Finlay Hutchison watched an all-but certain podium finish stolen from his grasp during the opening round of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup season at Imola on Sunday, 26th July, when a car fire at the beginning of the final hour forced retirement from the Silver class lead.
Making his maiden appearance for the Haupt Racing Team at the wheel of the squad’s stunning red and black No.5 Mercedes-AMG GT3, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star was on course for a famous result at the Italian track when he began the third hour.
On only his second lap though, while leading Silver and running in the overall top 10, the 20-year-old from Dundee in Scotland had to pull off the circuit and frustratingly park the Mercedes at the side of the track.
“It’s so, so disappointing – absolutely gutting for everyone at the team”, said the Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays backed racer, “There was smoke coming from the car and when I got out I could see flames, we had no option other than to stop. It looked like there was some damage to the side of the car, I’m unsure where from, so maybe that was the cause.
“We had a great chance at taking the Silver win, certainly a podium, so it is frustrating but we’ve shown how competitive we are and the Mercedes is a really friendly car to drive. Hopefully we’ll be back even stronger at the Nurburgring for the next round.”
Impressive raceday unrewarded at Imola for Hutchison and HRT
Hutchison’s first GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup race of 2020 followed just a week after his maiden outing in the European Le Mans Series, where he finished fourth in the LMGTE class on his debut at the wheel of JMW Motorsport’s Ferrari F488 GTE EVO.
Switching to Mercedes-AMG GT3 power for this weekend’s action in GT World Challenge, the young Scot partnered HRT team owner Hubert Haupt and Sergey Afanasiev in the No.5 machine and the trio certainly made marked progress between qualifying and race day.
After experiencing his first mileage in the Mercedes in practice and pre-qualifying, Hutchison took the third of the three sessions in Saturday afternoon’s final qualifying run and posted a best lap of 1m43.452 seconds. The team-mates were very evenly matched, just 0.4 seconds splitting them, and on average times they ended up 11th quickest in Silver and 33rd overall on the grid.
Team principal Haupt started Sunday’s encounter and very quickly moved into the class top 10 before an early Full Course Yellow cautionary period was called with just nine minutes elapsed. The action resumed at the 22-minute mark with Haupt ninth in Silver. Within 10 minutes, though, another FCY period was required.
When the action resumed Haupt was 27th overall and eighth in Silver but with one of the Lamborghini Huracans having become stranded after losing a wheel, a third Full Course Yellow period was immediately enacted.
Haupt pitted for the team’s first driver change while under the cautionary period, handing over the car to Afanasiev at the 55-minute mark. When racing re-started shortly after, the Russian held sixth in Silver and 23rd place overall before gaining a position when Stuart Hall’s Audi had an excursion.
After an unusually placid 20 minutes or so, as the race reached the halfway point a number of drivers were served with drive-through penalties for speeding under yellow flags. As a result, Afanasiev was able to move up into the Silver class top three and 18th position overall.
As the end of the second hour approached, Afanasiev remained on track as others started to make their second stops and so climbed into the Silver lead and the outright top four. Hutchison took over with around an hour to run and when the order settled, he was first in class and 10th spot overall.
With a fantastic result on the cards Hutchison pressed on, but black smoke started to become visible from the rear of the Mercedes. Despite being edged back to 11th and second in Silver the Scotsman continued, but on only the second lap of his stint he was forced to retire from the race.
Germany’s Nurburgring will host round two of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup season over the weekend 5th/6th September.
Before then, Hutchison will be back in action in the European Le Mans Series at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on 8th/9th August.
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. SRO/Patrick Hecq