Autobacs Racing Team Aguri driver Sean Walkinshaw wrapped-up an outstanding first season in the prestigious Super GT Championship with his third GT300 podium on Sunday, 12th November, after racing to an excellent second place finish at Motegi in Japan.
Along with team-mate Shinichi Takagi, the 24-year-old Briton from Chipping Norton concludes the 2017 campaign fourth in the championship standings but tied on points with third place – just 11 points outside the top two.
“Obviously, not being able to get the win at Motegi was disappointing – probably the most disappointed I’ve been all year to be honest – but ending the season with P2 in the final race, back on the podium, is still a very strong way to finish the year”, said Walkinshaw.
“Super GT was an entirely new challenge for me this year, new tracks I’d never been to and the strategy of the races was a whole new thing for me. It’s been an amazing experience and I’m very happy to have taken a few podiums and a win in my first season, the ARTA guys have been fantastic and I’ve learnt so much from them and Shinichi-san.”
Arriving at Motegi six points shy of the championship top three, Walkinshaw and Takagi got the last weekend of the campaign off to a great start with the second fastest time in practice – only a single tenth of a second shy of the outright pace – and then went on to qualify second on the GT300 grid.
Takagi took the opening stint of Sunday’s encounter and from the front row of GT300 at the rolling start he maintained second place tight behind the pole-starting Mercedes and stayed there until pit stops began to be served.
Moving through into the lead when the No.4 Mercedes visited the pits, Takagi opened an advantage of more than 22 seconds before pitting at roughly two thirds race distance to hand over the No.55 BMW M6 GT3 to Walkinshaw.
Choosing to gamble on the same set of Bridgestone tyres to the conclusion, in order to make the refuelling pit-stop as short as possible, when Walkinshaw joined the race he held third on the road but the ARTA BMW was the highest placed of the cars to have stopped.
Running 16 seconds clear of the chasing pack, Walkinshaw soon moved up into second place and then returned to the head of GT300 when the class leader pitted. With all stops completed, the Oxfordshire driver held a 10 second cushion over his rivals and as the laps counted down so the lead began to reduce with the tyres well past their best.
Driving well and working to squeeze every last bit of diminishing grip out of his Bridgestones, he held onto the lead under huge pressure from the No.65 Mercedes but the latter’s superior grip told with just a couple of laps to go as it moved through into Turn One.
Staying as close to his rival as he could, the Briton went on to finish the race little more than two seconds shy of the victory in the runner-up spot to make a very welcome and richly deserved return to the podium.
“We did take a risky strategy by not pitting for fresh tyres, only fuel, and it almost paid off”, he explained, “Finishing in P2, where we started the race, was good though and it’s definitely been a good season. I’ve been on the podium three times with Shinichi-san, we’ve had a win and if I’d been offered that at the beginning of the year I would have taken it.
“The ideal plan for 2018 is to come back to Japan again and fight for the championship. We are looking at other things too, and I’d love to get another Blancpain [Endurance Cup] drive, but Super GT is a fantastic championship and I’d love to be back.”
Final 2017 Super GT Driver Standings – GT300
4th Sean Walkinshaw & Shinichi Takagi, 61pts
Final 2017 Super GT Team Standings – GT300
4th Autobacs Racing Team Aguri, 76pts
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Autobacs Racing Team Aguri