HARRIS SCORES ON SPORTSCAR DEBUT

Matt Harris began his new career as a sportscar driver in highly promising style by charging into the points in the British GT Championship season opener at Oulton Park on Easter Saturday.

After several years in single-seaters, 19-year-old Harris had two reasons for switching to GT racing with the Trackspeed team's Porsche 911 this season. The primary factor was that sportscar racing was within his financial reach, whereas the next steps up the single-seater ladder were prohibitively expensive, and Harris also soon found that the powerful Porsche suited his spectacular driving style much better than the Formula BMW machines that he had grappled with to little avail in 2004/5.

Harris knew that with GT racing so different to the short sprints of junior single-seater series, he would have a lot of new experiences to get used to in the early rounds. Sharing a car with a co-driver was just one of these novelties, and Matt soon discovered its potential pitfalls when his partner Miles Hulford spun their Porsche down the order during his opening stint.

When Harris took over the car during the mid-race pit stop, he was down in 12th place and seemingly out of contention. But a series of blistering laps quickly brought Matt into the top ten, and he then dispatched Andy Allen, Graeme Mundy and Gary Eastwood over laps 26 and 27 to move up to seventh place.

His progress through the field gained Harris a little breathing space over the chasing Philip Glew, a former Formula BMW rival who had emulated Matt's switch across disciplines. Glew had closed in when Harris was caught behind one of the few entrants in the GT2 class for faster, more powerful cars. The GT2 and GTC cars race concurrently and score points separately, and the performance difference between them should be great enough to stop them interfering in each other's races, but not in this case.

"The GT2 Mosler came out just in front of me after its pit stop and took ages to get up to speed," Harris explained. "There was no point even trying to pass it because it was so much faster than my Porsche down the straights, but then it would hold me up in the corners. By the time it got going and pulled away, Glew had been able to catch me up.

"I pulled away from him a little while we were passing the other cars, but then I made the only real mistake of my afternoon and went wide at Lodge."

That slight slip allowed Glew to squeeze past, but Harris immediately retaliated and looked capable of reclaiming seventh. Then another ambling GT2 car intruded, as the overall race leading Ferrari got between the squabbling Porsches, only to slow down so that it could take the chequered flag to win the hour long race without having to complete another lap. Delayed once again, Harris had to settle for eighth.

"Obviously taking over the car after Miles' spin wasn't the ideal start," he mused. "But I'm fairly happy overall. The times seemed to be good, and I was third quickest of the GTC cars. I possibly pushed a bit too hard early on and took too much out of the tyres, and it was a bit frustrating to lose out to Glew. But the important thing was to get to the end of my first sportscar race with all four wheels still on the car, and I managed to do that and score a point as well."

Round two takes place on Easter Monday at Oulton, and Harris has already qualified the car fourth in GTC. It will be his turn to drive the opening stint, and based on his race one form, he ought to hand the car over to Hulford in a very competitive position.

-mb-