Matt Parry’s graduation to Formula Ford in 2011 comes with no small degree of expectation but, as he has proven through his karting career, that should only serve to drive him on.
The past couple of seasons saw the 17-year old establish himself at the very front of the British scene, flourishing in the Paul Carr Racing environment after first tasting national competition as a privateer in 2007. He could have been a contender in 2008, only for his Minimax season with Ultimate Motorsport to unravel through no fault of his own, but proved that his front-running performances, in a campaign which still yielded third overall, were no fluke as he gelled immediately with PCR’s Kosmic chassis in 2009.
That season saw Matt move up to Junior Rotax and start strongly in both Formula Kart Stars and Super 1, as well as establish himself as a winner in the RGMMC Euromax series. Despite an S1 win at Shenington, and crushing the Euromax field at Sosnova, however, he had to settle for second and fourth in those competitions, but, such was the instant rapport with PCR, was able to top the Stars standings from round one.
Victory doubles at Rowrah and PF International provided a platform from which he clinched the crown with a round to go and that success, along with a stunning second in the Rotax World Finals in Egypt, gave Matt access to single-seaters. However, despite testing with Formula Renault team Antel Motorsport early in 2010, there were more pressing concerns to be addressed, with GCSEs looming large on the horizon. Unwilling to give up his racing altogether, the decision was made to concentrate on ‘the one that got away’, with a Super 1 campaign the focus for what would prove to be his final year in karting.
“I enjoyed my time in Formula Kart Stars, and winning it was brilliant, but the commitment to school and my GCSE year prevented me from doing it again,” Matt confirms, admitting that he was always optimistic that he could combine the most important year of his education with another strong run on-track, “Of course, coming second in the World Finals was going to be a massive confidence boost and I always felt like I had a very good chance of winning Super 1.”
Confidence doesn’t appear to be something Matt Parry lacks, whether it is approaching a season-long assault on a national title or carving his way through a competitive Max field – an ability he proved with regularity during his 2008 and ’09 campaigns – and he insists that being saddled with the pre-season favourite tag simply played into his hands.
“Obviously, there was a little bit of pressure to win and succeed when everyone said I should, but it made me more confident, if anything, knowing that everyone thought I was favourite to win,” he claims.
Remaining with PCR provided a familiarity that removed another potential obstacle to success, and Matt’s experience was obvious as the team worked with him on set-up. The combination could hardly have got off to a better start to 2010, winning at the opening round and peppering further wins in with podium finishes to keep his name at the head of the standings through the first half of the season. Looking back, the flying start provided not only a solid platform, but also a useful cushion, as the year went on.
“Yeah, it was good, and proved that I was the favourite to win Super 1 but, obviously, I had a bit of a setback through the middle of the season,” Matt confirms, referring to a disastrous weekend at Larkhall that not only saw his championship advantage reduced, but also resulted in points on his licence and led to suggestions that his desire to succeed was causing him to ‘overdrive’. For a young man noted for his courteous persona, and for whom sportsmanship is of high importance, the sudden physical side to his racing was unusual.
“Definitely, at Larkhall, I made a mistake when I was in third and close behind the leaders, and the ‘overdriving’ did kick in,” he concedes, “I made something of an ambitious move which didn’t pay off, but I stand by what I did – it was racing, and just a racing incident in my mind – and I’m not really sorry for that.”
The pressure to raise his game may have told on lesser drivers, but Matt reacted positively to the challenge, something father Simon says was no mean feat.
“To go to Shenington after that, knowing that there were one or two people quite aggressively disposed towards him, was really quite an apprehensive time,” he admits, “But he handled it very, very well – and drove superbly.”
Despite Larkhall, and leading both races for some time, Matt settled for third and fourth places at Shenington, and headed to the final round at Three Sisters with destiny in his own hands, not having to win either race to secure a second national title in as many years.
“I had an issue with how many points I had on my licence, so it was a nervous time ensuring that I didn’t make any more mistakes by taking anyone off or causing any accidents., but it was quite cool going in knowing all I needed was a top 15 finish,” he reflects, “I was quite confident that I would be able to make that and, in the end, I tucked in behind the top runners and finished with points to spare.”
The mid-season distractions, with a Senior Max debut in Austria added to his GCSEs, did not include single-seaters as the Formula Renault outings had been put on hold, but there was never any doubt that cars were on the agenda for 2011.
“t didn’t take very long to get back into karts after testing the Antel car but, towards the latter part of the season, we cut off all the single-seater testing to focus on the championship,” Matt explains, “However, we always felt that our time in karting had finished and that it was time to move on to bigger and better things and try to become a professional racing driver. Obviously, in four years of racing [karts], I enjoyed it immensely and, hopefully, I can have the same success in single-seaters.”
The surprise, perhaps, is that, despite his Formula Renault experience outweighing his track time in Formula Ford, it is the latter that Matt heads to in 2011, having signed a deal with Van Diemen works team Fluid Motorsport Developments. The key to the move was an invitation to join the expanding AirAsia Team Lotus Driver Development Program – where he is the only British driver – and all the support, both on and off track, that that will bring.
“The main reason for the decision to go to Formula Ford was the chance to join the development scheme at Team Lotus, and their particular structure governs that we start out at what they consider to be the bottom rung of the ladder, which is Formula Ford,” Matt explains, “It is where my driving skills can be honed like no other formula, so I can see the real sense in that. However, the benefits that joining Team Lotus and AirAsia brings are more than just being told where to race, and there is a lot I am hoping to gain from this association.”
Stepping up from karts to cars brings numerous challenges, but Matt is hoping to take the racecraft honed in his formative years and use that as a basis for adapting to his new arena.
“Obviously, there are some pretty big differences between karts and cars, but the principles of racing are the same,” he reasons, “The Van Diemen is a lot bigger than anything I am used to, especially with the wheels out as far as they are, and that makes it more important to know where you are on the track, as it takes a lot less for these cars to get damaged. I’ve also had to learn about warming the tyres and making sure they’re in the right shape for the race – and then there are the standing starts, which I’d never done before my first race weekend! However, I’m confident that I can get on top of these things quickly enough to be competitive.”
Despite everything he has to learn about racing a single-seater, Matt remains committed to his formal education and, in addition to studying engineering at his local college, makes monthly trips to the renowned sporting centre at Loughborough, having been selected for the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence by the MSA.
“They’re doing all the normal sporting education bits – nutrition, fitness and media skills – and he’s managed to fit that in very well,” Simon reports, “More importantly, perhaps, when we’ve gone up to Team Lotus, it’s really gratifying to notice that what they’re doing in terms of nutrition, personal training and all the other aspects that bring an F1 driver to the track, Matt is already doing because of his work with the AASE.”
Matt is quick to acknowledge the central role his father has played in his career to date, and admits that he will still be calling on him as he moves up the ladder in coming seasons. The pair used to go ‘greenlaning’ on motocross machines when they were younger. but it was on one such trip, when Matt was ten, that they came across the Wildtracks motorsport complex in Suffolk and, spying its kart track, the youngster suggested that he ‘might like a go’.
“Dad got me my first kart and got me into racing, so it’s down to him why I’m here today – although, obviously, support from all the family has helped me too,” he adds quickly, “But Dad’s going to be the main man in terms of funding in Formula Ford, so I’ve got every reason to be grateful to him. He’s shown me that hard work is the key to everything, and taught me that, whatever the result, I should just be happy that I’m out there. I hope I can make him proud.”
Despite stepping up for his first season in cars, Matt carries a certain weight of expectation, not least because national racing magazine Motorsport News ranked him number one on its annual Fast 50 list of rising talents.
“From my perspective, I think it’s a fabulous recognition to take 50 top drivers and for Matt to come out as number one,” his father comments, “We’ve got a two-year window for Formula Ford. The Van Diemen hasn’t been very competitive against the Mygales and Rays in recent times so, if Matt can turn that around, it will truly demonstrate his real talent.”
Matt, too, is clearly aware of the learning curve facing him, but has similar ambitions as the year wears on. The opening triple-header round at Silverstone highlighted just how tough the task will be, as he faces perhaps the strongest Formula Ford field for many years, but two top ten finishes, and a couple of sixth-place starts, show that the promise is there to be worked on.
“Podiums…. and showing my realistic potential for winning the Formula Ford championship in 2012,” he says in response to the question about his hopes for 2011, “The Motorsport News result gives me a similar feeling to when I went into S1 last year. It’s definitely a confidence boost, rather than any extra pressure, to know that everyone thinks that I’m a favourite for 2011.”
As for advice for those hoping to follow in his footsteps in the coming seasons, both Matt and Simon agree on some simple rules, aware that Matt is benefiting from the support of AirAsia, Team Lotus, Fluid MD and the AASE as well as family backing.
“I’d say don’t move to cars until you’ve got the full budget to race with a recognised team,” Matt concludes, “There’s no point doing it just for the sake of saying you’re racing cars. If the budget is there, by all means try both Formula Renault and Formula Ford, but don’t decide to go down the Renault route just because it might be easier – you will develop a wider range of driving skills in Ford. And ensure that you have a fitness, nutrition and PR education programme in place too – the AASE with the MSA has been a good foundation for this.
“Above all, however, make sure that you enjoy what you’re doing. That, more than anything, should be the reason for doing it.”