Upcoming British sportscar star Ollie Wilkinson and his Optimum Motorsport teammate, Bradley Ellis, endured the most frustrating weekend of their debut International GT Open season with a rare double DNF at Monza.
Despite 24-year-old Wilkinson ranking fastest in Friday practice and Ellis fighting for outright pole on Sunday, a non-mechanical retirement and engine failure destroyed the duo’s hopes of closing the seven-point gap to third in the Pro-Am title order.
Wilkinson got the weekend off to a flying start, topping the timesheets in the Bronze driver session for the second consecutive event. Gaining more time on fresh tyres in Saturday qualifying, Ollie further improved his personal best by over seven tenths of a second.
The young Yorkshireman, however, had no opportunity to put his building pace to full effect in the first race of the weekend. Although a strong start from 16th overall put Ollie in the thick of the action, he got caught up in the first chicane melee as Riccardo Agostini’s Imperiale Racing Lamborghini was knocked into a spin, forcing the pursuing pack to take evasive manoeuvres.
Ollie expertly navigated his way through side-on and rear contact, which in-turn pushed the Optimum Motorsport Audi R8 LMS into another car, to lie 15th overall. But, no fewer than five impacts come the second chicane inflicted substantial front-end damage, leaving Ollie’s aero significantly compromised on the predominantly right-turn high-speed Monza circuit.
Nursing a damaged car, Wilkinson was doing well to retain 17th spot when a rear hit from Rinat Salikov’s Rinaldi Racing Ferrari pushed the Audi into the Ascari gravel trap, forcing the Optimum Motorsport duo to concede its first non-mechanical DNF.
“It’s a real shame to end race one with a DNF, but there was nothing I could do about it,” said Ollie. “We sustained so much contact before we’d left the second chicane that I knew we were only on a points salvaging mission. I gave the Ferrari plenty of room but I think he out-braked himself. We know we’ve got the pace here, so we’ll put this behind us and put full focus on race two.”
Ellis made clear their recovery intentions from the start of qualifying on Sunday morning, taking provisional pole from lap five and heading the order until a red flag curtailed his charge. A storming session and ranking Pro-Am P3 re-ignited the crew’s podium dreams.
Come the opening lap of race two, it proved only to be a weekend to forget when left-rear contact forced Ellis to pit and replace the punctured tyre. Re-joining at the back of the 27-car field, he faced a 19 second gap to catch that pack. Demolishing that deficit in seven laps, the experienced sportscar ace was finally able to pick-off places to run 23rd ahead of the driver change.
Taking the wheel of the Audi with 30 minutes remaining, Wilkinson immediately began to make in-roads on Ricardo Baptista 1.7 seconds ahead, while fending off class title contender Tom Onslow-Cole.
Demoting Baptista within four laps to run 22nd, Wilkinson continued unphased by mounting pressure from the Mercedes AMG GT3. His hopes of picking up points for 10th in class came to an abrupt halt with engine failure just two laps later.
“I love this track, so to walk away from Monza with no results after we showed such pace from the outset is absolutely gutting,” said Wilkinson. “Even after Brad had the puncture, and we were struggling around the right-handers due to tracking damage, we were still fighting for championship points. It’s a weekend to forget, so we’ll dust ourselves off and hopefully finish our first season on a high.”
Ellis added: “This has been one of the most annoying weekends of my career. We showed our strongest pace yet but we’ve got no results to show for it. We arrived here intent on catching third in the Pro-Am championship battle, so it’s a bitter blow, but we’ll only bounce back stronger for the final round in Barcelona next month.”
Wilkinson will be aiming to bring his maiden GT3 season and first year competing on the international stage to a strong close in Barcelona, 20-21 October.
Source. Ollie Wilkinson Racing/Photo. FotoSpeedy