Blancpain Sprint Series front-runner Sean Walkinshaw celebrated his, and team-mate Craig Dolby’s, first podium of the 2015 season during the second race meeting of the campaign at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent on Sunday, 10th May.
Taking an impressive top three finish for MRS GT-Racing in the Qualification Race, the duo followed the result up with a highly competitive sixth place finish in the Main Race later in the day to chalk-up their first Sprint Series points of the year and move into equal ninth in the championship standings.
“It’s obviously been a really good weekend but our expectations were even higher after practice, so I am a little bit disappointed we couldn’t have been on the podium in both races as our pace was very strong”, said Chipping Norton-based Sean, “At the beginning of the season, though, if we’d have known we’d take a third and sixth on our second Sprint weekend we’d have all been delighted.”
Starting the weekend impressively, Sean lapped third fastest at the wheel of the No.73 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 in the first free practice on Saturday, 9th May, with a time of 1m25.737 seconds placing him just 0.2 seconds shy of the top of the times. In the second session, Dolby set the pace with the fastest time of all.
Continuing to run at the front in qualifying, Sean was second fastest in session one before Dolby got behind the wheel for session two in which he progressed through to the final part of qualifying after lapping in the top 10. Dolby then went on to secure the fourth fastest time in session three with a lap of 1m23.727 seconds, just 0.024 seconds shy of the front row for the Qualification Race.
Taking the opening stint for Sunday morning’s encounter, Dolby held fourth place off the rolling start and by lap 18 he was in a position to challenge for third. Unfortunately, though, a small issue with gear selection lost the Englishman four seconds but he maintained fourth before handing the car over to Sean with roughly 26 minutes remaining on the clock.
Rejoining the race in sixth position, the 21-year-old Oxfordshire driver rapidly closed down the cars ahead and within seven laps Sean had moved into the top five. Following a drive-through penalty for the second placed Lamborghini, he moved into the top four and spent the remainder of the contest swarming all over the back of the No.77 BMW.
At the chequered flag on lap 42, he crossed the line just 0.3 seconds shy of the podium after a fantastically competitive season-best drive but, post-race, was elevated into third as a result of a penalty for the No.2 Audi.
Sean, therefore, started the Main Race from third place but when the action got underway he had to dart to the outside on the run to Paddock Hill Bend when a rival cut sharply across to the right-hand side of the track, blocking the inside line and also clipping the front splitter on the Nissan.
Slipping back to fifth as a result, he remained there throughout his stint and within touching distance of the cars ahead before pitting to hand-over the car to Dolby with roughly 34 minutes remaining on the clock.
After the race order settled down following the mandatory pit-stops, Dolby held fifth position but as the encounter neared its conclusion he started to come under intense pressure from Nick Catsburg’s Lamborghini. With just under three laps to go, the Italian machine moved past at Graham Hill Bend to edge Dolby back to sixth where he remained to the flag.
“Without the small gear problem Craig had we could have been higher up the podium in the first race”, reflected Sean, “In race two when one of the BMWs swiped across the front of me at the start, it damaged the splitter and I had to move across to the outside – that hindered our race for sure. I think on outright pace we were probably second quickest and two podiums were possible.”
Next on the Blancpain Sprint Series calendar is another ‘home’ event for Sean with a visit to the country of his birth, Belgium, over the weekend 6th/7th June for round three at Zolder. Before then, the MRS GT-Racing team will be in action at Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit a fortnight from now, on 23rd/24th May, for round two of the sister Blancpain Endurance Series.
Provisional 2015 Blancpain Sprint Series Driver Standings (after Rd2):
9th Sean Walkinshaw/Craig Dolby & Maximilian Buhk/Vincent Abril, 12pts
Provisional 2015 Blancpain Sprint Series Team Standings (after Rd2):
8th MRS GT-Racing, 16pts