BMW M Motorsport works driver Daniel Harper kicked off his second season in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup with a sensational breakthrough podium finish at Monza this past weekend (22/23 April).
Harper’s return to one of the most competitive GT3 championships in the world came alongside his familiar team-mates of Neil Verhagen and Max Hesse, with the trio continuing a partnership with ROWE Racing that produced a number of standout results last year in their BMW M4 GT3.
Whilst Monza was a new addition to the GTWC calendar for 2023, the Northern Irishman returned to the legendary Italian circuit with fond memories of his first visit back in 2018, when he scored a pole position in only his third outing in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB. With its combination of long straights, high-speed bends and tight chicanes, the ‘Temple of Speed’ would provide a stern challenge for Harper and his team-mates, meaning that the Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying sessions on Saturday were to be crucial to get them up to speed. Some good progress in their BMW M4 GT3, once again adorning a blue and gold livery for headline partner Multibank Group, across the two sessions ended with them slotting into P10 overall within the hugely competitive 55 car grid.
Hard work from the ROWE Racing team and BMW to find further improvements with the car ahead of qualifying was hugely rewarded. Harper excelled in the opening 15-minute session to go third quickest overall, before Verhagen followed up with the fourth fastest time in his session. While a power cut at the circuit then resulted in Hesse’s session being cancelled, the combined times of Harper and Verhagen was enough to secure them fourth on the grid for the three-hour race later that day, as part of a stunning BMW lockout of the front two rows.
It was Harper who started the race and found himself frustrated in the early stages, slipping to fifth as the field squeezed their way through the first chicane, before seeing any chance of an immediate fightback halted by back-to-back safety car periods. Once action finally resumed fully, the 22-year-old talent was able to move up a place to fourth before handing the car over to Verhagen at the end of the first hour. His American team-mate emerged from the pitstop cycle in third position and put together a brilliant stint to hold the spot throughout.
Hesse took control for the final portion of the race and pumped in a great run of fast, consistent lap times to maintain a comfortable gap to the cars behind, before benefitting from a late issue for the car ahead to grab second place. He then followed home the sister ROWE Racing car to complete a perfect one-two result for the team.
Daniel Harper: “I’m absolutely delighted to get our first GT World Challenge Europe podium finish, and it’s made even sweeter that it was a one-two finish for ROWE Racing and BMW M Motorsport. It was an absolutely perfect day, and not something we expected at all. Monza is a fantastic circuit, but it’s a tricky one to master, particularly the tight chicanes. We weren’t quite on the ultimate pace on Saturday, but we worked hard with the team and BMW on the set-up and we found a real sweet spot for qualifying. The car was faultless throughout qualifying and the race, a real joy to drive. To stand on the GTWC podium for the first time was a special feeling, and a massive thank you goes to ROWE Racing and BMW for their great work and support. Let’s hope it’s the first podium of many this year.”
The Monza outing completed a busy run of four consecutive race weekends for Harper. He now has a weekend off before returning to British GT Championship action at Silverstone (06/07 May), whilst the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup season continues in six weeks’ time (03/04 June) at Paul Ricard in France.