Autobacs Racing Team Aguri team-mates Sean Walkinshaw and Shinichi Takagi experienced a highly frustrating early conclusion to round six of the Super GT Championship season at Suzuka in Japan on Sunday, 27th August, when contact to the rear of the No.55 BMW resulted in instant retirement.
Arriving at the world-famous Formula One venue third in the GT300 standings, off the back of a sensational maiden win last time out at Fuji, the ARTA duo didn’t have the start to the weekend they wanted when a challenging qualifying run led to a 23rd place start for the big 1000-kilometre race, the 46th and final staging of the Japanese classic.
Walkinshaw took the opening stint of Sunday’s scheduled 173-lap encounter and after slipping back early on he climbed through into 18th position before pitting around one sixth distance to hand over the BMW to Takagi.
Early in the Japanese racer’s stint though, while running in a competitive 10th position, contact to the rear of the car at the final corner from an errant Nissan pitched Takagi into the barriers on the inside – triggering instant retirement.
From a positive viewpoint, of the duo’s chief championship rivals only the No.65 Mercedes – which won GT300 – scored heavily this weekend. Although slipping to fifth in the standings with their non-score, Walkinshaw and Takagi are tied on points with the fourth placed pairing and only four points shy of the GT300 top three. With two races to go, they are 14 points shy of the series lead.
“Unfortunately, the BMW doesn’t suit Suzuka at all, so qualifying was always going to be tough”, said Chipping Norton-based Walkinshaw, “Obviously it was a massive shame our race ended so early as a result of another car taking us out, but that’s racing.
“I’m just disappointed I didn’t get to do a proper stint this weekend at the last Suzuka 1,000km. All our focus now is on the final two rounds and trying to fight for the championship, we still have a shot so we’ll be giving it everything.”
Practice and qualifying didn’t deliver the pace Walkinshaw and Takagi wanted with the team-mates having to settle for an uncharacteristic 23rd on the GT300 grid – the No.55 BMW missing the cut for the ‘Q2’ qualifying session by half a second.
Determined to mount the strongest possible challenge in the 1,000km contest, and with consistency going to be key in such a long encounter, Walkinshaw started off round six and although edged back during the early laps he mounted a strong recovery and set things up nicely for Takagi’s first run.
Climbing aboard the BMW for his first stint around one sixth distance, Takagi began to slice through the order and moved up into the top 10. Running at the head of a three-car train in GT300 on the 38th lap for the class, as he negotiated the last corner the rear of the ARTA car was tagged by the chasing Nissan and Takagi was a passenger as the BMW was pitched into the barriers.
Sustaining a heavy hit to the front and side of the car, the Japanese racer was fortunately able to emerge unscathed but both team-mates were, quite understandably, extremely annoyed to have seen vital championship points go begging through no fault of their own.
Super GT heads to Thailand for the penultimate race meeting of the 2017 season six weeks from now, over the weekend 7th/8th October, at Chang International Circuit in Buriram.
2017 Super GT – GT300 Driver Standings (after Rd5)
5th Sean Walkinshaw & Shinichi Takagi, 38pts
2017 Super GT – GT300 Team Standings (after Rd5)
6th Autobacs Racing Team Aguri, 47pts
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Autobacs Racing Team Aguri