Sean Walkinshaw delivered a fantastic performance during an entertaining penultimate round of the Super GT Championship season at Chang International Circuit in Thailand on Sunday, 8th October, to only just miss out on a deserved GT300 podium by a mere 0.2 seconds.
Finishing in fourth position after a tremendous stint in the second part of the race, where he charged through from 12th place following the mandatory driver change pit-stop, Oxfordshire racer Walkinshaw and Autobacs Racing Team Aguri team-mate Shinichi Takagi concluded the weekend an improved fourth in the GT300 title battle.
“Overall the weekend was successful”, reflected the British racer, “We managed to get a good haul of points for the championship and moved back up to fourth in the standings. We still have a shot at the championship, but we will need some luck.”
Having lapped 12th fastest in dry practice on Saturday, 7th October, just 0.7 seconds outside the top three, in the wet qualifying session later in the day the No.55 ARTA BMW posted the third fastest time to importantly secure a second row GT300 start for the seventh round of the season.
On raceday, despite blazing sunshine, a very wet track surface greeted the Super GT drivers and championship officials therefore opted to begin the contest behind the Safety Car for two laps before unleashing the pack at racing speed at the beginning of the third tour.
Takagi took the first stint of the race and was edged back to fourth a couple of corners into the contest, before slipping to fifth. Searching for the damp parts of the rapidly drying track in order to cool the treaded tyres, by lap 10 Takagi had closed back in on the cars ahead.
As GT500 leaders started to lap the GT300 cars, Takagi remained glued to the No.61 Subaru ahead and soon enough made the pass to move back into the top four. Climbing into third quickly after, the Japanese driver was unfortunately shuffled back to fourth again a couple of laps later.
As the race reached one third distance, Takagi pitted for the team’s mandatory stop with the squad having opted to go as far into the race as possible on the wet-weather rubber in order to combine the driver switch with a change to slick Bridgestone tyres.
Walkinshaw climbed aboard before settling into the race in 12th position, gaining a place inside a few laps and then climbing through into the top 10 before grabbing ninth in quick succession as he set about moving up towards the podium.
Maintaining position for several laps, he then took eighth early in the second half of the encounter and charged up behind the cars ahead before climbing into seventh shortly after. Then, as the encounter neared two thirds race distance, Walkinshaw broke into the top six.
Driving superbly, he took fifth and then fourth – while having to keep an eye on his mirrors with GT500 cars lapping the GT300 runners – and closed on the podium at a rapid rate, moving to within touching distance into the final third of the race to put huge pressure on the No.33 Porsche ahead.
As the duo were passed by quicker GT500 cars lap after lap, Walkinshaw’s bid for the GT300 podium was consistently interrupted but he maintained great concentration and composure. With 10 laps to go, he saw his opportunity and went for a move on the brakes into the final corner but after running a bit too deep he was shuffled back to fifth as a result.
Undeterred, the ARTA ace recovered into fourth place in double-quick time and with just a handful of laps remaining the gap to third stood at around three seconds. Again decimating the advantage held by the Porsche, into the final lap the rivals were nose-to-tail once more but Walkinshaw had to ultimately settle for fourth on the sprint to the chequered flag – just 0.2 seconds shy of the podium.
“It was disappointing not to get on the podium because we had mega race pace but, unfortunately, just didn’t have the straight line speed to pass the Porsche”, said Walkinshaw, “I was pretty happy with my pace over the weekend considering I’d never been to the track before, it was fun to drive and suited the BMW.”
Motegi in Japan will host the eighth and final race of the Super GT Championship season over the weekend 11th/12th November.
2017 Super GT – GT300 Driver Standings (after Rd7)
4th Sean Walkinshaw & Shinichi Takagi, 46pts
2017 Super GT – GT300 Team Standings (after Rd7)
=4th Autobacs Racing Team Aguri, 58pts
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Autobacs Racing Team Aguri