Blancpain GT Series Asia debutant Sean Walkinshaw delivered a strong account of himself on his maiden outing in the category at Fuji Speedway in Japan over the weekend, 19th/20th August, despite a ‘character building’ event which produced a best Silver class result of ninth place.
Teaming with Finnish racer Jesse Krohn at FIST Team AAI, sharing the No.91 BMW M6 GT3, the duo ended Saturday’s contest 14th overall and ninth in class but hopes of a step forward in Sunday’s outing were ended on lap five after sustaining radiator damage while dicing in the pack.
“The weekend was a bit character building”, said Oxfordshire based Walkinshaw, who ordinarily races a BMW in Japan’s Super GT Championship “Unfortunately the car didn’t have great pace due to the BOP [Balance of Performance], it made the BMW slower on the straights and that was a big problem. It was fantastic to work with the team, though, a really professional great bunch of guys.”
Krohn took the opening stint of race one, lining-up 17th overall on the grid and ninth in class, and after an additional formation lap the action got underway. Putting together a terrific start and first lap, Krohn sliced his way through into the overall top eight and although edged back to ninth soon after he then maintained position until lap eight when slipping to 10th place.
When the pit-stop window opened Krohn remained on track and he moved up into fifth overall before handing the car over to Walkinshaw at the end of lap 17. When the race order settled down, the Chipping Norton driver held 12th position and although shuffled back to 13th he remained in touch with the top 12.
Into the closing stages Walkinshaw ran in 14th spot but he moved back into 13th position with two laps to go – before a grandstand finish battling with regular Super GT team-mate Shinichi Takagi in the sister Team AAI car.
Nose to tail into the final lap, on the drag to the chequered flag the BMWs ran side-by-side over the line with Takagi just pipping Walkinshaw by a miniscule 0.045 seconds. Finishing 14th overall as a result, the No.91 car took ninth in Silver just over 12 seconds clear of the closest class rival.
Walkinshaw started race two on Sunday from 10th in the Silver class and 24th overall, qualifying not going to plan, and he made swift progress through the order, gaining three positions in the outright classification on lap one alone.
Breaking into the overall top 20 on lap two and driving well, he started to apply significant pressure to the Audi ahead. On lap four though, as Walkinshaw looked to have the pass completed, slight contact to the front-left of the BMW at the penultimate corner resulted in a broken radiator pipe.
Unable to the hit the apex and running wide as a result, which enabled a number of cars to stream past on the inside, he continued into the next lap before pitting to retire at the end of the fifth tour with a rapidly overheating car.
“We did manage to find some more speed with the car between the races, so we hoped to make progress in race two”, said Walkinshaw, “Only a few laps in though at the second to last corner some light contact broke a radiator pipe and the engine overheated, so we had to box. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing weekend for all of us with the results but good experience nonetheless.”
Super GT resumes less than a week from now at Suzuka
Straight off the back of his Blancpain GT Series Asia debut, Walkinshaw will rejoin Autobacs Racing Team Aguri for the sixth round of the Super GT Championship which will take place this coming weekend, 26th/27th August.
Along with Super GT team-mate Shinichi Takagi, the pairing head to Suzuka in Japan on the crest of a wave after their sensational GT300 victory during the previous event, which also took place at Fuji, a fortnight ago in the No.55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3.
Currently third in the GT300 standings, Walkinshaw and Takagi are only three points shy of second place in the coveted championship. With three races still to go in the 2017 season, the team-mates are also within 12 points of the top of the standings.
Practice and qualifying at Suzuka will take place on Saturday, 26th August, with the 1,000km race itself following on Sunday, 27th August.
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. FIST Team AAI BMW