Following the news that renowned motoring journalist and recently-announced Top Gear presenter Chris Harris will drive a Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 in the Blancpain Endurance Cup, here’s why the move makes sense for all parties.
1. Plenty of racing experience
Make no mistake about it, while Harris may be best known for going sideways in some of the most exotic supercars around on YouTube, the 41-year-old is no James May, and does have plenty of previous racing experience. Harris has attempted the Nürburgring 24 Hours six times, with a best finish of 13th overall and fourth in SP7 in 2010, and is an accomplished historics racer. He also has starts in the Porsche Carrera Cup and Renault Sport Trophy series under his belt, but anyone who can handle the ridiculous closing speeds in a near-200 car field on the Nordschleife should manage fine against a field solely comprising GT3 machinery.
2. Less pressure on Ams
The Blancpain Endurance Series doesn’t enjoy the same profile as the World Endurance Championship, but it goes without saying that there will be plenty of interested parties watching to see how the new Top Gear presenter fares. However, by entering the Am Cup, Harris can have a year to learn the ropes without the level of expectation that comes from driving alongside a Platinum or Gold. That’s not to say Harris doesn’t want to win – of course he does, otherwise he wouldn’t be interested – but by deciding not to go straight into the Pro-Am class, he has shown a healthy respect for the competition level of the series that suggests this is more than simply a weekend hobby.
3. Harris is GT3’s target market
From the very beginning, the principle behind GT3 was to create an accessible formula with cars that enabled non-professional drivers to compete alongside those who had been karting since they could tie their shoelaces. With user-friendly aids such as ABS and traction control helping to even the playing field, GT3 has proven to be a blockbuster success around the world and frankly, it would have been surprising had Harris opted to race anywhere else.
4. Reprising relationship with Parker
Another key to the deal is Harris’ good relationship with Stuart Parker, having driven with the team in the 2011 Porsche World Cup on the Nordschleife. Am Cup champions last year with an Audi R8, Parker will step up to a two-car effort in 2016 with a pair of Bentley Continental GT3s supported by the Bentley works team. Although it is the only example in the class, the Continental is a proven winner at this level and with Tom Onslow-Cole, Callum Macleod and Ian Loggie running a second car in the Pro-Am Cup, there will be plenty of data to work from as Harris and co-drivers Chris Cooper and Derek Pierce get up to speed.
5. Manufacturer sees value too
From Bentley’s perspective, the deal makes perfect sense too. The British manufacturer are seeking to lower the age of its customer base (ridding itself of its old man, walnut dash image) through their motorsport programme and the opportunity to be associated with Harris, whose new role will undoubtedly take him from top-level British motoring journalist to global household name, proved too good to pass up.