Sean Walkinshaw produced an outstanding race drive during the eagerly awaited opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup season at Monza in Italy on Sunday, 24th April, to put the No.22 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN entry into a position to challenge for a top six Pro-Am finish.
Although eventually ending the three-hour championship curtain-raiser in 12th position in Pro-Am, a couple of issues later in the race not helping the team’s challenge, the Oxfordshire 22-year-old and team-mates Romain Sarazin and Matt Simmons clearly underlined the competitiveness of their Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.
Facing a tall order in the race after a challenging qualifying run, which resulted in 37th overall on the 56-car grid and 14th in class despite only being roughly one second shy of pole position, the trio of NISMO Athletes each performed strongly and Sean was very happy with his own performance during the first hour of competition – a drive in which he gained over 20 positions.
“I was really happy with my stint and it was a really good race to be fair, it’s just a shame we couldn’t hold on to the top six in Pro-Am in the end”, said the Chipping Norton-based driver, “At the actual start it was like a traffic jam with so many cars into the chicane, so you couldn’t do much, but after that I got into a rhythm early on and made up a lot of places.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t quite hook it up in qualifying, we could possibly have broken into the top 20 overall, but there was so much traffic and it was very hard to get a clear lap in. Qualifying was ridiculously close, though, we were only 1.1 seconds off pole but 37th on the grid!”
Sean made an exceptional start to Sunday afternoon’s big race, gaining five places on track to move into 32nd overall and to also climb into the Pro-Am top 10. Punching in some very impressive laps, before the race reached lap 10 he was into seventh in class and 24th overall.
Continuing his scintillating rise through the order unabated, by lap 12 he was into the class top six and closing ever more quickly on the outright top 20. As the pit-stops for the first driver changes began to be served, Sean remained on track initially before pitting just after the hour mark from fourth in Pro-Am and 13th place overall – a remarkable drive.
Sarazin took the second stint at the wheel of the Nissan and after joining the contest in 11th place in Pro-Am, 31st position overall, he moved up into ninth in class and 27th in the outright standings before pitting with 65 minutes to run to hand over to Simmons.
Unfortunately, Sarazin picked up a pit-lane speeding penalty which Simmons had to serve and the Australian’s run was also impacted late on by an unfortunate excursion. He did recover, though, to conclude the race 12th in Pro-Am and 30th overall.
Sean’s ‘home’ track, Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit in the UK, will be the venue for the second round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup season over the weekend 14th/15th May. Before then, one week earlier, Sean and the Nissan GT Academy Team will be in action on British soil at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent for the second round of the sister Blancpain Sprint Cup.