Bouncing back superbly from their frustrating run in the Nurburgring 24 Hours a week prior, Harper and team-mates Neil Verhagen and Max Hesse sensationally worked their way through 22nd on the grid during the six-hour “into the night”w race around the lengthy 3.6 mile circuit.
Three months on from a hugely promising GT World Challenge Europe debut at Imola with leading BMW team ROWE Racing, Harper returned to Paul Ricard having got his first taste of the circuit in the championship’s official pre-season test there in March.
The Northern Irishman got reacquainted with the circuit during free practice and pre-qualifying sessions on Friday. Battling sweltering sunshine in the south of France, he ended the day feeling confident with the speed and potential in their BMW M4 GT3.
Qualifying saw each of the three drivers tackle a 15 minute session, with their final grid position being determined by the average of their fastest laps. Harper posted a strong lap time to end his session inside the top 20, with the trio’s combined efforts ultimately putting them 22nd overall.
Verhagen started the race and immediately set about making progress up the order. Rising to 16th within the first hour, he then enjoyed a fantastic battle with Valentino Rossi amongst others as his fighting drive culminated in him handing the car over to Harper in 11th place.
Harper, who is a proud member of the British Racing Drivers’ Club and Motorsport UK Academy, would start his two-hour stint running behind the safety car. When the action restarted, he had to negotiate a number of lapped backmarkers before he could start going on the attack for position.
Once in clear traffic, the 21 year old played a starring role on the championship’s global live race stream as he hunted down the two cars ahead. Picking them off with great overtaking moves, he put the Multibank Group-supported BMW up into the top ten for the first time.
Racing through the sunset into darkness, Harper continued gaining ground as he kicked off the second half of the race and his impressive combination of consistent, fast lap times and eye-catching race craft would put him up in sixth place as he handed the car over to Hesse.
His German team-mate continued their top six challenge throughout the final two hours of the race. Running in sixth heading into the last 30 minutes, a smart overtaking move coupled with a black flag for another driver ended up confirming the team their richly deserved fourth place finish.
Harper said: “What an incredible race that was, and the perfect way to bounce back from Nürburgring last weekend. We knew after qualifying that we had the pace to move forwards in the race, but we could have never expected to come away in fourth place!
“We managed to stay out of trouble and take advantage of a great car from the team to go on the offensive. Personally, I was pleased with the pace I produced across my stint. I really enjoyed getting to grips with the circuit and getting the chance to make some moves too.
“This is a real breakthrough result for us and a great platform for us to build on going forwards. We won’t be resting on our laurels though, as this championship is incredibly competitive so we’re going to be working hard to ensure we can be at the front of the field in the coming rounds.”
The next race in the 2022 GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup is the blue riband event on the calendar, the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (28-31 July). Harper will prepare for that event with a two-day official test there next weekend (21-22 June).