Ollie Wilkinson put in an outstanding Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS performance in the JOTA McLaren 720S GT3 at Misano this weekend. A blistering five-place charge from 12th to seventh paved the way for team-mate Ben Barnicoat to threaten for Sprint Cup podium honours on Saturday, whilst eighth against the world-class competition on Sunday put more points on the board.
The JOTA outfit showed its pace from the first sessions at Misano, running P6 and P10 in Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying whilst Wilkinson got to grips with learning the intensely physical 16-turn Italian circuit.
Taking on his maiden qualifying effort on Saturday morning, the Yorkshireman dug deep to earn 12th on the grid for the first one-hour race of the weekend, in a session where 0.9 seconds separated 22 of the 30-strong field.
Wilkinson’s epic start and opening stint under sunny skies on Saturday afternoon earned five places in the first three turns, whilst also clocking in as the fifth fastest driver of the field through the overall top speed trap for good measure. A full course yellow five minutes in, however, suspended his progress.
When racing resumed with 47 minutes to go, Wilkinson found himself sandwiched between the Sainteloc Racing and Team WRT Audis, all the while tailing the fight for third. But, with little progress to be made in the processional train of cars, the decision was made to pit and swap drivers early in a bid to clear traffic.
Although the #31 Team WRT Audi managed to gain an advantage, Barnicoat soon rectified the order and took off after the AKKA ASP Mercedes. A second full course yellow brought a temporary halt to that battle, but Barnicoat was ready to attack the #87 car into turn one for fifth at the restart.
Once clear, the JOTA McLaren pushed on to catch and challenge the two Sainteloc Racing Audis battling for third in the closing stages, before settling for a superb fifth at the flag. A post-race pitstop penalty, however, dropped the #38 car down the order.
Starting afresh – albeit in overcast and humid conditions – for the second Sprint Cup encounter on Sunday, Barnicoat got clean away to maintain ninth and spend much of the opening lap battling wheel-to-wheel in an effort to move up the field.
Despite spending much of his stint swarming over the rear of the #6 Toksport WRT Mercedes whilst keeping the Emil Frey Lamborghini at bay, the top-10 order remained largely unchanged ahead of the pit stop window.
Taking charge at the halfway mark, Wilkinson shuffled out of the compulsory pit stops holding ninth and set about closing the gap to the #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes. Despite his strong pace and progress, the closeness of the world-class field forced Ollie to switch from attack to deliver a masterful defensive drive in the closing stages.
Unphased by the building pressure from the insistent #7 Toksport Mercedes, Wilkinson steered the JOTA McLaren to another championship point-scoring finish, eighth overall.
“We left nothing on the table this weekend,” said Ollie. “Going from 12th to seventh in a handful of corners has to be one of my best race starts and performances to date. Ben then did a great job of taking us to the podium fight. The JOTA guys have done an outstanding job of giving us a very quick car all weekend and we were really able to show what we are made of.
“It was pretty tough going today. Running so close together from beginning to end made it difficult to make any progress in the dirty air, as it effects the downforce. We had to fight hard for that eighth place but the points are a good boost ahead of the Spa 24 Hours.”
Wilkinson and Barnicoat will reunite with JOTA team-mate and fellow McLaren Factory Driver Rob Bell for the legendary TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa later this month, 29th July-1st August.