Gutsy fight for Pro top 10 in Barcelona seals maiden JOTA McLaren season for Wilkinson

McLaren Factory Driver, Ollie Wilkinson and team-mates, Ben Barnicoat and Rob Bell, dug deep to sign off an impressive maiden Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season with a top-10 Pro finish, 13th overall at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

The JOTA squad fought hard to bring the sole McLaren entry of the 46-car field up the order from 25th on the grid in the three-hour season finale, working tirelessly to overcome a lack of grip, which effected many teams across the weekend in Spain.

Despite Wilkinson heading into the final round with yet another near-podium result and fourth in the Sprint Cup at Valencia two weeks ago, the #38 entry surprisingly found itself on the back foot in Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying.

Struggling to find an optimum performance window, the crew opted to go for a radical set-up for qualifying, which very nearly paid off until Wilkinson’s flying lap was frustratingly blocked in the final sector. With the three drivers’ times combined, they would start on the 13th row for the last race of the season.

Throughout the course of the weekend, it became clear the track conditions changed rapidly during each day, with the circuit seemingly much faster in the morning compared to the afternoon. With this knowledge, the JOTA crew knew a strong race start would be their best chance of climbing the order.

Barnicoat stepped up to the challenge, taking expert advantage of the hectic opening laps to clear all of the Pro-Ams and majority of Silver Cup cars, to lie 13th come the end of his stint and the first round of the pitstops one hour in.

Wilkinson joined the fray amid the fiercely-competitive fight for the top ten, retaining 13th but ultimately unable to take the fight forward. Instead forced to defend from the multi-car train swapping positions behind him, Wilkinson withstood lap after lap of pressure barely 0.1seconds from his McLaren’s rear bumper. His hearty defence ensured the #38 car conceded just two places but remained in the fight come the next pitstop phase.

Bell continued what was a faultlessly clean performance from the JOTA team and drivers. As others gained numerous penalties entering the final hour, Bell brought the #38 car home in a highly commendable 13th overall, 10th in Pro – JOTA’s second best Endurance Cup finish of the year.

The result signs off an impressive first full GT World Challenge Europe season for Wilkinson as a McLaren Factory Driver, who only returned to racing two weeks ago following injuries he sustained in his huge accident whilst leading the Sprint Cup at Brands Hatch in August.

In addition to their impressive Spa 24 Hours result, the JOTA squad have shone with highlights including two fourth-place Sprint Cup finishes – albeit with Wilkinson knocked out of certain second place at Valencia two weeks ago. Whilst a first-season podium may have alluded Wilkinson and the JOTA outfit this year, they have more than shown their pace and potential on the elite GT3 stage.

“Our top-10 Pro result here today just shows the heart and determination of this team – the drivers, McLaren and JOTA,” said Ollie. “It’s unbelievable how much the circuit surface has changed since we last raced here and we really struggled for grip. Although we were on the back foot, we kept everything clean to make sure we could climb the order as others got penalties. We can all be proud of what we have achieved, not just today but all season.

“It’s been an amazing year and incredible to see how far we have come and what McLaren and JOTA have achieved, coming into this elite GT3 level. Running as high as second at Spa, leading at Brands Hatch and Valencia, it’s been remarkable. I’m honoured and proud to be a part of that and can’t wait to see what the future holds. Here’s to 2022!”

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