Highly rated Super GT Championship driver pairing Sean Walkinshaw and Shinichi Takagi faced an expectedly difficult challenge during round three of the season at Suzuka in Japan on Sunday, 20th May, but still managed to remain on top of the GT300 points standings.
With the characteristics of the legendary Formula One venue not suiting the No.55 Autobacs Racing Team Aguri BMW M6 GT3, the 300km race was always going to be about consolidation for Chipping Norton 24-year-old Walkinshaw and his Japanese team-mate.
Despite having to settle for an uncharacteristic 20th place finish in Sunday’s race, and therefore being unable to add to their points tally, the ARTA duo still departed Suzuka with the GT300 lead, albeit now tied on points with Toyota pairing Takamitsu Matsui and Sho Tsuboi.
“Obviously, it was a bit of a weekend to forget for us”, said the Briton, who arrived at Suzuka as GT300 championship leader after an exemplary victory a fortnight ago at Fuji Speedway, “We knew coming here it was going to be a struggle and, unfortunately, we were right.
“For some reason our car just doesn’t go well around Suzuka, which is a massive shame because the guys worked non-stop to try and make us competitive – but it just wasn’t there this weekend. On the positive side, we are still leading the championship and the next round in Thailand is quite a strong circuit for us, so now I’m fully focused on that.”
Added to the track not suiting the No.55 BMW, Walkinshaw and Takagi also had the headache of 52kg of ballast this weekend due to their championship position post-Fuji, and so a tough outing was always in prospect.
Practice and qualifying proved the point with the 17th and 20th fastest times respectively in the two sessions on Saturday, 19th May, which meant the BMW started Sunday’s race from the 10th row of the GT300 grid.
Walkinshaw took the opening stint of the race and moved up into 19th position early on but he was edged back a spot again before the race reached one fifth distance. Staying in touch with the cars ahead, the British driver regained the place a few laps later and then climbed into 18th position.
Due to an excursion for the GT500 Lexus of ex-Formula One racer Heikki Kovalainen, the Safety Car was deployed on lap 14 of the race and while the action was under caution Walkinshaw moved up into 17th place following problems for a rival.
Racing resumed on lap 19 and a number of runners decided to make pit-stops at the earliest opportunity. Walkinshaw stayed on track and moved up into the top 10 of GT300 before then heading into pitlane to hand over to Takagi as the race neared the halfway point.
When the Japanese driver joined the track he held 22nd position, seventh of the GT300 entries to have served a stop at that point, and when all driver changes had been made Takagi had moved up into the top 20. Losing a place soon after, he broke back into 20th position with around one fifth of the race to go but no further progress was possible over the course of the final laps.
There is now a six-week break in the Super GT Championship calendar with round four of the season set to take place on Sunday, 1st July, at Chang International Circuit in Thailand.