Chipping Norton racing driver Sean Walkinshaw made a consistently competitive return to the world’s biggest GT3 endurance race, the Total 24 Hours of Spa, at the weekend, 28th/29th July, with a top five finish in the Silver Cup category for the GT Sport MOTUL Team RJN entry.
Reuniting with the Didcot-based squad for a one-off return to the Blancpain Endurance Cup, having competed with the team in the championship prior to his move to Super GT in 2017, Walkinshaw performed well during the twice-round-the-clock encounter in the No.22 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.
Drafted in to be the squad’s fourth driver alongside team regulars Struan Moore, Jordan Witt and Ricardo Sanchez, the event marked the 24-year-old Oxfordshire racer’s third appearance at the Total 24 Hours of Spa and also his best finish to date.
It wasn’t a race without drama and a lot of misfortune for the Team RJN quartet, though, including a sudden fire in the pit box with around 10 hours of the race to run, which engulfed the No.22 Nissan and lost the squad a lot of time as the car was repaired. With that in mind, fifth was a strong result.
“It really was fantastic being back with the Team RJN guys and also back driving the Nissan GT-R NISMO, it’s a great car”, said Walkinshaw, “We did have quite a lot of bad luck at Spa, so in the end a top five finish wasn’t bad at all, but if things had gone to plan I’m sure we had the ability to challenge for the Silver Cup podium.
“Big thanks to the guys in the team for doing an incredible job, and thanks as well to Struan, Jordan and Ricardo – it was a lot of fun working with them all. The 24 hour is still unfinished business, so I’d love to be back next year!”
In qualifying, Walkinshaw posted the sixth best time in the Silver Cup on his return to Blancpain Endurance Cup action with a lap of 2m22.672 seconds in the first of the four scheduled 15-minute runs. Witt took session two and was eighth, Sanchez lapped seventh fastest in Q3 and Moore matched that in Q4. On combined times across the four sessions, the squad qualified eighth.
Moore got behind the wheel for the opening stint of the race, which began at 16.30 local time on Saturday, and maintained eighth in Silver before handing over to Witt at the end of the opening hour. Sanchez took the third stint before Walkinshaw then made his first appearance of the race.
Unfortunate contact led to some essential repairs in the pits, but great work from Team RJN ensured the lost time was minimal. Through the various driver cycles, the No.22 entry ran competitively and as night-time descended on the Belgian track the squad circulated sixth in Silver.
Roughly around mid-distance, though, the Total 24 Hours of Spa was red flagged as a result of a huge accident involving the No.31 Bentley Continental GT3 of Andy Meyrick and the No.666 Lamborghini Huracan of Jurgen Krebs. Due to the severity of the incident, both drivers had to be extricated and they were each transferred to hospital – fortunately without life-threatening injuries.
Sixth in the Silver Cup when the race was re-started, Sanchez got the action back underway and at the next stop he handed over to Walkinshaw with the Nissan an elevated fifth. As the hours ticked by the squad moved up into fourth in Silver but a fire during one of the pit-stops, with under 10 hours to run, resulted in a loss of around 30 minutes as the team repaired the damage.
During the latter stages of the encounter fifth place was solidified and Walkinshaw steered the Nissan to the flag at the end of the 24 hours to celebrate a hard-earned result and, importantly, a race finish – always the first goal for any team contesting the globe’s greatest GT3 encounter.
Fuji return this weekend for Walkinshaw as Super GT resumes
No sooner had the Total 24 Hours of Spa concluded at the weekend, Walkinshaw’s attention turned to the fifth round of the Super GT Championship which takes place this Sunday, 5th August, at Fuji Speedway in Japan.
Rejoining the Autobacs Racing Team Aguri squad and team-mate Shinichi Takagi, Oxfordshire driver Walkinshaw is determined to battle for a second 2018 race victory with the No.55 BMW M6 GT3 after the duo took a dominant win at the world-renowned track back in May during round two.
Heading into the start of the second half of the Super GT season, the ARTA team-mates hold fourth in the GT300 standings following a luckless late-race puncture last time out at Buriram in Thailand which cost them the championship lead.
“I can’t wait to be back at Fuji, everyone at ARTA will be going there feeling confident and focused on fighting for the win again”, said Walkinshaw, “Our BMW is strong at Fuji, the track definitely plays to its strengths, and Shinichi-san and I are both quick there so we’re aiming high. We need as many points as we can for the championship after Thailand, hopefully everything will go to plan.”
Qualifying for round five of the Super GT campaign will take place on Saturday, 4th August, with the big 500 mile race – the longest of the season – following on Sunday, 5th August.