Autobacs Super GT Championship driver Sean Walkinshaw experienced a frustrating, and frankly bizarre, start to his 2019 campaign at Okayama in Japan on Sunday, 14th April, when horrendous wet weather resulted in the opening race of the season being red flagged at one third distance.
Making his eagerly awaited debut with Panther ARTO Team Thailand, and by extension embarking on his first race meeting driving a Lexus RC-F GT3, the 25-year-old from Oxfordshire didn’t even get to turn a wheel in the race itself due to the early conclusion on the grounds of safety.
Qualifying on Saturday, 13th April, didn’t go as well as hoped for the 2018 GT300 Vice-Champion and new team-mate Nattapong Horthongkum, although the 21st fastest time wasn’t entirely unexpected with the squad having endured a challenging time at Okayama in pre-season testing.
Still determined to make good progress in the 300 kilometre opening round, and targeting a push towards the top 10 points-paying positions, Thai driver Horthongkum took the first stint of the race which started behind the Safety Car due to an incredibly wet track surface.
After several laps under caution, the race proper got underway in very slippery conditions and it wasn’t long until the Safety Car was required again following a huge multi-car collision in lap 13, which soon triggered a red flag stoppage.
With a lot of debris on track, and several stricken vehicles, a lengthy delay occurred and when racing finally resumed the track conditions were just as poor with no relent in the rain. When the action was re-started, it wasn’t long before another incident led to the re-deployment of the Safety Car and as the weather further worsened red flags were displayed once again on lap 30.
As the curfew for the afternoon’s schedule neared, and with nowhere near the race distance completed, championship officials eventually decided the race should not be resumed on the grounds of safety – meaning Chipping Norton’s Walkinshaw didn’t even get to climb behind the wheel of the Lexus in the race.
“It was a bit of a strange weekend overall!”, he commented, “Unfortunately qualifying didn’t go quite to plan, but we knew it was going to be a tough one going into the weekend as we struggled there in testing. However, we did make massive gains from the pre-season test which was obviously very positive.
“It was a crazy race with the weather and, unfortunately, I never got to drive because of the heavy rainfall leading to the race being called-off early before the pit-stops. It’s not how anyone wanted the new season to start.”
Walkinshaw added: “I am very upbeat heading to the next round at Fuji though. It’s a track where I’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m very fond of the circuit. Also, our pre-season test at Fuji went very well so we are definitely targeting a top 10 finish and our first points of 2019.”
Fuji Speedway in Japan, a track where Walkinshaw was a double GT300 race winner in 2018 and also a winner in 2017, will host round two of the new Super GT season on Saturday, 4th May.