Ollie Wilkinson and Optimum Motorsport team-mate Jonny Adam took an historic victory to win the 200th race of the International GT Open series at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.
The pairing – a one-off combination for the fourth round – produced an untouchable performance in the second race of the weekend, sealing Wilkinson’s maiden outright victory of his young career and the first outright GT Open spoils for the new generation Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3. It was also multiple GT champion Adam’s first win in the series. The landmark result comes just one event after 23-year-old Wilkinson was promoted to a Pro-grade driver.
Adam turned the Optimum Motorsport-run Aston Martin’s first ever pole position on Sunday morning into a dominant race lead, before Wilkinson expertly managed their advantage over the #17 Teo Martin Motorsport McLaren to ensure the duo’s lights-to-flag glory.
The foundations of that outstanding combined drive were laid in Saturday’s race. A slick start from eighth overall helped Wilkinson move up the order from the first turn, to run seventh overall while retaining sixth in the Pro class.
From there, the newly upgraded Pro driver delivered a flawless stint as he tried to make in-roads into Richard Gonda’s Senkyr Motorsport BMW. Although that effort proved in vain, Wilkinson comfortably fended off a race-long double attack from the HTP Motorsport Mercedes and the Vincenzo Sospiri Racing Lamborghini before pitting from a perfectly managed drive in sixth.
Making his GT Open race debut, Adam joined the fray retaining sixth overall with his intentions set on chasing down the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini 1.6 seconds ahead. Lapping the second fastest of the field, he slashed Norbert Siedler’s advantage to under a second with 20 minutes to go, while the two cars threatened to close on the #17 McLaren and make it a three-car fight for fifth in the closing stages.
Despite the order remaining unchanged on track, a pit lane entry infringement penalty dropped Siedler to seventh. Although Wilkinson and Adam were also handed a post-race time addition – a success penalty carried over from Wilkinson’s third place during his last GT Open round at Hockenheim – the duo retained an impressive sixth on their Red Bull Ring debut.
Confident there was more to come for the headline 200th anniversary race, Adam topped the timing screens from early on in Sunday qualifying, eventually securing pole position with a time of 1:27.895.
A textbook start ensured the Optimum Aston Martin led the field into turn one, ahead of Henrique Chaves in the #59 Teo Martin Motorsport McLaren. Continuing at a blistering pace, the Aston Martin works driver increased Optimum’s lead virtually every lap of his stint to run four seconds clear as the pit window opened, and eight seconds ahead by the time the Le Mans class winner stopped to handover to Wilkinson.
Young Yorkshireman Wilkinson picked up where Adam left off, running six seconds ahead of Andrés Saravia in the #17 McLaren with just under 20 minutes remaining. Despite the comfortable gap in hand, Wilkinson gave his all to maintain a consistently strong pace throughout the final stages.
Although Saravia was allowed to chip away at the Optimum car’s hefty lead, Wilkinson managed the gap and matched the McLaren’s lap times when needed, to ensure the Aston enjoyed an unchallenged run to the chequered flag.
An overjoyed Wilkinson commented: “It’s unbelievable to take our first GT Open win on this special 200th race. I’ve taken plenty of class wins but this is my first outright victory. Today I got to be the first past the finish line. It’s what every driver dreams of and to finally do it is overwhelming.
“I gave it everything today, every lap was flat out and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage was amazing to drive – massive credit to Aston Martin for building such a beautiful piece of machinery. Ironically, they won the 100th GT Open race as well, so it’s great to maintain that history.
“I’ve been with Optimum Motorsport since I started racing in 2017 and we’ve been on a massive journey together. This win is a huge boost to everyone involved in the team, particularly after all the hard work over the last three years and with the new car this season. To be surrounded by a team who cares so much about me and my career means an enormous amount, I’m very lucky to have such a fantastic group of people behind me. A massive thank you to everyone who has helped to get us to where we are today, and helped me grow into the driver I’m becoming. Hopefully, this is just a sign of things to come.”
Jonny Adam adds: “It’s been a good weekend all round and Ollie just gets better and better. Despite the mounting pressure today, he never made a mistake and his pace was strong and consistent. Today was the best I’ve seen Ollie drive and the reward is huge for him and the Optimum Motorsport guys who have done such an excellent job in preparing the car.
“This was my first time racing in GT Open and I was shocked by how competitive this series is, so this was a really hard-fought win. Running as the solo Aston Martin highlights what a good job Ollie and the team are doing and, with this result, I can only see Ollie’s confidence and performance building and building from here.”
Wilkinson’s 2019 GT Open season continues with his UK home race at Silverstone, 7-8 September.
Photo credit: Stefano Arcari / www.xynamic.com