Super GT racer Sean Walkinshaw delivered on his clear podium potential during round three of the season at Autopolis in Japan on Sunday, 21st May, after racing to a fantastic third place GT300 class finish for Autobacs Racing Team Aguri.
With team-mate Shinichi Takagi delivering a season-best fourth fastest time in qualifying for the No.55 BMW M6 entry, the duo went on to secure their maiden silverware in an action-packed contest – one which wasn’t without some drama for the ARTA squad.
Following an excellent first stint from Takagi and a great pit-stop at the midway point, Walkinshaw went on to actually lead GT300 with under 20 laps to run but after being edged back to second he then fell victim to contact from a backmarker which enforced a slip to third.
Nonetheless, the top three finish was a very welcome and well deserved result for the 23-year-old from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire and he and Takagi have moved back into the top five of the GT300 championship table, rocketing up from 11th place at the start of the event.
“It’s been a very strong weekend”, said a delighted Walkinshaw, “We came to Autopolis with everything a bit unknown, the team hadn’t raced at the track with the BMW before and I’d never been there, but qualifying went well and the race was really good. Every round we’re getting strong and stronger, to take our first podium and be back up to fifth in the championship is great.”
Continuing the excellent pace and form shown during the previous event in Fuji, the ARTA duo lapped seventh fastest overall in GT300 in the practice session on Saturday, only 0.4 seconds shy of the top of the times.
Having prepared very well ahead of the all-important qualifying sessions, the team-mates went on to secure an excellent season-best fourth on the grid, the best of the Bridgestone runners, thanks to a time of 1m44.430 seconds from Takagi.
He took the opening stint of Sunday’s race and made a great launch from the rolling start, leaping into third on the run down to the first corner. Closing down the lead duo mid-lap, into the second tour there was nothing to split the top three with Takagi just 0.7 seconds behind.
On lap six, though, racing fell under Safety Car conditions as a result of a heavy multi-car collision which unfortunately involved the GT500 ARTA Honda NSX. Racing resumed on lap 15 and Takagi maintained third place, looking after the tyres with the team seeking to save time in the upcoming driver-change stop by only changing half a set of Bridgestones.
Walkinshaw climbed into the No.55 BMW M6 around mid-distance and emerged in third, the highest placed of the pit-stoppers to that point. Fending off the attentions of the No.25 Toyota initially, the Briton then moved up into second place with 20 laps to go and climbed into the lead of GT300 when the last of the class runners pitted for its stop.
Holding the lead on lap 47, Walkinshaw was edged back to second shortly after by the Toyota and then, a couple of laps later, he was put into the clutches of the No.61 Subaru when they closed up behind a backmarker. Losing time behind the slower car, the trio headed into the first corner three abreast and ensuing contact from the backmarker forced Walkinshaw wide.
Although resulting in a slip to third, thereafter he maintained great composure and consolidated the placing to the conclusion to secure a richly deserved maiden podium, seven seconds clear of the fourth placed Studie BMW M6.
Reflecting on the race, Walkinshaw said: “Shinichi did a great job to put us fourth on the grid and he jumped to P3 at the start of the race and settled down into a good rhythm. When he boxed, we only changed half a set of tyres so I went into the race focusing on trying to look after them as we knew the cars on new rubber would catch us.
“I held off the No.25 car well and although he got ahead, I thought P2 was where we would manage to stay. Unfortunately, a backmarker got in the way and slowed me and the Subaru. After I was hit by the backmarker, we had to settle for third but it’s still a strong result.”
There is now a two month break in the Super GT Championship calendar with round four of the season scheduled to take place at Sugo in Japan over the weekend 22nd/23rd July.
2017 Super GT – GT300 Driver Standings (after Rd3)
5th Sean Walkinshaw & Shinichi Takagi, 17pts
2017 Super GT – GT300 Team Standings (after Rd3)
6th Autobacs Racing Team Aguri, 24pts