Ollie Wilkinson and team-mate Bradley Ellis seized their maiden outright British GT Championship victory in dominant fashion at Spa-Francorchamps, leading from pole position to the chequered flag in the Optimum Motorsport-run Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3.
The outstanding performance comes just seven days after 23-year-old Wilkinson took an historic first overall victory in the 200th International GT Open championship outing at the Red Bull Ring. For former British GT Champion, Ellis, it marks a return to the top step of GT3 competition.
Wilkinson’s dream week, which includes a fifth British GT Silver Cup win of the season so far, comes in only his third season of racing and Ellis has been on that journey, coaching Ollie from the very beginning. Just 12 months ago, the pair took their very first Pro-Am GT Open class win on Belgian soil.
British GT success at Spa was, however, overdue and goes some way to making amends for heartbreak at Donington Park where the Optimum outfit were robbed of another outright podium when a freak refuelling fire ended their race after pitting from P3.
Wilkinson and Ellis showed their winning potential from Saturday qualifying at Spa, the duo claiming their first British GT pole position by a staggering combined time of 1.8 seconds in tricky conditions, following a torrential downpour 30 minutes prior to the session.
Taking the helm for the two-hour feature race on Sunday, Wilkinson got a superb start to lead into La Source and stretch his lead come Eau Rouge, keeping Ian Loggie’s RAM Racing Mercedes and Silver Cup rival, Ryan Ratcliffe’s Team Parker Bentley comfortably behind.
Hammer down and off at a blistering pace, Wilkinson pushed to extend his advantage round his favourite track, setting the then fastest time on lap three as he edged 3.9 seconds ahead after 30 minutes of running.
The battle for second, initially between Loggie and Ratcliffe, then Ratcliffe and the TF Sport Aston of Graham Davidson, only helped Wilkinson to stretch 4.8 seconds ahead as he set a relentless pace ahead of the mandatory stops.
Although the gap ebbed and flowed in traffic, Wilkinson refused to allow Ratcliffe to within 2.5 seconds of his Aston Martin Vantage. Never truly threatened, ‘Wilko’ concluded his stint over four seconds ahead, ensuring the #96 car led all bar a few laps through the pit stop rotations.
Ellis in at the halfway mark and the My Possible Self-backed Vantage retook its place at the front of the field with a 13-second margin over Glynn Geddie. Although the #7 Bentley tried to peg the gap, the fight for second would run to the end, leaving Ellis to execute a ruthlessly consistent and unchallenged charge to the chequered flag.
The victory earns Wilkinson a rightful place alongside Ellis among the roll-call of British GT race winners, whilst moving the pair up to third in the title table with two rounds remaining.
An elated Wilkinson said: “That was one hell of a race, I’m over the moon. It’s amazing, really, I never thought that within the space of a week I’d take back-to-back outright wins in both GT Open and British GT. To put it on pole, lead from the lights and win is what we’re here for, but this was the first time we’ve had a real opportunity to do just that.
“I knew it was going to be a hard stint for Brad with the extra weight, so I was just focused on pulling out as much of a lead as possible ahead of the stops whilst managing the tyre degradation and gap through traffic. The Aston Martin V8 Vantage was a joy to drive, Brad did a superb job and to get this result is mind-blowing. We’ve had plenty of class wins together but we’ve finally got the win we’ve been working for all this time. Massive thanks to everyone at Optimum for another flawless weekend, together we just keep getting stronger and I can’t wait to see where we can go from here.”
Team-mate Ellis added: “Taking a lights-to-flag victory here at Spa is mega. It’s 11 years since my last outright British GT win and to be stood on the top step of the podium at Spa, sharing in Ollie’s maiden series victory at the pinnacle of British motorsport means a lot.
“I was more nervous for Ollie than I was for myself, but I didn’t need to be as he’s been faultless all weekend. He got a nice clean start, pulled a gap from the opening lap and kept building that buffer to give me the possible start to my stint. He’s a joy to work with and I’m incredibly proud of what he’s achieved. It’ll be interesting to see what we can do in the last two rounds.”
Ollie and Brad will return to the British GT battle round the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit, 3-4 August.
Photo credit: Gary Parravani / Xynamic