British racing driver Sean Walkinshaw experienced a frustrating second outing of the Super GT Championship season at Fuji in Japan on Thursday, 4th May, when excellent race pace and a potential GT300 podium challenge came to nothing as a result of an unfortunate pit-stop penalty.
Heading into round two of the campaign fifth in the GT300 points standings with team-mate Shinichi Takagi, the 23-year-old Super GT rookie performed well during his first competitive outing at Fuji Speedway but the BMW pairing had to settle for a vexing 17th place finish in the end.
Everything started very positively for the Autobacs Racing Team Aguri drivers during practice and qualifying, Takagi securing a season-best ninth on the grid for the 500km race to bolster the squad’s hopes of mounting a challenge for a possible podium finish.
Ultimately, though, the penalty for a violation at the first pit-stop just after one third race distance ensured Walkinshaw and Takagi slipped firmly out of contention. Despite that they still managed to end the event 11th in the drivers’ championship and, most importantly, had the ability to challenge for silverware had the race gone fully to plan.
“Our pace was really good”, reflected Walkinshaw, “Qualifying should have been a bit better to be honest, but P9 was still OK. In the race, though, our pace was mega. After the first pit-stop I came out and did lose a few places on cold tyres, but I passed a few again and got back up to fifth before we had the drive-through.
“Who knows what could’ve happened without the penalty, I really do think we had the pace to get on the podium. We showed how competitive we are though and it was good race experience for me too, now we’re focusing on challenging harder at Autopolis in a couple of weeks.”
Taking place midweek as part of the Japanese national holiday, round two of the Super GT season promised much for the ARTA team and especially so after claiming an impressive top five result last time out in Okayama.
Lapping within just half a second of the outright pace during practice on Wednesday, the No.55 BMW went on to qualify a season-best ninth on the GT300 grid for round two, the second highest placed of the runners on Bridgestone tyres.
Takagi took the opening stint of the 500km race and made good progress to climb into the top seven before slipping back a few places. Gradually moving back up into seventh as the first pit-stops began, the Japanese driver climbed as high as fourth before he pitted just after one third race distance.
Handing the car over to Walkinshaw for the second stint, the British racer did lose some ground initially on cold tyres but battled back very strongly into the top five as a potential podium finish looked increasingly likely for the No.55 BMW.
Soon enough, though, the frustrating news came through – Walkinshaw would need to serve the aforementioned drive-through penalty. Ultimately, after their second scheduled stop at two thirds distance, the duo’s third stop in total of course, the ARTA entry slipped outside the top 20 but fought back into 17th place before the flag.
Round three of the Super GT season will take place over the weekend 20th/21st May at Autopolis race circuit near Kamitsue in Japan.
2017 Super GT – GT300 Driver Standings (after Rd2)
11th Sean Walkinshaw & Shinichi Takagi, 6pts
2017 Super GT – GT300 Team Standings (after Rd2)
10th Autobacs Racing Team Aguri, 10pt
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Autobacs Racing Team Aguri