Daniel Harper showcased his impressive speed and racecraft during a hugely promising debut in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup at Imola this past weekend (02/03 April).
A week on from starting his 2022 season on familiar ground at the Nürburgring, the Northern Irishman faced a completely new challenge this time out as he tackled both the championship and the circuit for the first time.
In their first race event with leading BMW outfit ROWE Racing and their Multibank Group backed BMW M4 GT3, Harper and his BMW Junior Team partners Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen found themselves part of a massive 52 car grid featuring some of the top GT manufacturers, teams and drivers in the world.
An official test day on the Wednesday leading up to the event allowed Harper to get acquainted with the world-famous Imola circuit and the new Pirelli tyre compound used in the championship. He built on that experience with more running during three hours of free practice sessions on Saturday.
The second session on Saturday ended with the top 30 cars split by less than a second, giving a clear indication to the level of competition the BMW rising stars faced the next day. Qualifying saw each of them tackle a 15 minute session, with the average of their combined final times deciding their grid position.
After starring with his qualifying performance at the Nürburgring the previous weekend, Harper showed his tremendous raw speed once again as he posted the quickest time of all the BMW drivers on the grid. His efforts, combined with his team-mates’ fastest laps, secured them 18th on the grid.
The three hour race would ultimately be heavily influenced by a number of full course yellow and safety car periods. Verhagen started behind the wheel and kept his nose clean during a busy opening hour to hand the car over to Hesse around the bottom of the top twenty.
Hesse got the car up to 15th overall before a long safety car spell neutralised the end of his stint and the second pitstop window. Unfortunately the BMW Junior Team lost some ground during that process, meaning Harper was running 20th when racing eventually resumed.
With just 45 minutes left on the clock, the 21 year old talent went on the offensive to regain some positions. Three places higher in under a quarter of an hour, he pushed on in the closing stages and would ultimately take the chequered flag in an impressive 15th overall.
Daniel Harper: “This weekend was a huge learning experience and I’m happy with how I did considering it was a new championship and a new circuit for me. As a team, we knew it was going to be very competitive and we relished that challenge.
“We felt we could have been pushing the top ten overall, but it was a tough race having to negotiate regular caution periods. We lost track position a couple of times as well, so in the end to come away with P15 was a strong result for our debut race.
“Personally, I really enjoyed my race stint. The racing is so tough, it’s incredible, and I had so much fun being able to properly race and make some moves. A huge thank you to ROWE Racing and BMW M Motorsport for all the hard work and support.”
The 2022 GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup season continues with a 1000km race at Paul Ricard in France at the start of June. Next up for Harper however is the second round of the Nürburgring Endurance Series this coming Saturday (9th April).
The images included are from BMW M Motorsport.