Panther ARTO Team Thailand driver Sean Walkinshaw had an ultimately fruitless return to Fuji Speedway in Japan this past Saturday, 4th May, when a tyre gamble during the second round of the Autobacs Super GT Championship season failed to reap any reward.
For the second race meeting in succession in Super GT this year, the weather played a determining factor in the outcome with rain just before the start of the 500-kilometre encounter then worsening before a red flag stoppage was declared on lap 15.
Around 30 minutes later, officials re-started the race behind the Safety Car and as the action got back underway the track did begin to dry. Having started near the back of the grid after a tough qualifying, the No.35 Lexus RC-F GT3 had a mountain to climb and with the added complication of an unsuccessful tyre gamble – expecting conditions to improve sooner – 24th place was the end result.
“Obviously the weekend didn’t go to plan, we seemed to have lost a bit of pace compared to testing which resulted in a disappointing qualifying”, explained Chipping Norton’s Walkinshaw, “Starting from the back of the grid we took a gamble with the tyre choice in the wet but, unfortunately, it didn’t pay off.”
For the first 500-kilometre race of the new season, Walkinshaw and regular team-mate Nattapong Horthongkum were joined by Nattavude Charoensukhawatana in an expanded three driver line-up at Panther ARTO Team Thailand.
From the outset in practice, Oxfordshire's Walkinshaw was less than confident of the squad’s chances with the ultimate pace of the Lexus not as positive as it had been during pre-season testing at Fuji.
In qualifying the trio had to settle for 24th on the GT300 grid – from an entry of 29 cars – and so the race was always going to be a huge challenge, regardless of the weather. With that in mind, the tyre gamble was certainly worth taking and, while it ultimately didn’t pay off, when the track dried during the latter stages the Lexus did begin to show its true potential with some very strong lap times.
“There were some positives to take from the weekend”, added Walkinshaw, “When the track dried out we had pretty good race pace, equal to the top couple of cars, so that was encouraging. Suzuka in a couple of weeks should be good as it’s a track that suits our car, being quite a high downforce circuit, so I’m looking forward to being back there.”
World-famous Suzuka, home of the FIA Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix, will host round three of the Autobacs Super GT Championship season over the weekend 25th/26th May.