Blancpain Sprint Series driver Sean Walkinshaw and team-mate Craig Dolby made a welcome, and a hard-fought, return to the points at Portimao in southern Portugal on Sunday, 6th September, with a battling top eight finish during the fifth event of the 2015 campaign.
Resuming their season after a long six week lay-off from racing over the summer, the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 duo were in fantastic form throughout practice and qualifying with justifiably high hopes of strong points results in the weekend’s Qualification Race and Main Race.
Despite an unfortunate problem in the opening contest on Saturday, 5th September, which ultimately led to a 14th place finish, the pairing hit back on Sunday with an excellent climb up the order to underline the clear competitiveness of the No.173 machine.
“Our pace was strong all weekend so it’s a shame how things turned out in the first race, which had an obvious knock-on effect for race two”, said Chipping Norton-based Sean, “There was a bit of an issue which meant Craig had to make an unscheduled pit visit. We came back out a lap down but the pace after that was really good – we could have been fifth or sixth for sure.
“In the Main Race, at one point, we were up in P8 and it was going well but I was put wide in my stint and an Audi came through which lost us momentum. It was still a competitive run, though, and Craig did a great job to bring the car home in eighth at the end as the tyres were shredded by then.”
Now running under the Always Evolving Motorsport umbrella, albeit with the striking red Nissan still engineered by Daventry-based JRM Group, from the outset the team-mates were both rapid with a top five placing in the two practice sessions followed by consistent performances in qualifying.
Sean lapped sixth fastest in the first timed session before Dolby posted the seventh best time in session two, progressing to the final period of qualifying as one of the quickest eight drivers. Going on to secure sixth on the grid for the Qualification Race, Dolby took the opening stint but before he could get into his stride he had to head to the pits to get the car checked over by the team.
Able to return to the track after swift work by the mechanics to resolve a small issue, Dolby lapped with podium pace and remained behind the wheel until past mid-distance, before handing the car over to Sean with just over 25 minutes to run.
Like his team-mate, the Oxfordshire racer reeled off impressive pace but being a lap down after the unscheduled early pit stop there was nothing he could do to salvage a better finish. Eventually taking the chequered flag in a frustrating 14th position, the team’s pace was proven with a best lap of 1m46.329 seconds – more than a match for top three performance.
Therefore starting the Main Race on Sunday from 14th on the grid, Sean took the opening stint and after swiftly breaking into the top 12 he moved into ninth on lap two before then passing Enzo Ide for eighth a couple of laps later. On lap seven, while running close behind one of the BMWs, Sean had to take avoiding action and the loss of momentum enabled Stephane Richelmi to nip through.
Running in ninth with around 15 minutes having elapsed, Sean set about trying to climb back into the top eight but the Safety Car soon made an appearance when a storm cover on the circuit came loose, obviously posing a serious hazard.
By the time the repairs had been completed and racing resumed, the pit window opened so almost the entire field – including Sean – made their stops. Dolby rejoined the action in 10th position and quickly worked his way through into seventh with 20 minutes left on the clock before being bumped back to eighth by the Lamborghini of Nick Catsburg, where he remained to the flag.
“The results weren’t what we hoped for this weekend but the pace was really strong and the car felt fantastic”, added Sean, “It was great working with the Always Evolving guys, everyone gelled really well and we’re all looking forward to the next round now where we aim to be back at the front.”
Round six of the Blancpain Sprint Series, the penultimate event of the season, will take place over the weekend 3rd/4th October at Misano in Italy. Before then, Always Evolving Motorsport will contest the final round of the sister Blancpain Endurance Series a fortnight from now, on Sunday, 20th September, at the Nurburgring in Germany.