Ollie Wilkinson signed-off an outstanding first season of racing at Donington Park, overcoming a challenging weekend to take yet another second-place podium finish and two further fastest laps en route to ranking third in the Ginetta GT5 Challenge 2017 championship roll of honour.
Considering all the Leeds racer has achieved in such a short space of time, it’s hard to believe that Wilkinson made his motor racing debut at the Leicestershire circuit just a year ago. Twelve months on and the 21-year-old returned to Donington Park armed with a wealth experience and an increasingly impressive CV, lying third in the fierce title fight.
Wilkinson’s final race weekend of his debut season didn’t start as planned, however, when a trip into the gravel trap at Redgate while running sixth fastest in qualifying forced retirement. The small mistake cost the Leeds racer dear, leaving him to start 17th for race one on Saturday afternoon.
With pressure mounting, Ollie got a great start to pick off two places at Redgate before moving up one further position ahead of the opening lap safety car. Lying 14th, Wilko nailed the restart to line up a textbook move on Katie Milner and Angus Fender, going deep into Redgate and switching back to take both places on the run down to the Craner Curves.
The Optimum Motorsport team driver pushed on to pass Richard Evans and Steven Wells to finish lap three in 10th, while setting the fastest lap of the field. But with the race red flagged due to a turn one incident heading into lap four, he had to settle on points for ninth place.
Wilkinson lined up ninth on the grid under sunny skies for his penultimate Ginetta GT5 race on Sunday morning. A stellar fifth row start saw Ollie immediately climb the order, picking off three places by the end of lap one and up to fourth by lap two.
From there he set his sights on catching the breakaway leading trio two seconds up the track while keeping Matt Palmer at bay behind. As the top three squabbled ahead, Wilkinson posted a series of personal fastest laps and purple sectors to close within 0.7 seconds heading into the final tour.
When closest championship rival, third-placed Max Bird ran wide at the Old Hairpin Ollie was ready to seize third and his sixth podium of the year. A further post-race penalty for Shane Stoney promoted Wilkinson to second place, sealing third in the championship fight with one round to go.
That proved just as well as the young sportscar star’s final race was destroyed by contact with just three laps completed. Already working his way up from a ninth-place reverse grid slot, Wilkinson’s hopes were dashed with a hit from behind heading into Goddards for the fourth time.
With precious time lost as he battled to re-start the car, Ollie re-joined trailing the field but was soon up to 20th. From there he faced the impossible task of catching the next car over 6.5 seconds ahead. Regardless, Wilkinson further underlined his potential by setting his fifth fastest race lap of the season. A car left in a dangerous position resulted in the second red flag of the weekend, leaving Ollie to settle for 19th place.
Although an un-just end to the year, Wilkinson walks away with his head held high counting three pole positions, six podiums and five fastest laps, plus an outstanding record of 17 out of 19 top-10 finishes among his impressive novice achievements. With points scored in every round, his consistent form totals 359 points to rank third overall, 14 points clear of fourth-placed Max Bird.
“It’s been an amazing first year of racing, I never dreamt I’d finish the year ranking third and I’m delighted,” said Wilkinson. “But it was a tricky weekend and I had to keep my head together to get the results we needed.
“A small mistake in qualifying cost me dear and with the first race red flagged, we didn’t get the chance to show what we could do. I put all that behind me for race two, which was great fun. Working my way from ninth to third sealed my third-place championship standing in style, then second place was a bonus! I was gutted that avoidable contact ruined my race three chances, but thankfully by then all the hard work was done. Huge thanks to everyone at Optimum Motorsport for a fantastic job all year. Here’s to more of the same in 2018!”
Photo credit: Jakob Ebrey