Team Parker Racing enjoyed a podium finish at Circuit de la Sarthe at the weekend (August 19-21) as Nick Jones and Justin Armstrong made the most of their invitations to compete in the one-off Porsche Sprint Challenge France contest ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
On a packed grid of 56 Porsche machines, racing in five classes ranging from the 911 GT3 R, to the latest 992 GT3 Cup car, both the 991-2 and 991-1 generation GT3 Cup cars and even the 997, it was a unique opportunity for both drives to compete, as the legendary circuit was opened to only amateur drivers for the first time.
Getting up to speed during Thursday and Friday’s 45-minute practice session, Nick and Justin were straight into qualifying on Friday afternoon, the former finishing second quickest in the R class and the latter 15th out of 27 cars in the busy 991-2 class.
This was despite Justin’s car needing significant repairs in the 24 hours after getting back to the workshop from his Porsche Carrera Cup GB contest at Knockhill and needing to leave to get to Le Mans. As well as the car needing repairs, after Justin went off on oil at the Scottish venue, he was also in significant amounts of pain after his impact with the barriers.
Regardless, both drivers made the most of the rare opportunity and enjoyed themselves on track. Nick thought damage sustained at turn two would end his race but dug deep and made positions back up to finish second in the 911 GT3 R class, while Justin finished 14th in a close gaggle of second generation 991 GT3 Cup cars, as the second half of the 45-minute race ended behind the Safety Car due to barrier damage.
Both drivers will now enjoy several weeks’ break before returning to the British GT Championship and Porsche Carrera Cup GB, respectively, while the team returns to track this coming weekend (August 28/29) as the Porsche Sprint Challenge GB heads to Thruxton, racing alongside the British Touring Car Championship.
Nick Jones, #53, Porsche 911 GT3 R
“What an opportunity. I’m really glad we made the effort to go over as it was well worth it. It was a great, great weekend and a fantastic experience.
“While it wasn’t attended by as many people as would normally go, it’s still a massive event, so it was well worth the trip to go, let alone to race and then get on the podium. There aren’t many people that get up onto that podium, so I’m pleased with that. It makes it all worthwhile, especially for the team.
“It was a little bit more relaxed than the normal races that we go to. Track time was limited, but we were going faster, faster, and faster, so we learned something new every time. It was relaxed, but we still did a proper job. It was a bit weird not having Scott [Malvern] driving and no data to go against, but I thought it was a good craic. It was just nice to get away and we all had a great time. It was a real adventure.
“I’d got some damage at turn two from another car, so I didn’t have any of my front aero as the dive planes had come off. I didn’t even mind having the damage, I was just glad I could finish. I did think ‘oh here we go, same old luck,’ but it’s all good – I lost a few places but then made them back up.
“At the end of the race I thought we might get one racing lap but then I saw the angle grinder and there’s only so fast you can angle grind some barrier, so I think at the earliest opportunity, they pulled the red flag out. It was a shame because again, we were getting faster and faster.”
Justin Armstrong, #54, Porsche 991 GT3 Cup (991.2)
“Racing at Le Mans is something that you can only ever dream of unless you’ve got unlimited budget to do the 24 Hours, so to be invited to do the support race was definitely an opportunity you can’t turn down.
“We had the incident at Knockhill which left the car a bit damaged, and I was injured as well. I went off on the oil from the engine failure earlier in the race and literally sideswiped the barrier, so the car wasn’t particularly damaged, but I took all the impact on my side.
“I put a rib protector on and tried to make myself as comfortable as I could. The team did an amazing job to get the car ready in 24 hours, so I can’t thank them enough for doing that, and to get out there and race on that circuit was just a dream come true.
“We were slightly on the back foot from FP1 as I was in quite a bit more pain on Thursday, so I couldn’t really get to push the car. We went into FP2 Friday a little bit tentative as I was still learning the track, but we improved all the way through, and every session went faster and faster. I think our true pace was somewhere further up than where we were, but it was a great experience.
“Going from Knockhill to Le Mans to Croft – if you’re going to make some jumps, that’s certainly a big step! From Knockhill where you barely get out of fourth, to Le Mans where you bounce off the rev limiter in sixth at 292 kph – that definitely wakes you up!”