Autobacs Racing Team Aguri driver Sean Walkinshaw and team-mate Shinichi Takagi got their 2018 Super GT Championship campaign off to a consistent start at Okayama in Japan on Sunday, 8th April, with a top six finish during the opening race of the season.
Heading into his second year in the ultra-competitive Far East category squarely aiming to challenge for the GT300 class title, Oxfordshire racer Walkinshaw concluded the first round fairly satisfied with the race result but is now aiming higher for round two at Fuji Speedway next month.
“Overall, the weekend went alright”, said the 24-year-old from Chipping Norton, “We obviously would rather have finished on the podium, but we just didn’t quite have the pace in the car this weekend. However, we managed to gather some valuable points in the championship by finishing in sixth place.
“Okayama isn’t the strongest track for our car, so I think we did the best job we could and I’m looking forward to the next round in Fuji which is a track I like and has been very good to me and the ARTA BMW in the past.”
During opening practice on Saturday, 7th April, the No.55 BMW M6 GT3 delivered the third fastest time – less than a couple of tenths of a second shy of the outright pace – but in a rain affected qualifying session Walkinshaw and Takagi had to settle for the eighth best lap.
Japanese driver Takagi took the opening stint of Sunday’s race and after holding eighth place through Turn One and during the first half of the lap, midway through the opening tour he climbed into seventh before taking sixth on the subsequent lap.
By lap four, the ARTA car was under threat from the Toyota and Mercedes behind but as the pursuers battled among themselves it did provide some breathing space for Takagi. Several laps later, though, the Toyota managed to pass the BMW to edge Takagi back to seventh position.
As a result of an incident involving a couple of GT300 cars at one quarter race distance, Takagi was elevated into the top five. Soon after the first of the pit-stops began to be served but, by staying out, the ARTA racer climbed up into second position. As the action approached the halfway point, Takagi was nudged back to third by one of the Subarus but when it pitted Takagi inherited second again.
Then moving into the GT300 lead, Takagi pitted shortly after mid-distance to hand over the car to Walkinshaw who emerged in fifth position. With five fully up-to-speed cars all ready to try and pounce, the British racer had his mirrors full and although slipping to seventh place he then began to consolidate the position as the tyres started to fully come up to temperature.
After some very close and hectic action in the pack, with plenty of wheel-to-wheel battling, Walkinshaw eventually managed to move back inside the top six and with just a handful of laps to go he closed on the fifth placed Nissan NISMO GT3-R. As the chequered flag neared, the ARTA driver was within a second of the Nissan but he had to settle for sixth place at the finish.
Fuji Speedway in Japan will host the second round of the Super GT Championship season just over three weeks from now, on Thursday, 3rd May, and Friday, 4th May.