Ferrari F488 GTE EVO racer Finlay Hutchison again delivered impressive speed and racecraft during the third round of the European Le Mans Series at Paul Ricard in France on Saturday, 29th August, on his way to seventh in the LMGTE class with the JMW Motorsport team.
Due to the COVID-19 situation in Spain and the restrictions in place there, race three of the ELMS campaign was moved from Barcelona to Le Castellet in southern France which, of course, was also the venue for the first round of the season in mid-July.
Dundee 20-year-old Hutchison, and JMW team-mates Gunnar Jeanette and Rodrigo Sales, started out the weekend with sights set on a podium challenge but a tough opening stint to the ‘into the night’ race for Sales meant an uphill battle thereafter.
“I was very happy with my pace during my stint, we had the pace in the car for a much better result this weekend but it just didn’t work out that way unfortunately”, said Hutchison, “It was one of the first times Rodrigo [Sales] had driven in the wet, so the start of the race was a big challenge for him.
“There are positives to take from the weekend, even if the result wasn’t the one we wanted or hoped for, so we’ll focus now on the next one at Monza in October. All of the guys in the team did a great job, so thank you to them for giving us a great car as always.”
Qualifying on Saturday morning was halted almost as soon as it had begun when the Porsche of Michael Fassbender had a hefty excursion into the tyre barriers. Following a delay of around 45 minutes the session resumed and Hutchison ended the increasingly damp run seventh fastest.
With the track surface particularly wet ahead of the start of the big race at 18.30 local time, officials started the Le Castellet 240 behind the Safety Car with Sales at the wheel of the JMW Ferrari. Racing proper began on lap three and as the track began to dry, several teams pitted for intermediate tyres.
Sales moved up into the top three as a result, but then slipped back to fifth before pitting himself for intermediate Goodyears with around 45 minutes elapsed. Emerging in seventh place, Sales then moved into sixth just after the opening hour when the No.60 Iron Lynx Ferrari made a second stop.
Following a Safety Car period in the second hour, Sales pitted to hand the Ferrari over to Hutchison with around two and a half hours to go. In seventh place in LMGTE and with a lot of ground to make up after a challenging opening stint for Sales, the Scotsman immediately set some quick lap times.
At the halfway point, dusk was properly setting in above Le Castellet and Hutchison continued to try and close the near 40 second gap to the No.51 AF Corse Ferrari. Catching the top six, Hutchison then pitted for the squad’s third stop on lap 55 with just over one hour and 50 minutes to go.
Remaining behind the wheel after taking on fresh tyres and fuel, the 20-year-old set a string of best lap times and, despite an extra stop, the JMW car was within 50 seconds of the No.51 machine with Hutchison circulating an average of two seconds faster than Christoph Ulrich ahead.
By now, with 90 minutes to go, night-time had properly arrived and Hutchison continued to improve his pace with JMW’s first sub two-minute lap of the race. In the space of only 10 minutes he reduced the gap to less than 30 seconds and also lowered his best lap to a time of 1m58.405 seconds.
With the cooler night-time air proving increasingly beneficial to performance, Hutchison went faster still – a best of 1m58.221 seconds – to move within less than 25 seconds of Ulrich as the final driver change pit-stop neared. The AF Corse car made its last pit visit first, and so Hutchison climbed into sixth with around 70 minutes to run. Soon after, the Safety Car was deployed again.
Racing resumed with 50 minutes left and Hutchison pitted as soon as he was able to, handing over the JMW car to Jeanette. Re-joining in sixth place, the American was half a minute behind the No.60 Iron Lynx Ferrari when the order settled and did close the gap to 20 seconds. On the penultimate lap, though, the AF Corse car managed to get back ahead and so Jeanette took the flag in seventh.
Audi return for Hutchison in GT World Challenge with Attempto
Ahead of next weekend’s second round of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, Hutchison has confirmed he will be returning to Audi power after signing with Attempto Racing to pilot the No.55 Silver Cup entry.
Having contested round one at Italian track Imola in a Mercedes-AMG GT3, where he challenged for Silver class victory, the Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays-backed driver moves to one of Attempto’s Audi R8 LMS GT3 cars for the visit to Germany’s Nurburgring.
The second race of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup campaign, taking place next Sunday, 6th September, will be a six-hour encounter and the Dundee driver is relishing the prospect of being back behind the wheel of an Audi R8.
“I’m delighted to be joining the Attempto Racing guys, it’s going to be good to be back with Audi and I’ve obviously got good experience from racing an R8 last year”, said Hutchison, “I’ve already tested with the team and it went really well, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in the six hour race at the Nurburgring.”
Following testing on Thursday, 3rd September, practice will take place on Saturday, 5th September, ahead of pre-qualifying and final qualifying. The race itself will get underway at 10.45 (UK time) on Sunday, 6th September, with live streaming HERE
In terms of the European Le Mans Series, Hutchison’s next outing with the JMW Ferrari will be at Monza in Italy over the weekend 10th/11th October for round four of that season.
Provisional 2020 European Le Mans Series LMGTE Driver Standings
8th Finlay Hutchison, 24pts
Provisional 2020 European Le Mans Series LMGTE Team Standings
7th JMW Motorsport, 24pts
Source. Marc Orme/Photo David Lord