Daniel Harper bounced back from first race disappointment to secure a hard-earned fifth place finish and with it some crucial championship points during a rollercoaster fourth meeting of the 2017 Ginetta Junior Championship season at Oulton Park this past weekend (20/21 May).
The Northern Irishman would once again confirm his status as one of the fastest drivers on the grid this season as he stormed to a pair of front row starts in qualifying on Saturday, but saw his podium ambitions fade away during a pair of tough races come Sunday.
Harper headed into the meeting with the difficult situation of juggling his racing commitments and his GCSE examinations; the sixteen year old missing the opening free practice session on Friday as he sat his Physical Education exam in a nearby Chester school.
Reunited with his Douglas Motorsport-prepared Ginetta G40 in time for the second session later that day, Harper would get some crucial track time under his belt then and during Saturday’s final practice session ahead of qualifying.
After finishing just six hundredths of a second shy of top spot in the morning, Harper would be right in the mix for pole position throughout qualifying, which took place in tricky damp conditions following torrential rainfall between their sessions.
As grip levels improved on track the order would only be decided in the dying seconds of the session, with a brilliant last gasp 1m 47.403s lap putting Harper second on the grid for the opening race, while his second fastest time would secure him pole position for race two.
Following his stunning drive from sixteenth to third at Thruxton earlier this month, Harper would be chosen by the ITV4 television team to run with the live onboard cameras for Sunday’s two races, a decision which would ultimately give the audience a clear view of a dramatic start to race one.
A slow launch off the line would leave Harper under attack as the pack headed towards the first corner, but as drivers on both sides tried to move into the middle of the track, Harper was left with nowhere to go and contact ensued, dramatically pitching the front of his car into the air.
Landing back onto the tarmac with a bump, Harper would initially continue in third position with no clear sign of damage, however later in the lap his front left tyre gave way and he would be forced to head into the pitlane for a tyre change.
Returning to the track over a minute down on the field, Harper had no opportunity to gain any positions and instead focused on showcasing his natural speed as he lapped as the quickest driver on track in the closing laps on his way to a seventeenth place finish.
Harper was keen to bounce back from pole position in race two, however a poor getaway would prove to be his Achilles heel once again, with wheelspin dropping him down to seventh by the time the field fed their way through Old Hall corner for the first time.
An immediate fightback would see the Hillsborough-based racer climb into sixth by the end of the opening lap, before a fierce battle with title rival Tom Gamble would eventually go his way on lap four, giving him a top five spot that he would maintain until the chequered flag.
Despite the race day troubles, Harper remains second in the championship standings with a 31 point deficit to Gamble ahead of the next three races of the season at Croft in North Yorkshire next month (10/11 June).
Daniel Harper: “It’s quite a disappointing weekend when you look at the two race results, but once again we had the pace to be right at the front of the field. Qualifying in the top two for both races was fantastic, and it was looking set to be a great weekend.
“I struggled to get off the line in both races though and that ultimately cost us our chances of podium finishes. With starts being something I’ve previously been very good at, they’re something that we will be working hard to improve upon before Croft.
“The first race in particular was really frustrating. Both drivers were trying to squeeze me and I had nowhere to go. Considering my car jumped into the air, and both those drivers ended up in the barriers, we were lucky that a puncture was the only damage we came away with.
“Race two wasn’t ideal either dropping back to seventh, but I was pleased to come away with a good haul of championship points and now our focus turns to ensuring we come back stronger next time and make a return to the podium at Croft.”