, with the track having previously been a happy hunting ground for the duo after they secured a GT3 podium finish there last season.
However, a lack of pre-season testing meant the drivers went into the event on the back foot and the entire Team Parker Racing crew was forced to learn as they went with the Porsche. The biggest setback came from the introduction of a new, harder, Pirelli racing tyre for this year, which had a large impact on the rear-engined Porsche.
With the majority of the weight over the rear axle, the 911 struggled to find a suitable setup that would generate enough heat into the new harder front tyres, meaning both drivers struggled for grip across the weekend.
While Jones and Malvern featured strongly in practice, with Malvern setting the fourth-fastest time in the first session before the pair were 13th in the second, qualifying would be a tough ask with the field being so tightly packed this year.
Despite Jones recording his fastest-ever lap of Oulton in a GT3 car, he would start race one from 17th, with Malvern 15th in his session, which would set the grid for race two.
From there, any forward progress would be a bonus. The team made some big tweaks to the setup to try and improve the car’s balance, but again a dose of bad luck denied the pair in race one. Jones got away well for the first race and managed to keep the midfield pack in sight as he made his way up to 14th by the time the pit window opened and he dived in to hand to Malvern. With the pro driver installed, the SD Porsche looked set for a top-10 finish, until Malvern was the innocent victim of a swipe from a GT4 Aston Martin in traffic, the contact on the front-left ripping the vale out of the Pirelli tyre and consigning the Porsche to the pits for repairs.
The second race of the day would prove to be a disrupted one, with a long safety car period followed by a red flag stoppage after several cars hit trouble during a sudden rain storm that soaked the circuit when the field were on slick tyres.
Malvern took the start from 15th and wasted little time, making a series of well-timed moves to work his way into 11th before the safety car appeared on lap three. When racing resumed, he lined up a superb move around the outside of the Greystone GT McLaren into Cascades to snatch 10th just before the rain hit.
With other cars having issues, Malvern found himself eighth by the time the red flags came out, just as the pit window had opened. With the stoppage essentially nullifying the pit window, the race director ordered the cars to re-grid in their race order, with the second drivers installed. So Jones took the restart from eighth, but with the track ahead looking unpredictable due to the mixed conditions, so the team opted to put older, but warm, tyres on to try and maximise grip at the cost of outright speed. When racing did restart, Jones fought hard to hold his place from Richard Neary and Kevin Tse’s Mercedes-AMGs and the Rocket RJN McLaren of former British GT champion Graham Davidson. He was doing a solid job, too, until the Redline Racing Lamborghini spun across his path with minutes to go, forcing Jones to take evasive action and allowing the pack a run on him. The car would wind up 11th at the finish.
While the results aren’t what the crew had hoped for, the progress made on the car across the course of the weekend – plus a chance to increase their track time before the next round – has the drivers optimistic of more improvements next time out at Silverstone.
Nick Jones said: “There are definitely some positives to take from Oulton Park, the biggest one being that the car finished the weekend far stronger than it started it. But we were on the back foot from the start. But I ended up doing my fastest race and qualifying laps in a GT3 car, which is always a big confidence boost, it’s just the fact that the grid is such a high level and so close. We’re just missing extra time in the car, and hopefully we can get a day or two of running before Silverstone to help us get back into the mix.”
Scott Malvern said: “It certainly wasn’t the sort of opening weekend we’d hoped for, so I think character building is the best way to describe it. We knew we were coming in under-prepared, and that showed even more because of the tyre issue that we didn’t know we had before free practice. But the team has worked really hard, and Nick put in a really good showing in his stints, so there’s definitely potential there. We did what we could, and came away with what we could from this one. Hopefully we can find a step change for Silverstone.”
The next round of the Intelligent Money British GT Championship is the showpiece Silverstone 500 three-hour race, which takes place across the weekend of May 7/8.