Interview: Matthew Parry – Living the dream

1st December 2015

In the 12 months since winning the prestigious 25th McLaren Autosport BRDC Award, Matt Parry has been busy competing in the GP3 championship, guest driving a Caterham R300 and even achieving a life ambition by getting behind the wheel of a McLaren Formula 1 car at Silverstone. MSD caught up with him to look back on an exhilarating year.

Mclaren Autosport BRDC Award 2014 Silverstone, Northants. Monday 27 October 2014. World Copyright: Malcolm Griffiths/LAT Photographic. ref: Digital Image F80P5429

Already widely recognised as one of British motorsport’s brightest young talents, when Parry received the 25th McLaren Autosport BRDC Award a little over 12 months ago his reputation was elevated to another level. An award win is always welcome, but this one is really something to savour, particularly when you consider that previous winners include the likes of Jenson Button, David Coulthard, Paul di Resta and Dario Franchitti.

Thanks to the award win, 12 years after getting his first taste of motorsport on a motocross bike at the age of just eight, Parry found himself in the cockpit of the McLaren MP4-26 – the very car that Jenson Button drove to victory in the Canadian Grand Prix back in 2011.

“You hit that throttle pedal at the exit of a corner and before you know it you are on the lights and in third, fourth, fifth…so quick,” Parry says, recalling the moment he realised his biggest ambition. “It’s like releasing a rocket, continuous acceleration until you reach the braking point. In the first session I was on new tyres, so I was trying to get some temperature in them and the brakes and the engine, so I had to hit the engine limiter a few times to help warm it up. But once I was down past Arena 1 and 2 towards Brooklands, that the was the first time I hit the pedal. I gave it full beans in seventh gear heading towards Brooklands at God-knows-what-speed and it felt fantastic!”

As you would expect, Parry admits the car took some getting used to. “I tested the F3 car, which doesn’t have the speed to get to the corner, but it’s got similar downforce levels, but with the F1 car you approach it at 180mph and you just need to do a little lift or brake and you trust the downforce and tyres to get you round the corner. With the carbon brakes you just hit that brake as hard as you can. Even I was looking at my braking points in the Renault at Silverstone and when they tell you how late you can brake and how hard you can hit that brake pedal you are actually quite worried the first time, as you are thinking ‘is this thing going to stop?’ It’s just so hard to describe how quick it is. I’ve driven some quick cars but they’re just nowhere near it. We all know the figures of what the car can do, but when you drive it for yourself the first time it’s just so quick.”

Those other fast cars that Parry refers to include F2, Mercedes DTM and McLaren GT3 machinery, which he drove as part of his on-track assessment for the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award. However, in 2014 he dedicated most of his track time to competing in the Formula Renault Eurocup championship off the back of winning the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC championship in 2013.

Among the highlights in 2014 was a podium at the Moscow Raceway, a circuit he had never visited before, but overall it proved to be a “frustrating” season. “I went into the championship as one of the favourites as the NEC champion, but it didn’t go our way this year, and the team and I struggled to find a good balance with the car,” he reveals.

I hope to see that Welsh dragon on the side of a Formula 1 car

Parry also had a guest drive in a Caterham R300 at Donington. “I came third in the first race and third in the second, but I got black flagged for impeding the track limits,” he explains. “But track rules in Europe are different to the UK. In Europe you are allowed two wheels across the white line as long as two wheels are inside the white lines. But in the R300s it was a case you were not allowed over the white lines and curb at all. It was a great experience, though, and the R300 drivers are really quick and great racers.”

After an eventful 2014 Parry, who has been part of the Caterham Driver Development Programme since 2011, is now looking forward to what 2015 has in store. Although he recently tested a two-litre Formula 3 car, Parry explains that he has “unfinished business” in the Formula Renault Eurocup championship.

Mclaren Autosport BRDC Award 2014 Silverstone, Northants. Monday 27 October 2014. World Copyright: Malcolm Griffiths/LAT Photographic. ref: Digital Image F80P5269

“I’d hate to leave the current championship as I’ve always won the championships I have entered, or been top-three, so I’ve got some unfinished business. I want to succeed in that and I know I can. It’s just about having the right preparation and the right build-up, and I can see where we went wrong in the last racing year,” he says.

“But if there is an opportunity to step into something bigger like the 3.5 and I feel like I’m ready for the power and downforce, I’m physically ready and mentally ready, whatever the opportunity. Watch this space. I’ll be doing something at a good level, maybe GP3. I can’t wait to start racing in 2015.”

Beyond this, as you would expect, Parry has even loftier ambitions, including becoming the first Welshman since Tom Pryce back in the 1970s to compete in Formula 1.

“Obviously it’s a hard road to go down with the different routes and the different requirements in terms of budget types, but of course I want to get there and would love to follow in Tom Pryce’s footsteps. I’m sure a lot of people would agree that he was a world champion in the making. Without his tragic accident he would have gone on to win multiple championships, he was really that special.”

Parry continues: “Welsh motorsport is heavily into the rallying stage, so I would love to bring that much-needed desire for single-seaters. But I would like to say that Sport Wales have been a great support over the last four years, and the Welsh Association for Racing Drivers have been fantastic as well. I hope I can reward that by trying to get to the top of my level and putting Wales back on the map for racing drivers for single-seaters. We have a good set of Welsh drivers at the moment in the junior championships so hopefully one of us – and I hope it will be me, of course – makes it to Formula 1. I hope to see that Welsh dragon on the side of a Formula 1 car, which is what we all desire.”

Given everything Parry has achieved in his career to date, we wouldn’t bet against him making it a reality.

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