One of the biggest surprises from Round 1 of the 2023 GB3 Championship was the pace of JHR Developments. Having grown from a one-man team at the beginning of the 2022 season, JHR qualified with three drivers in the top ten and went on to take a 1-2 at Oulton Park. Feeder Series spoke to Matthew Rees about a successful season opener for the team and his expectations ahead of Round 2 at Silverstone.
By George Brabner
2021 British F4 champion Matthew Rees is now in his third consecutive year with JHR Developments and his second season in GB3. Being a second-year driver naturally brings more pressure to deliver, particularly with the prospect of a far stronger car than one year ago after an encouraging handful of tests prior to the season.
“Coming in as a second-year driver, there’s a bit more expectation than there was the year before, to say the least,” Rees told Feeder Series. “I’d say we had good pre-season testing coming into it – not really much to complain about on that end.
“I wanted a lot more out of the weekend than I did from the year before and to be fair we probably had the pace to do it.”
Collecting points at Oulton Park
Race 1 at Oulton Park was extremely positive for both Rees and his teammate Joseph Loake, who, on his GB3 debut, took a lights-to-flag victory to open the season. Rees followed him home to take a comfortable second place, sitting around a second behind his teammate throughout the entirety of the race’s green flag running.
“I’d say we were very much the same actually that weekend actually because we were swapping fastest laps all the time,” Rees said.
Race 2 wasn’t quite as smooth, as Rees would spin in the opening laps after starting from fifth. He then recovered to eleventh in the torrential conditions.
I felt somewhat okay with the recovery drive and just kept going without any mistakesMatthew Rees
“We were running a dry setup in the end, so I went into the corner expecting much more stability and I think I overestimated a bit. Had a front lock and rear lock at the same time and just wasn’t able to save it in the end so I just went sliding off at Cascades.
“After that, I felt somewhat okay with the recovery drive and just kept going without any mistakes and it seemed to work,” Rees explained.
Rees would then start 24th for the reverse-grid Race 3. At Oulton Park, where overtaking opportunities were limited, scoring many points was a tall order.
After a multitude of incidents which saw less than two full laps of racing completed, Rees finished 14th – having claimed an extra 12 points from climbing up the grid in the process.
“I didn’t really do anything, to be honest! I think in the end it was something like ten [places gained] – I don’t think I actually managed to make a manoeuver! I was basically just tyre warming and went through, that was it to be honest.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best of spectacles for everyone watching, but I quite enjoyed it because I just sat there and gained positions,” he said.
JHR Developments’ dominant start
The two dry sessions at Oulton Park showed that JHR Developments were clearly the team to beat. Loake would take pole by 0.18 seconds from Rees in second, while David Morales lined up tenth for the first race.
The top two would convert their qualifying positions into a 1-2 – dominance that wasn’t entirely on the cards after testing.
“Actually, there was indications from pre-season testing, but not as much as we thought,” Rees said.
“When we originally went to do testing at Oulton, we were there or thereabouts, and obviously last year we had quite a good car but just not the best. I think we expected to be there – at least in the top three, four – [but] didn’t expect to be that much up the road on the rest, so that was a welcome surprise to see for sure,” he explained.
“Just the fact that all three of us were there, were running well and just were able to have a good go at it, we’ve got confidence going into the next round… I’d say we’re looking good.”
How Rees’ pace came to fruition
Rees took third on his GB3 debut last season, before taking another third place and a victory later in the season at Brands Hatch. However, his personal development over the winter, paired with the improvements made behind the scenes at JHR Developments, were crystal clear at Oulton Park.
“Because [JHR Team Principal] Steven [Hunter]’s been diversifying a bit more – he’s obviously had to run the F4 side of things as well as GB3 – and last year, GB3 wasn’t really the priority because it was just me on the grid actually.
“When James [Hedley] joined midway through last year I think he realised there was a bit more importance in GB3 and we just got a lot more attention from Steven. By the time we got to Brands, the car was just up there, we were so much better,” Rees said.
“And now I think we have a car which is, I don’t like to say it, but outrageous. It’s ridiculous how much better it was because my quali lap didn’t even feel that good and it was still right there.”
Expanding from a one-car team at the start of 2022, the importance of extra data from another two drivers in the same machinery also cannot be underestimated.
“Honestly, I think what helped us most is each other because you can see the difference. Whereas last year we were pushing and we were hoping to get the results but not getting them, this year we have probably one of the strongest teammates on the grid, if not the [strongest teammate], and obviously David as well has been helping.
“He’s actually been really good in some areas and it’s the main areas – such as in qualifying, he had an outrageous end to the Knickerbrook chicane and none of us could actually get near it, so it’s just nice to have that little bit of information! It helps to have a lot more teammates than we did last year, that’s for sure,” Rees explained.
Building on strong foundations at Silverstone
Rees would leave Round 1 at Oulton Park with 51 points to his name after taking a podium in Race 1 and two top 15 finishes in the following pair of wet weather races. He currently sits fifth in the championship standings ahead of Silverstone, with his team – JHR Developments – the highest placed constructor.
I was quite happy with how [Round 1] went, but the two mistakes really cost usMatthew Rees
“It’s a good start, it was what we needed from the weekend,” he said. “Obviously, everyone wants to win, but what we needed was a good start to the championship and some decent points on the board.
“We got that in the first race, didn’t so much in the second, but we just need to stay consistent and hopefully things will change and hopefully go in our favour,” Rees said.
“I think I could have gotten a lot more out of the weekend purely because I made a mistake on my quali lap. The mistake in Race 2 really cost us – I think that was, in the end, seven places or so – and I think those were the two main ones. I couldn’t really do much in Race 1, I was quite happy with that.
“I was quite happy with how [Round 1] went, but the two mistakes really cost us, unfortunately,” he explained.
The GB3 grid now looks towards Round 2 of the championship at Silverstone, a wildly different circuit to that of Oulton Park where overtaking is not such a premium, but somewhere Rees still feels he and JHR Developments can perform.
“The difference is, at Oulton, by corner two, you’ve got nowhere, even if you’re P2, you’ve got nowhere, you’ve got no chance. Whereas at Silverstone… There’s probably one or two laps where you can really attack. I think we’ve got really good strong pace in the first few laps so I’m hoping to have a good little run around there,” Rees said.
Header photo credit: Jakob Ebrey Photography
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