Sean Walkinshaw and Nissan GT Academy team-mates Matt Simmons and Romain Sarazin had to largely utilise round three of the Blancpain Endurance Cup at Paul Ricard on Saturday, 25th June, as a test session after contact early in the six-hour race ruled the squad out of Pro-Am contention.
Following a sensational opening lap from Australian driver Simmons, during which he stormed through the order from 18th position in Pro-Am into the class top 12, contact to the right-rear of the No.22 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 soon after resulted in an instantaneous puncture.
Coaxing the car back to the pits, albeit at dramatically reduced speed, a new wheel was fitted to the Nissan but just a few laps later Simmons was back into the pit garage with damage from the earlier contact causing greater problems.
In the pits for another 15 minutes as a result, the Team RJN mechanics rectified the problem and the Nissan went on to climb from 20th in Pro-Am to 14th position in class when the chequered flag fell at midnight, with Sean at the wheel during the final stint, after six hours of frustrating action.
With all hopes of a strong points finish ruined by the early contact, the team instead focused on using the evening-to-night race as more of a test session ahead of the blue riband Total 24 Hours of Spa which will take place at the end of July.
“All of the guys in the team were obviously unbelievably disappointed with how the race started, but it was just one of those things – nothing we could do”, reflected Chipping Norton racer Sean, “After the car was repaired we all had very good stints, had good pace and raced well and I was happy with my performance.
“After the puncture, and the damage from the contact, we had to forget about race position and just concentrate on learning as much as we could for Spa. That’s the biggest race of our year by far, so hopefully we’ll be able to go there and have some better fortune!”
Following the enforced double pit-stop early in the first half hour, Sarazin got behind the wheel of the Nissan following the second stop and from 20th in class was able to move up into 18th in Pro-Am before Sean took his first stint of the race around the two-hour mark.
Remaining behind the wheel to the halfway point of the contest, Sean pitted from 18th in class to hand the car over to Simmons and during his second stint he was able to move up into 16th before Sarazin got back behind the wheel with a couple of hours to go.
As the night skies became increasingly dark, Sarazin maintained position and during the final hour Sean returned to the track to hoist the No.22 Nissan into 14th place in Pro-Am and 37th overall. The time lost as a result of the puncture and ensuing repairs was clear to see from laps completed – the Nissan ending the race 17 laps adrift of the Pro-Am class winner.
The fourth event of the Blancpain Endurance Cup, the twice-round-the-clock Total 24 Hours of Spa, will take place at the world-famous track in Belgium between Thursday, 28th July, and Sunday, 31st July. The officially timed pre-event test day is scheduled for Tuesday, 5th July.
Before then, Sean and the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN squad will be back in action in the sister Blancpain Sprint Cup next weekend, 2nd/3rd July, at the Nurburgring in Germany.
Blancpain Endurance Cup Pro-Am Driver Standings (after Rd3):
18th Sean Walkinshaw/Matt Simmons/Romain Sarazin, 6pts
Blancpain Endurance Cup Pro-Am Team Standings (after Rd3):
12th Nissan GT Academy Team RJN, 6pts