DSC spent some time with reigning British GT champion Rick Parfitt Junior after Sunday morning’s warm-up at Rockingham. When his Bentley Continental GT3 was working well last season, it tended to work very well, taking him to the 2017 title with then-team mate Seb Morris and collecting wins at Rockingham, Silverstone and Brands Hatch along the way.
However when the going gets wet the Bentley can be a very different proposition. Accordingly, given the GT running conditions so far in 2018, despite the #1 taking pride of place on the distinctive Bentley grille, Parfitt has not had a great deal of scope for optimistic thought.
“It was a real challenge yesterday. It is no secret, in fact everybody knows, that this car [the Bentley Continental GT3] is just not good in the wet. At best, it is really difficult, at worst, you could say it is dangerous. There is nothing we can do about it as a team because it is just an inherent design fault with the car and as an amateur driver it does make it a really hard car to drive. You can be coming out of a corner at 2% throttle and then suddenly get snap oversteer.”
At best, it is really difficult, at worst, you could say it is dangerous
Co-Champion Seb Morris is still with Team Parker and Bentley, but has moved on to the European stage and the attractions of the Blancpain and International GT Open series. So although Parfitt remains with Team Parker Racing, he has a new (albeit familiar) co-driver in Ryan Ractcliffe. This reunites the pairing that took the 2013 British GT GT4 championship, and they also shared a Team LNT-entered Ginetta GT3 for one round in 2015, where they took a fourth place finish.
“Ryan knows himself that he has the biggest mountain to climb because he is the lowest rated of the Pro drivers here and some of the Pro drivers in this year’s championship are amongst the best in the world. Callum Macleod [in the sister #7 Bentley] is a pro driver who is going as quick as he can in the car and in the wet even Callum is around five seconds off [around Rockingham in the wet] so it shows what we have.”
Macleod’s qualifying time was in fact in the region of 3.5 seconds off the pole-sitting time of Phil Keen’s Lamborghini Huracan, but the short 10 minute qualifying session had been something of a lottery given the difficult conditions and Parfitt’s view was entirely accurate when the timing records from the longer (and wetter) free practice sessions was taken into account.
Even without the gearbox compressor failure which Ratcliffe reported to have failed almost immediately as he left the pitlane in Free Practice 1 (and took around half the session to fix) Parfitt thought that ever getting on par without a dry track would be “a tall order and hugely demanding. Qualifying was too wet to be anything other than damage limitation for me so I just had that mindset. It was all about risk and reward and I knew I wouldn’t be challenging anyone so I just did the minimum laps and didn’t care about the time.”
Fortunately for Parfitt and the weekend’s invited guests from main car-sponsor Fairline Yachts, Sunday’s forecast was allowing a tentative smile to start to appear. “Luckily it is dry now and hopefully it still will be for the race. I’ve always been quick here at Rockingham and the, or perhaps ‘borderline the’, quickest Am driver. I have led here in most of the formulas I have raced in. So I will have a totally different mindset on raceday, I will be on maximum attack!”
Ratcliffe was afforded the chance to dial himself into the dry conditions in Sunday morning’s warm up and his final three laps were all improvements, putting the #1 Bentley seventh quickest and a more encouraging two seconds off factory driver Nicki Thiim’s Aston Martin.
I always said before the start of the season that if we can get into the top five, then that will be an absolute result
Dry it may be, but at around 6C ambient and 8C track temperature, warm it certainly isn’t, so Parfitt was conscious that there were other attributes about the Bentley Continental that will still have to be borne in mind. “The tyres do take quite a long time to come up to temperature in the Bentley even without a cold track, which is good at times, an issue at others. But here it is a longer race at two hours and I know I will have a long time in the car so I will be able to wait for the tyres and then hopefully I should be able to start picking them off.
“I always said before the start of the season that if we can get into the top five, then that will be an absolute result. We are effectively two gentleman drivers against a world class field so that could only ever mean this will be an immensely tough year and to be honest psychologically quite hard too as the current champion. If we can get a good result and have things come our way a bit I think that will change things a lot for us.”
Photos courtesy of British GT/JEP