Realistic hopes of a major Silver Cup challenge in the 2020 instalment of the annual Total 24 Hours of Spa ended for Finlay Hutchison just two laps into the big race on Saturday, 24th October, when contact from a rival car ultimately led to retirement for his Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3.
Taking the opening stint of the third round of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup at world-famous Spa-Francorchamps, the Dundee 20-year-old started the race 10th in the Silver Cup and maintained position during a strong opening lap.
On only the second tour of the Belgian circuit, though, repeated contact to the right-rear of the No.55 Audi resulted in a puncture and damage to the gearbox. Hutchison did get the car back to the pits, with the Audi stuck in third gear, but the damage caused to the oil line and gearbox meant a significant time delay while repairs were made.
Around an hour and 45 minutes into the race, the Attempto mechanics had readied the car to return to the track and Hutchison’s team-mate Nicolas Scholl ventured out around 40 laps down on the leaders. Just after the two-hour mark though, mere laps later, Scholl returned to the pits due to continued problems with the gearbox and the car was officially retired.
“We’re all so disappointed”, said British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star Hutchison, “One of the Lamborghinis hit me two corners in succession, turns nine and ten, which caused a puncture and gearbox damage.
“The car was stuck in third gear, which made it impossible to get back to the pits as slowly as I would have liked, and this may have contributed to the damage already caused on the drive back. The contact ripped the oil line away and also damaged the gearbox oil cooler.”
He added: “The guys in the team did an awesome job to get the car back in the race, but Nicolas only had a few laps before we started to have gearbox problems so we decided there wasn’t any point continuing. Between qualifying and the race we changed dampers and it made a crazy difference, we found the best part of eight 10ths of a second, so we were looking strong. It’s such a shame.”
Running consistently throughout free practice and pre-qualifying on Thursday, 22nd October, posting the eighth fastest time in the Silver Cup in each session, rain arrived at Spa ahead of final qualifying later in the evening which made for some intriguing action.
Scholl was third in Silver in the first of the four sessions, with Simon Gachet – replacing the previously announced Kim-Luis Schramm – eleventh in class in session two and Alex Aka sixth in Silver in the third qualification period.
Hutchison was tasked with the final run, which featured all of the quickest factory Pro drivers, and the Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays backed racer delivered an impressive performance on the slippery track to go seventh in Silver – a lap of 2m37.995 seconds. Going on to make more time gains during the subsequent night practice, hopes for the race were very high.
On combined times the No.55 Audi lined-up 10th in class and 37th overall on the 56-car grid and after a clean start, on a surprisingly incident-free opening lap, Hutchison maintained position in the Silver Cup and everything seemed to be going to plan. One lap later, though, the rear-end contact from one of the Lamborghinis at successive corners changed all that.
The final event of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup season, round four, will take place over the weekend 14th/15th November at Paul Ricard in France where Hutchison, Scholl and Aka will be aiming for a consistent points-scoring result to end the season on a high.
Before then, Hutchison will be back in action with the JMW Motorsport Ferrari squad at Portimao in Portugal this coming weekend for the fifth and final round of the prestigious European Le Mans Series on Sunday, 1st November.
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. SRO Motorsports Group