ASTOUNDING FIRST VICTORY FOR HARRIS Matt Harris came from last place to win round 14 of the Formula BMW UK Championship at Mondello Park yesterday in the most thrilling and unpredictable race in the series' brief history. The Curdridge ...
ASTOUNDING FIRST VICTORY FOR HARRIS
Matt Harris came from last place to win round 14 of the Formula BMW UK Championship at Mondello Park yesterday in the most thrilling and unpredictable race in the series' brief history. The Curdridge based racer earned his first victory by making a uniquely brave tyre choice in treacherous conditions.
The first half of Harris' 2005 Formula BMW season contained few high points as he tried to adapt his driving style to the slightly revised technical package. He felt that the Croft race in mid-July, where Matt made it into the top ten from 16th on the grid, was something of a turning point, and hoped to make further progress at Ireland's Mondello track seven days later. But victory still seemed a long way off, especially after two depressing qualifying sessions.
A series of red flag interruptions in first qualifying left Harris only 14th on the grid and "very, very frustrated", as he had hoped for a top ten performance. He would reach new heights of annoyance a few hours later in the second session"
"I did one half-fast lap because it was wet and I was just checking out the conditions," Harris explained. "Little did I know that it would be the only lap I would get to do."
The officials decided to abandon the session due to the level of standing water on the track -- a wise decision but bad news for Matt, who would be forced to start way back in 20th.
Race one lifted his spirits -- as Harris was edged back to 16th at the start but recovered very strongly to take points for eighth place. If the weekend had ended right there, Matt would have left Ireland pretty contented, but he still had one more opportunity to do something special in race two. Although the lunchtime rain stopped in time for the Formula BMW race, the track remained wet and everyone looked set to start on rain tyres. But Matt decided to gamble"
"I was listening to the touring car commentary before our race and a few of them seemed to be running on slick tyres," said Harris. "At the last minute I said to Trevor (Powell, boss of Matt's SWR-Loctite team) that I wanted to go with a full dry weather set-up and slick tyres.
"I've never been so nervous before race in my life. It was just slightly dripping with rain and I was worried that I'd made a stupid choice and it was going to be absolutely terrible."
Harris' worst fears were confirmed in the early laps. The track was still sodden in places and he slithered back to 22nd place. All looked lost, but then Matt found the tyres warming up and starting to grip on the increasingly dry track. Suddenly he was passing people easily and setting the fastest laps of the race. He began carving through the field, reaching tenth place by lap five and lapping up to five seconds quicker than the leaders.
With three laps to go, Matt was fifth and the safety car had come out.
"I was looking at the cars in front and thinking I could win it for the first time," said Harris. "But on the restart I got squeezed out wide and put on the grass. It was still very wet off the track and I was really, really close to losing it all. I clambered back onto the road in seventh, gave it everything I possibly could, and by the end of the lap I was leading!"
Matt swept past all the cars in front, shrugged off the wet patches that still littered the track, and pulled away to win by 5s from his team-mate Oliver Turvey.
"I'm in a slight state of disbelief," said Harris. "Finally I had some luck, but it was a very, very surreal feeling to win like that. I must have overtaken about 26 cars during that race -- I just couldn't believe it was happening."
Harris accepts that this was an unusual race, but all 23 drivers had the opportunity to pick the right tyres -- and only Matt took the correct (and heroic) option of selecting slicks. It has certainly boosted his confidence for the remaining six rounds.
"For one thing I've got a big fat trophy on my mantelpiece now," he said. "For my self-respect I can't let that be my only really good result of the season because people will say I was just lucky.
"But now I know I can do it. A few races ago I was very slow, then at Croft I moved back towards the top ten, and in the dry here I was definitely in the top ten.
"I'm not going to start setting stupidly ambitious targets after this result, but hopefully at the next race I can be solidly in the top ten and then keep improving from there."