Round one of the Blancpain Sprint Cup season at a rain-hit Misano over the weekend, 9th/10th April, turned into a much more challenging event than expected for British racer Sean Walkinshaw with the twisty Italian track not ideally suited to the strengths of his Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.
Marking the 22-year-old’s first competitive weekend as part of Nissan GT Academy Team RJN, partnering Mexican driver Ricardo Sánchez, the duo encountered two challenging races which didn’t deliver the results the NISMO Athlete was hoping for.
While the Qualification Race on Saturday night at a slippery Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli didn’t go according to plan, the No.22 car finishing the one-hour contest fourth in the Silver Cup and 24th overall after being in contention for the Silver Cup podium, the Main Race on Sunday afternoon was equally vexing.
Much like the previous day’s encounter, great early progress was made but in the end Sean and team-mate Sánchez had to settle for fifth in the Silver Cup battle and 28th overall – a result which they aim to significantly improve on when the championship visits Brands Hatch in the UK in May.
“It was obviously amazing to be back in the car and to be able to finally work with RJN, however, it was a very tough weekend for all of us”, said Chipping Norton-based Walkinshaw, “We struggled in qualifying to be able to get a quick lap out of the car but in the qualifying race, with the cooler conditions, the car was flying and race pace was very strong.
“We did our best and got the best result we could considering the circumstances and have to push really hard to try and get a better result at Monza in a couple of weeks’ time in the first round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup.”
Practice on Friday was mostly affected by rain and the same was largely the case on Saturday for qualifying. Sean ultimately started Saturday night’s race from 34th on the grid and the track surface remained very greasy and slippery. Teams and drivers had a tough choice to make regarding which tyres to utilise, the majority of cars running wet-weather rubber for the opening 30 minutes.
When the rolling start got underway, Sean actually held 32nd position overall due to a couple of cars dropping out on the formation lap and he made superb headway over the opening tour by climbing into the top 25.
Unfortunately, though, he had slipped to 31st place before the driver-change around the half-hour mark, where the car also switched to slick tyres. Sánchez managed to slice through into 19th place into the closing stages but at the final corner on the last lap contact from one of the Audis led to a spin and drop back to 24th overall, fourth in the Silver Cup.
The Mexican racer took the start of the dry Main Race on Sunday and from 23rd position on the grid he made a clean getaway at the rolling start, scything his way through into 18th position by the end of the first lap.
Moving up into 17th overall on lap three, Sanchez challenged for 16th place a couple of laps later but then slipped back in a similar fashion to the way race one turned out. As the contest approached mid-distance and the pit stops began to be taken, Sanchez moved back up into 14th spot, third in Silver Cup, prior to handing over to Sean.
Emerging back into the race with just over 29 minutes left on the clock, Sean held 29th position overall and fifth place in the Silver Cup classification and went on to end the race in the class top five and 28th overall.
Next on the Blancpain Sprint Cup calendar is a visit to Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in the UK over the weekend 7th/8th May. Before then, Sean and the Nissan GT Academy team will get its Blancpain Endurance Cup campaign underway at Monza in Italy on 23rd/24th April.