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17 May 2019

Photos by Richard Pearce

Coming of age – Northern Ireland’s rising star

Porsche Junior Dan Harper makes a blistering return to Carrera Cup GB

In a chilly garage in the old pits on Silverstone’s National Circuit, Dan Harper radiates a welcome warmth. The 18-year-old Northern Irishman is here testing ahead of the 17th season of Carrera Cup. Dan is the 2018/19 Porsche Junior, part of Porsche’s driver pyramid programme that has seen the likes of Nick Tandy graduate from national championships to the pinnacle of sportscar racing in the 919 Hybrid.
Carrera Cup GB is part of an international programme of over 20 Porsche championships. It is the fastest single-make sportscar series in the world and one that is famous for its close, hard racing. Regardless of its importance to Porsche, both in terms of marketing clout and driver progression, it has always provided exceptional entertainment for race fans, often to the detriment of the headline acts that it traditionally supports.

Dan is one of the youngest drivers to compete in Carrera Cup, and in his second of two factory backed seasons is still a mere 18 years of age. His first season as the new Porsche Junior yo-yoed with highs and lows, Dan’s lack of familiarity with racing a 911, and in particular how difficult it is to overtake in Carrera Cup, seeing him finish the year in a frustrating if respectable fifth. But two impressive wins, coupled with the most fastest laps and most poles, served to underline just how quick this young man really is. Growing confidence and greater familiarity with both car and circuits means 2019 could well be his year.
“From my pace last year and some of the results we had towards the end of the year, it’s given me a lot of confidence going into 2019,” Harper says. “To come into a series like this and do that in your first year is very good. I’ve been working hard on my training this winter and getting myself into the right mindset going into the season. I’ll just give it everything I have to end up on top.”

The 911 GT3 Cup is the most popular customer sports racer in the world, having shifted over 3,500 units globally. The cars are all identical bar minor available aero tweaks and the myriad set-up adjustments made before each race. The naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-six is essentially the same engine found in the road-going GT3, fixed here at 485hp at 7,500rpm, power all at the rear via a six-speed sequential dog ‘box. The Cup cars actually start on the same line as the road cars, before having a multi-point steel cage welded into the monocoque and being finished with weight saving to the fore. The all-carbon doors, so light you can shake them between finger and thumb, cost £6,000 each.
Dan’s car is maintained by JTR, the customer team run by Nick Tandy that is now in its third year of competition in Carrera Cup. Testament to Tandy’s personal commitment to the project, he arrived at the Silverstone shakedown straight off the plane from Florida, where just 24 hours earlier he had won the Sebring 12 Hours in a works RSR. With someone like Tandy to tap into for guidance, and driving for the defending team champions, Dan could not be better placed going into the new season.

“I was still learning the race craft last year and I had a few problems just getting off the line,” Dan admits with a wry smile, “so we’ve worked on that over the winter. I’ve done a couple of starts here this morning and they seem pretty good so that’s another thing ticked off the list, another step forward for the championship.”
With sixteen rounds spread across 8 weekends from spring and to early autumn, the Carrera Cup GB continues to support the British Touring Car Championship as part of a fifteen-year long association with TOCA. After four rounds, Dan now leads the championship with 40 points against Lewis Plato’s next-best 33. He has also claimed pole, two fastest laps and been on the podium in every race.

Whatever the outcome, this season promises to be a memorable one for Dan, with a guest drive in the Supercup support race at this summer’s Silverstone Grand Prix alongside the Carrera Cup’s own supporting round of the World Endurance Championship at the end of August. “It’s great to be supporting the WEC at Silverstone,” Dan says. “We’re round the full circuit instead of the National too. In terms of my career, that’s where I want to end up – the pinnacle of GT Racing.”
Dan’s singular focus, his passion for Porsche and his vocal commitment to sportscars over single seaters, makes him one to watch in the coming months and years, in Carrera Cup and beyond. And his own team boss, jet-lagged and jubilant, is proof positive that this is exactly how those dreams are fulfilled.

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