Autobacs Racing Team Aguri team-mates Sean Walkinshaw and Shinichi Takagi experienced extreme misfortune during round four of the Super GT Championship season at Chang International Circuit in Thailand on Sunday, 1st July, when a late-race puncture cost a certain GT300 podium.
Running in second position with just a couple of laps to go, Walkinshaw was defending his place from an advancing Toyota when the left-rear tyre popped and sent the No.55 BMW M6 GT3 momentarily off the circuit. Gathering the car back up and pitting for fresh rubber, the Oxfordshire racer eventually took the chequered flag in 11th position.
Having enjoyed an excellent race to that point at the Buriram track, with Takagi performing well in the opening stint from third on the grid, the ARTA duo were justifiably disappointed with the sheer misfortune which cost them the GT300 points lead.
“Obviously that wasn’t the way we wanted to end the weekend”, said Chipping Norton driver Walkinshaw, “We had amazing pace in both wet and dry conditions so we were very confident heading into the race, and for most of the race rightly so.
“Unfortunately, though, two laps from the end, we had a slow puncture and it finally let go. It was devastating for the whole team, especially because we lost our lead in the championship, but the next track we go to is Fuji which is extremely strong for our car.”
Lapping 14th fastest in Saturday morning’s tight practice session, just 0.8 seconds shy of the top three, in qualifying later in the day the No.55 ARTA BMW ended the run with the third quickest time of 1m32.845 seconds – a mere 0.005 seconds shy of the GT300 front row. Notably too, the top three performance was achieved with the maximum 52kg of success ballast on the car.
Takagi took the opening stint of Sunday’s race and after holding third off the rolling start, the ARTA driver quickly leapfrogged into second position before swarming all over the GT300 leading Audi of Richard Lyons.
Staying glued to the Audi lap after lap, Takagi was never more than just a few tenths of a second adrift and even when the GT500 cars began to lap the GT300 leaders, just before one sixth race distance, the Japanese racer swiftly recovered any lost ground.
Getting alongside Lyons on lap 11, Takagi had to tuck back in to second and as the lead duo battled it enabled the third placed Nissan to close in. Running nose-to-tail, there was nothing to split the trio…although there was a heart-in-mouth moment around 10 laps later when two GT500 cars just ahead made contact into Turn One.
When Lyons pitted soon after as the first round of mandatory stops began to take place, Takagi moved up into the lead and remained on track to precisely mid-distance when he then pitted to hand over to Walkinshaw.
Emerging on track in 10th position, second of the GT300 cars to have stopped, the British racer resisted major pressure from the No.60 Lexus as he worked to get the BMW’s tyres up to temperature before opening a gap of roughly a second.
Starting to move up the GT300 order as the rival cars at the front finally started to take their stops at around two-thirds race distance, Walkinshaw climbed into the top five and with less than 20 laps to go he was into third place – still second of those to have pitted.
When the GT300 leader eventually stopped, Walkinshaw assumed second place overall and with 15 laps to run he was seven seconds shy of the No.11 Nissan but with the No.60 Lexus still very much in close company in third position. Pushing on as the laps counted down, through traffic the gap fluctuated but with just 10 laps to go Walkinshaw had moved to within five seconds of the leader.
Then, with only two laps to go, drama – the ARTA BMW had a slow puncture and it eventually let go when Walkinshaw was defending from an advancing Toyota, meaning he had to pit. After rejoining the race with a new Bridgestone tyre, he took the chequered flag just outside the top 10.
Super GT will return to action roughly a month from now, over the weekend 4th/5th August, at Fuji Speedway in Japan – venue for Walkinshaw and Takagi’s sensational victory back in May during the second round of the season.
2018 Super GT Championship – GT300 Driver Standings:
4th Sean Walkinshaw & Shinichi Takagi, 26pts
Total 24 Hours of Spa return for Walkinshaw up next
Before then, Walkinshaw will make a return to the Blancpain Endurance Cup – where he last raced in 2016 – for the category’s blue riband Total 24 Hours of Spa in his country of birth, Belgium, over the weekend 28th/29th July. First, though, he will be in action at Spa today, Tuesday, 3rd July, for the official pre-event test having headed direct to the Ardennes from Thailand.
Set to climb back aboard a Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 for the first time since he raced in Blancpain, the 24-year-old has been drafted in to the RJN Motorsport team to complete the squad’s Silver Cup entry alongside Struan Moore, Jordan Witt and Ricardo Sanchez – the latter having been Walkinshaw’s team-mate in the sister Blancpain Sprint Cup in 2016.
“I’m really looking forward to racing at Spa again, the 24 Hour is a fantastic race and it’s the crown jewel in GT3 racing”, he commented, “It will also be fantastic getting back out in the Nissan, where my GT3 career started.”
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Autobacs Racing Team Aguri