Autobacs Racing Team Aguri driver Sean Walkinshaw and team-mate Shinichi Takagi departed Sportsland Sugo in Japan on Sunday, 16th September, holding a seven-point lead in the GT300 standings despite a challenging outing in round six of the Super GT Championship.
Carrying no less than 100kg of success ballast, which seriously compromised the competitiveness of the pairing’s No.55 BMW M6 GT3, qualifying proved very tough for the ARTA entry which ended up an uncharacteristic 23rd on the GT300 timesheets.
Even with an absolute mountain to climb in Sunday’s race, Walkinshaw and Takagi finished inside the points-paying top 10 with a determined performance. Most crucially, the GT300 title contenders concluded the ante-penultimate round of 2018 ahead of their chief rivals.
“Obviously, Sugo wasn’t the best weekend but to start P23 and still come away with a point is amazing”, said 24-year-old Walkinshaw, “We knew coming to Sugo with 100kg in the car, and with the track not suiting our BMW, it was going to be a tough weekend but, thankfully, some of our main rivals had a tough event as well so we had a little bit of luck on our side.
“Even though it was a challenge at Sugo, everyone in the team did a fantastic job and the car was as good as we could’ve hoped. I’m now looking forward to the last two rounds of the championship, two tracks where our car goes pretty strongly.”
Lapping 20th fastest in practice on Saturday, 15th September, with the significant 100kg weight handicap a result of their championship position and victory last time out at Fuji, the ARTA drivers were even more frustrated to conclude qualifying later in the day with the 23rd best lap.
Leaving an incredible amount of work to do in the race, with all of their title rivals starting much higher up the order, Walkinshaw began the encounter in the No.55 BMW M6 GT3 and at the rolling start he made a good launch before moving up into 22nd place.
Soon gaining another position and closing on the top 20 in GT300, the Oxfordshire driver pressed on but he unfortunately slipped down to 23rd as the race approached one quarter distance. Aiming to make amends as quickly as possible, Walkinshaw regained 22nd place but then became embroiled in a tight battle with the No.18 Toyota.
Around one third distance, the Briton had moved back up into 21st position and as a number of rival entries made pit-stops he continued to climb the order. Running in 18th place ahead of the ARTA pit visit, Walkinshaw then pitted on lap 29 and when the race order settled Takagi held 21st spot.
Just prior to the halfway point of the race Takagi had moved up into the top 20 and he continued to progress during the last 30 laps of the encounter. Running in 16th place as the race approached lap 60, four seconds outside the top 15, the Japanese driver soon managed to take the place.
Pushing as hard as he could, Takagi sliced through towards the points-paying top 10 during the latter stages and ultimately took the chequered flag – after almost two hours of racing – just a couple of seconds shy in 11th position. He was then elevated into the top 10 post-race due to a penalty for the No.87 Lamborghini Huracan, increasing their championship lead to seven points.
So, even with the challenges of Sportsland Sugo, it’s a case of ‘as you were’ in the championship battle for Walkinshaw and Takagi heading into next month’s penultimate race of the season. Round seven of the 2018 Super GT Championship will take place over the weekend 20th/21st October at Autopolis in Japan.