Ginetta Junior Championship rookie Nathan Harrison created another stir amongst series regulars as he planted his Hillspeed Racing entry on the front row at Donington Park, but that was to be the high point of his weekend.
Just two weeks after narrowly missing out on a podium finish on his series debut at Brands Hatch, and having posted the fourth-fastest time in free practice, the Oxfordshire-based 15-year old became the first rookie to qualify on the front row this season, and only narrowly missed out on pole position to Hillspeed team-mate George Gamble, who produced a lap just 0.078secs quicker in the closing moments of the session.
“The team’s strategy had been to allow the rest of the field to go out at the start of the session but, when it started to spit with rain, we had to go for it,” Harrison revealed, “Although George and I caught some of the other cars, I opted to back off, and that cooled the tyres enough for me to improve my time. I was on pole for much of the session, so it was disappointing to see George go slightly faster right at the end.”
To emphasise how close the competition is in the Ginetta Junior series, the third-placed car was also under a tenth off top spot, with twelve of the 14 runners all within a second of Gamble’s time. While the drivers obviously enjoy the competition, a closely-matched field can also have its drawbacks, as Harrison was to discover in race one.
Despite getting away well, the youngster appeared to be a magnet for contact, twice being pushed off track before the safety car was called out to rescue a stranded rival, and was running down in ninth place at the restart. Although a similar fate would befall Gamble, running in the midfield left Harrison in the wrong place should anything untoward occur and, with seven laps completed, an couple of unrelated incidents would eventually bring a premature halt to both his, and everyone else’s race.
Heavy contact with the car of Oliver Basey-Fisher, after the pair were left with nowhere to go when Hillspeed’s Pepe Massot spun, not only badly damaged the #27 machine, but left Harrison nursing a sore hand and seeking medical attention.
Fortunately, neither car nor driver was so badly affected that they would not participate in Sunday’s second race, but the Hillspeed team was left with a major rebuilding job to ensure that Harrison could take up his front row slot. With Gamble electing not start, this would effectively become pole position, albeit on the ‘wrong’ side of the track.
Making another good getaway, Harrison led a Ginetta race for the first time, but his advantage lasted for just under two laps, as contact from behind left him running out of room at Coppice. Rejoining without incident, the Hillspeed driver found himself embroiled in a scrap with Niall Murray and Charlie Robertson, before Basey-Fisher and Massot made it even more interesting as they all chased second place.
With the positions changing every lap, it was unclear who would finish where until the chequered flag fell. Fortunately, there was no repeat of Saturday’s dramatic, and premature, end, but Harrison – nursing damage to his steering after the lap two incident - found himself in fifth place as he crossed the line for the last time.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t put it on the podium, especially considering where we started,” he sighed, “It was a fantastic effort to start on the front row, and I’d like to have had something to show for that. However, after what happened in race one, and with the effort the entire Hillspeed team had to put in overnight just to ensure we had cars on the grid on Sunday, it is good to get another top five finish.”
The weekend’s results leave Harrison in seventh place in the overall standings as the series heads to Thruxton, Britain’s fastest race circuit, for round three over 28-29 April.