EnduranceAndGT.co.uk editor Andy Lloyd recently spoke with Rick Parfitt Jnr. to discuss his season with Team Parker Racing in the 2016 British GT Championship driving the Bentley Continental GT3 where he and Seb Morris finished joint third in the GT3 Drivers Championship.
Now that the dust has settled on this season, did the decision to join Team Parker Racing, partner with Seb Morris and drive the Bentley Continental GT3 live up to your expectations?
“It exceeded my expectations. I had come off a really tough first year in GT3 with Ginetta where it was very difficult year with many reliability issues. I’d known Seb since he was in Ginetta Juniors but obviously no one knew what he was going to be like in a GT car. I liked Seb and I’ve always said that if it’s a happy pit, the results usually follow because obviously the partnership is very, very important in GT racing. From my point of view, I’m doing this to take it as far as I can and realise a dream so therefore there has to be an element of fun to it. If there’s not fun to it, what’s the point of doing it?
Seb and I get on very well and it became very evident as soon as we went testing that he was going to be absolutely ballistic and I was going pretty well as well so the season definitely exceeded expectations because if someone had said at the start of the season we’d finish in the top six I’d have taken that. At the first round we turned up and put it on pole but had the victory robbed from us by the Code 80. If that had gone our way I think the rest of the season might have fallen into place. The fact is at the end of the season we were still challenging for the title. So it was a pretty good first year.”
I had heard Seb interviewed on Midweek Motorsport back in the summer and I thought then what a very sensible, focused driver he was with a very clear plan as to how he wanted his career to develop. It was clearly a very good partnership for you both.
“I think he’s made a really good decision to come across early because to chase the F1 dream you need so much money and I honestly believe that Seb will have the talent to go all the way in GT, I have absolutely no doubt. All of our team are flabbergasted by him. His raw pace is pretty bonkers and it’s good for me as well because when it comes to racing he’s always e-mailing me and telling me what to do. I classify myself as a fast Am and obviously I want to go quicker. Seb’s really helped me on that and, you know, I think I had more fastest laps than any other Am which is a good testimony as to how we have worked together.
Everyone was calling us the ‘dream-team’ within the team and our sponsors and I think we get along quite well together. We had a laugh together as well. We’re always constantly ripping into each other which is good but when it comes down to going quickly, Seb doesn’t pull his punches. He tells me if I haven’t got enough heat into tyres, if I’ve missed an apex or if I break too late. He will pick faults in my lap but, likewise, if I do well he’s the first to come up and give me a massive hug!
But the other thing I have to say as well is that Stuart Parker and the team are brilliant. They are so together. The attention to detail and the preparation of the car is something I haven’t seen before and that’s the reason why Team Parker Racing has been successful in pretty much every category they’ve been in. They really are brilliant team. There’s a really good team spirit and every one really wants to win. It was a good place to be and that’s why we’re working towards being back together again next year”.
The Bentley is large and powerful car yet it did look to be surprisingly nimble. Did it take you long to get to grips with it? You were on the pace pretty much from the get-go at Brands Hatch in Round One.
“The challenge with the Bentley Continental GT3 is it’s a turbo car so it takes a very different style. It’s a wonderfully nimble car and through the fast, flowing sections where the car can utilise its aero and where you have to commit, I would say it’s up there with the best GT cars in the world, if not the best. Where it’s not so great is coming out of the slow corners which showed across the season as well. Our traction issues were pretty well documented. The car is an animal and when the turbo kicks in, the car spins up and we would tend to lose against the Lamborghinis and the Astons. We just could not get the power down. It’s an absolute beast and it tries to buck, kick and throw you off at every turn. It’s difficult to drive but when you get it right it’s phenomenal. Everyone bangs on about it being massive but it doesn’t feel massive when you’re in it. It’s beautifully pliable and you sit quite high so it’s quite a relaxed driving position.
It’s a very different driving technique to account for the turbo boost coming in. As a result the Balance of Performance plays to its strengths on certain circuits. But on others where it’s stop-start like Snetterton and we’re boost-restricted, we were off the pace massively so we had to literally hang on for dear life and wring every bit out of it. We got a podium and a fifth, I think, which was the best we possibly could have hoped for. It’s one of those things where the Lamborghinis and the Astons can probably be a bit more consistent across the season. It’s kind of a little bit ‘boom or bust’ with us but the car itself has so much potential and we’re working closely with M-Sport to bring it back stronger for next year “
The season obviously had some amazing highs for Seb, you and the team with the pole position at the first round, the race win at Oulton and podiums at Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Spa and Snetterton. What for you personally was the high point of the season for you?
“Winning at Oulton was amazing because we didn’t expect to be that quick there. As I said the car is a bit of an animal and I’m forty two so there is a bit of self-preservation that comes in here. Seb, however, has absolutely no sense of self-preservation whatsoever! He is absolutely a complete lunatic when it comes to commitment and mid-corner speed which showed at Oulton. He drove the best stints I think I’ve ever seen over the whole year which were phenomenal. His overtake on Jon Barnes, bearing in mind there’s nowhere to overtake at Oulton anyway in these cars, into the chicane before Knickerbrook was pretty epic. To then just drive away in the second race was stunning. All I had to do was go into management mode. There was no point in me pushing it. I had a regular time update, I could see where the McLaren was and all I needed to do was maintain the gap and that was exactly what I did. But I can’t tell you how nerve – wracking it is, the last few laps, knowing you have maybe five or so more laps for your first ever GT3 win and first ever British GT win for Bentley. You’re literally screaming to yourself: “Don’t mess this up!”
So that was a great moment but also an amazing moment was just turning up at Brands and me going pole. I actually apologised to the team as my first half of the lap was a little bit scrappy but my second half of the lap was really very good and I was absolutely bang on it. When I came in, the first thing I did was apologise. I said I don’t think it’s good enough but the team said “you’re on pole!” and I was like “Yes!” That was amazing and, of course, for Seb to go on pole and to drive away in the race. I was the most relaxed I’ve ever been in a race car. On occasions you just get into a rhythm and at Brands I was just in a mega rhythm. It was just such a shame that the win was denied us.
Rockingham was great fun. That was an amazing moment this year as well. I’ve always been quick at Rockingham, always, in all classes for whatever reason. It’s like a kart circuit in the middle but I’ve always been quick in every single class I’ve been in but I’ve never won. This year an Aston dropped oil in front of me in practice and I slipped. Obviously the car was mullered after that crash but the team was amazing. They started rebuilding the car at 10.30 in the morning and they finished at 9.00 the following day. They worked through the night, re-welding the chassis and straightening it and we got it out. I drove from the back of the grid and obviously challenged and would have got into the top three except for various other little issues. The fact is that it was a pretty good come back.
Oulton Park was great but Brands was pretty amazing. That was when all our expectation of top six went: “hang on a second – we can probably actually do better than this.”
What did you take away from the season that you looked on as a development area for you for next year?
“Just me as a driver, to be fair. For me it was massive learning year. If you look at who I’m up against, I’m up against people who have been racing for years. I only got in a race car four years ago so I’ve progressed up pretty quickly and yet I had more fastest laps than any other Am this year. I think I’ve done a decent job this year so now I have to build on that. I have to be fitter and I have to be stronger. Some race weekends I was going away and having to gig so I wasn’t actually getting a lot of sleep either. Because the calendar is out earlier, I’m not going to take any gigs on race weekends next season.
Hopefully I’ll be a lot stronger, a bit fitter and physically less tired as well when I’m getting in the car so hopefully that will be good and I can build on what I’ve learned this year.”
Are you able to announce your plans for 2017 yet?
“I had a fantastic year with Team Parker Racing and my plans will be announced shortly but it would be good to have the ‘dream team’ back together.”
I’d read previously that you’ve set your sights on Le Mans so does that mean you’ll be looking for a GTE drive in 2018?
“That is the aim. I know that Team Parker Racing also has that aim. It’s down to sponsors as well. As long as my sponsors stay with me and move forward in that direction then that is the aim – to get to Le Mans at some stage within the next few years because I think I’m getting on a bit now – I need to hurry up! “