Having whetted his appetite for GP3 Series podiums in his home race at Silverstone earlier this month, Matt Parry sated his desire for more by returning to the top three in round four of the championship at the Hungaroring.
Buoyed by his British Grand Prix performance - which netted a maiden series podium in Saturday's feature race and fifth in Sunday's sprint - Parry arrived in Hungary confident that his racecraft was a match for anyone in the field. With prior knowledge of the tricky Budapest venue from his time in Formula Renault, he was optimistic of another strong showing, especially with the Koiranen GP team in good form over the opening third of the season.
Practice, however, showed not only how close the GP3 Series can be, but also how thin the line is between success and disappointment, as Parry, despite some early pace, was limited to just 13 laps by an engine problem and left down in 20th on the timesheets.
Overnight repairs allowed him to join the early morning qualifying session on Saturday and, despite his lack of track time in practice, the Welshman immediately showed what he was capable of by vaulting to the top of the times. He remained in the hunt for a top six position throughout the 30 minutes, but was unable to take full advantage of an extra set of tyres and had to settle for the outside of row three ahead of race one later in the day.
“Silverstone gave me a major boost, and showed just what I can do at this level,” Parry said, “It was good confirmation after last season's frustration and, with the Hungaroring being a similar challenge to Silverstone despite their different appearance, it allowed me to come here in confident mood. Practice was disappointing after a coil failed in the engine, but the team sorted the problem overnight and allowed me to qualify as normal. It's just a pity that I couldn't get everything out of the spare set of tyres that I had, as finding another couple of tenths would have put me third on the grid...”
With little cessation in the Hungarian heat and humidity ahead of the late afternoon start, 40 minutes of racing would test Parry's physical preparation as well as his car, but the Sport Wales ambassador showed no signs of fatigue as he produced a battling performance in search of the top three.
Having got the better of veteran Koiranen team-mate Jimmy Eriksson off the line, the Welsman settled into fifth place through the opening laps, before closing in and putting pressure on Arden's Emil Bernstorff. Despite appearing to have better pace than his fellow Briton, however, Parry was unable to find a clear opportunity to complete a move, and remained fifth to the chequered flag, crossing the line just four-tenths shy of third place as the chasing group bunched up in the final laps.
“I made a decent start and was able to get the better of Jimmy into turn one but, after that, it was something of a procession - albeit an exciting one,” Parry confirmed, “Just as at Silverstone, I was right behind Bernstorff for much of the race but, again, there just wasn't a clear opportunity to pass him. I didn't want to risk anything, but we were all so close crossing the line, I know that a podium would have been possible."
Under GP3's reverse grid policy, fifth place in race one meant that Parry would line up fourth on the grid for race two early on Sunday morning but, this time, there would be no gaining of places off the line, with the 21-year old initially going backwards as Saturday's top three all came past into turn one.
His position was improved midway around the lap as Bernstorff was taken out by Antonio Fuoco, but Parry helped himself to fourth by pulling off one of the overtaking moves of the season, going around the outside of race one winner and championship leader Luca Ghiotto at turn one. Having fended off the Italian's riposte through the following left-hander, Parry made good his escape, closing rapidly on Eriksson for the final podium position. Again, as in Silverstone's second race, the pair ran nose-to-tail, with the Swede prevailing despite telling his rookie team-mate that he had never known anyone able to run as fast in 'dirty air'.
Parry's dogged pursuit would ultimately pay dividends, however, as Eriksson, having enjoyed the podium ceremony, was later penalised for exceeding track limits in his defence, promoting the Briton to third place.
“If there is one area where I need to improve, it is my starts,” Parry conceded, “There are two ways of getting the car off the line and I'm still playing it safe while the more experienced drivers are taking the riskier option and making the most of it. Despite dropping back, I was handed a couple of places back by the accident and, once the safety car went in, I was able to get around the outside of Ghiotto at the end of the main straight. He made it difficult for me, but it was a very satisfying move!
"I was able to catch up to Jimmy but didn't want to make a silly move on a team-mate, even if the podium was at stake. It's a shame for him that he picked up the penalty, but I think I deserved a top three position this weekend and will happily take the points.”