Multiple GT300 race winner, and 2018 Vice-Champion, Sean Walkinshaw has officially confirmed his return to the ultra-competitive Autobacs Super GT Championship for a third season this year after switching to Panther ARTO Team Thailand to pilot the squad’s Lexus RC-F GT3 car.
After two very successful seasons in the huge Far East series, where the 25-year-old from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire secured three GT300 race wins with BMW, Walkinshaw is now taking on an entirely fresh challenge after his services were snapped-up by the Thai team.
Partnered by the squad’s returning Thai racer Nattapong Horthongkum, Walkinshaw will not only be adjusting to an entirely different prospect in terms of driving with the Lexus, he will also be racing on Yokohama rubber for the first time having competed for the past two years on Bridgestone tyres.
As ever, Super GT is expected to be ultra-competitive this season with a total of 44 cars across the two classes – GT500 and GT300 – having been announced for the opening race of the campaign this coming Sunday, 14th April, at Okayama in Japan.
In GT300, where Walkinshaw has become a driver to watch, a superb grid of 29 cars will contest the eight round season which will conclude in early November at the legendary Twin Ring Motegi Circuit in Japan. Panther ARTO Team Thailand’s home race will be round four of the championship in late June at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, the sole race outside Japan.
“I’m delighted to be joining the guys at Panther ARTO Team Thailand for Super GT this year, it’s going to be great having a brand new challenge with the Lexus”, said Walkinshaw, “We’ve been speaking since December time last year, I did a try-out with the team in Sepang [Malaysia] and it went well so they wanted me to continue testing and now we’ve agreed the deal for the season.
“The Lexus is very good, but it’s a very, very different car to the BMW I’ve raced the last two years with Autobacs Racing Team Aguri. It did take a little while to get used to and, obviously, I’ve had to adjust to the Yokohama tyres too. It’s certainly going to be a very different season for me this year, but one I’m really looking forward to – it’s great to be continuing in Super GT for a third season!”
Ahead of the first race of 2019 just a few days from now at Okayama International Circuit, which will be contested over a distance of 300 kilometres, Walkinshaw is keeping expectations in-check with a focus on consistency and making as much progress as possible with his new team-mate.
“Our goal is to get into Q2 in qualifying as often as possible and score as many top 10 finishes, and points, as possible”, he added, “Super GT is mega competitive, and we have a huge grid again this year, so it’s difficult to know at this stage where we’ll be.
“I’m not sure there will be any weak tracks, as such, for the Lexus and the recent test we did at Fuji went really well so we’re targeting the two longer endurance races there as ones where we should be challenging for points. For Okayama at the weekend, we’re aiming to do the very best we can.”
Practice and qualifying for the opening round of the Super GT season will take place on Saturday, 13th April, at Okayama with the race itself following on Sunday, 14th April.
2019 Autobacs Super GT Championship Calendar
Rd1 – Okayama International Circuit, Japan – 13/14 April
Rd2 – Fuji Speedway, Japan – 3/4 May
Rd3 – Suzuka Circuit, Japan – 25/26 May
Rd4 – Chang International Circuit, Thailand – 29/30 June
Rd5 – Fuji Speedway, Japan – 3/4 August
Rd6 – Autopolis, Japan – 7/8 September
Rd7 – Sportsland Sugo, Japan – 21/22 September
Rd8 – Twin Ring Motegi, Japan – 2/3 November
Source Marc Orme