Douglas Racing’s Dan Harper heads into the final round of the championship as the underdog, more than 50 points behind points leader Tom Gamble.
After a relatively slow start to the season, Harper’s results have picked up since the summer break, taking four wins from the final four rounds and closing the gap to the leaders.
Harper didn’t make the best of starts to the season, a spin dropping him to 17th after an early safety car. He managed to fight back up to eighth before taking a podium in race two, beating Harry Dyson off the line.
Things picked up at Donington Park. He kicked off the weekend with a pole position and held the lead through the first part of race one before a safety car bunched up the field. He dropped back to third in the fight for the lead before a dominant victory in race two.
Starting from pole again, Harper managed to build up a gap to the rest of the field after another safety car period, claiming the win by more than six seconds. On pole again for race three, but a poor start dropped him backwards. He quickly joined the four-way battle for fourth, briefly taking the lead on a number of occasions. He finished third, but was handed a five second penalty for exceeding track limits and dropped back to sixth.
Harper claimed another victory at Thruxton, beating Sebastian Priaulx and Gamble to the chequered flag, but he was again dropped down the order with a track limits penalty.
Track limits also impacted Harper’s qualifying, fastest lap times having been deleted, forcing him to start 16th for race two. But he stormed up through the field, picking off drivers in rapid succession, to finish third.
Harper left Thruxton second in the championship, just 20 points behind leader Gamble, but a difficult weekend at Oulton Park, where he finished 17th and fifth, dropped him to fifth in the fight.
He bounced back at Snetterton after the summer break with the first double win of his Ginetta Junior career. The first came after a fight up from fifth, another difficult start dropping him backwards. He was left battling with Gamble and team-mate Kieren Jewiss, but eventually took the victory by just eight hundredths of a second. Harper took win number two from a typical chaotic Ginetta Junior race, in which the early leader ran wide, the top two span later in the race, and Dyson crossed the line first. The JHR Developments driver was denied his second win of the season by a 15 second penalty, promoting Harper to the top step of the podium.
On pole for lap three, Harper was preparing to take a historic hat-trick but, once again, he fell backwards at the start and was left battling for the final step of the podium. This time Harper couldn’t climb back up the order and finished fifth.
Harper claimed a hat-trick of podiums at Knockhill, including victory in the final race of the weekend, to put him within 30 points of the championship lead.
His “best ever” weekend in the Ginetta Junior championship followed at Rockingham. Harper kicked off the weekend with a win, snatching the race lead after an early safety car and fending off attacks from Gamble in the closing stages of the race. A second in race two followed before taking the win in the final race of the weekend, just ahead of Gamble.
Another pair of podiums followed at Silvesrtone. Harper had been heading to his sixth win of the season in race one, only to run wide on the penultimate lap, dropping back behind Tom Gamble. A collision between Harper and team-mate Jewiss put the championship contender on the backfoot at the start of race two, but he was able to recover to sixth before the chequered flag. Harper continued to climb up through the order in race three, finishing third.
With nine rounds down, Harper is third in the championship. Taking the title, a year after securing the rookie crown, won’t be easy but a stunning second half of the season promises he’ll head into Brands Hatch fighting.
Image credit: Caroline Rhea