Ginetta Junior Championship rookie Nathan Harrison came close to securing a sensational podium finish on his first ever car race after finishing fourth on his debut with Hillspeed Racing at Brands Hatch.
The Oxfordshire-based 15-year old brought himself up to speed during the pre-event test session, getting used to the #27 machine around the tricky Brands Hatch Indy layout and posting times that proved good enough for eleventh on the combined timesheets.
Having then run eighth fastest in free practice on Saturday morning, Harrison looked set for better in official qualifying, vaulting up to fourth on the screens, only to have his time removed by the stewards for exceeding the track limits. The margin of error was minimal but with an ensuing red flag interrupting the short quarter of an hour session, the youngster was left with just a single flying lap to set a time and establish his grid position for the two races to follow on Sunday.
“My best lap proved good enough for ninth on the grid, so it is frustrating to know that we were on for something a lot better before the stewards decided that I had gone too far over the edge of the track,” Harrison sighed, “We could only have been millimetres over the limit, but the rules are the rules.”
With the grid for race two being based on the second fastest lap for each driver, Harrison would actually improve by one position for the later event, but his immediate focus switched to what would be his race debut on a full circuit.
“I can’t deny that I was nervous,” he admitted, “It was the first start I had done in the Ginetta, and everything was a lot different to what I knew from karting.”
A slightly sluggish getaway on the infamous start-line incline left the Hillspeed machine in the thick of the pack, and Harrison compounded his woe by clipping the kerb at Surtees, spinning down to the rear of the field. His recovery began almost immediately, however, picking off the cars immediately ahead of him over the next couple of laps, before the safety car appeared on lap five and allowed the #27 to catch the rear of the leading pack. A stellar restart then saw Harrison pick off another three cars in the space of a lap, moving himself up to eighth before continuing to claim places at regular intervals, eventually crossing the line in fourth place, and just a handful of tenths from a podium position.
“The first lap isn’t one I’ll remember with too much fondness, but the rest of the race was amazing,” he enthused, “I was already reclaiming place before the safety car came out, but that allowed me to catch the pack, and my restart was good enough to move me up some more. To come from last to fourth on my debut, I’m over the moon!”
Harrison made a better start to race two, despite lining up on the supposedly less favourable outside line, but found that his car was taking its time to find its ultimate performance and was unable to make the sort of moves that characterised the opening event. Mired in a group of five cars all fighting for position, he battled valiantly to hold on to eighth place, before eventually having to relinquish it to Hillspeed team-mate, and fellow rookie, Pepe Massot on lap five. Able to run with the group thereafter, however, the karting graduate kept looking for a way back, and pounced on the final lap to claim the scalp of William Palmer and return to eighth spot before the chequered flag.
“We had better pace at the end of the race, but it was difficult to find a way through,” Harrison commented, “The Indy circuit isn’t the easiest to overtake on, and the car took a little time to get up to speed, so I wasn’t able to make any early progress. My lap times weren’t as close to the leaders as they were in the first race but, all in all, it was a decent start to the season given that it was my first event.”
Results of fourth and eighth in the two races leave Harrison sixth overall in the Ginetta Junior standings, but just three points behind fourth place. He now heads for two days of testing, at Donington Park and Thruxton, knowing what it feels like to race on the biggest motorsport package in the UK.
“I definitely enjoy it more than karting,” he grinned, “The atmosphere is totally different with all the people there to watch – the circuit was really buzzing throughout the day!”