Daniel Harper has brought his two year spell in the Ginetta Junior Championship to an end in style with a superb double victory during the final rounds of the 2017 season around the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit this past weekend (30 September/1 October).
Harper headed into the final three races of the season in contention for the drivers title, and whilst he ultimately missed out on the ultimate prize, his sixth and seventh wins of the campaign ensured he finished just two points shy of the vice-champion position in third overall.
The tenth and final race meeting of the campaign kicked off with a rollercoaster day of practice on Friday, with one dry session and one wet session making it a tougher task for Harper and the Douglas Motorsport team to perfect the car’s set-up ahead of the weekend.
Great work would ensure the car was in fantastic shape for qualifying on Saturday morning, however some issues getting the all-important tow required down the long Brands Hatch straights meant the Northern Irishman couldn’t take full advantage of his Ginetta G40’s clear pace.
Harper would still come away with a strong fourth on the grid for both of the opening two races on Saturday afternoon though, meaning he was right in the pack and ready to challenge for the podium positions as the lights went out at the start of the opening encounter.
A strong launch off the line would see him challenging for third position as they headed into Paddock Hill Bend for the first time, however heavy contact with the kerb on the inside unsettled his car and led to contact with another car as he headed wide across the gravel.
Recovering to the track in eighth position heading into an early safety car period, Harper would superbly gain two positions in just two corners at the restart to move into the top six, despite the earlier contact having knocked the steering out on his G40.
The Hillsborough-racer kept pushing though and after closing onto the tail of the pack ahead in the closing laps, he was rewarded on the final tour as he benefitted from a mistake by a driver ahead to grab fifth position at the chequered flag.
With the car repaired for race two later that afternoon, Harper was able to make an immediate impact as dusk fell over Brands Hatch with a storming move around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend moving him up to second position on the opening lap.
Once again the action was almost immediately halted by the safety car for an incident at Surtees, and at the restart Harper found himself caught out by some cement dust laid down on dropped fluids and slid wide, demoting him to third place.
The sixteen year old would immediately hit back though and regained second position at the next corner, before remarkably closing down a 0.8 second gap to the leader in just one lap before grabbing the advantage heading into Druids on lap seven.
Later in the lap the position would change back, but a fantastic switchback move into Paddock Hill Bend on the eighth tour would decisively secure him the race lead, which he maintained to the finish with some superb defensive driving to secure the victory. That success came in the IFS Global Logistics, McGaughey Refrigerated Distribution, J Davey Construction Ltd, MotorstoreNI, Solmatix and Nutts Corner Circuit supported driver’s 50th start in the main championship, and meant he would start on pole position for the final race of the season on Sunday afternoon.
A change of weather conditions meant Harper would have to deal with a tricky wet circuit as he led the field away in front of the live ITV4 television cameras, with a good launch off the line being negated by a red flag, which meant he had to do it again during a restart soon after. Leading the opening few laps, Harper would start to come under immense pressure on lap four and engaged in some tremendous wheel-to-wheel racing around the high-speed GP loop, drawing gasps from the huge crowd watching on trackside in Kent. Harper emerged in front with some crucial breathing space ahead of the pack, and consistent lap-times in the closing stages ensured he went unchallenged on his way to the chequered flag and the victory, which came to the delight of his watching team, family and sponsors.
The win confirmed Harper’s third place finish in the final standings and brought to an end a two year spell in the main championship with Douglas Motorsport which has featured no less than nine outright victories and 22 podium finishes across 51 race starts in the UK’s premier junior series.
Daniel Harper: “I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my Ginetta Junior career. I have to say a massive thank you to Ginetta, as without them and winning their Scholarship, I would have never even started this journey and they’ve got me to where I am today. I can’t really explain how much it means to me to end the season with two victories like this. We didn’t get to show our true pace in qualifying or race one, but to come through and win the next two was incredible. The racing was so much fun, I loved every second of it A massive thank you to all my sponsors, the Douglas Motorsport team, my family and friends and everyone else who has contributed to the last two seasons. It’s been incredible to come away with the Rookie title last season and then third overall this year.”
Images from Jakob Ebrey Photography