Ollie Wilkinson got his 2022 season off to a promising start, earning his first championship points with a top-10 finish in the first round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS, at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit, Italy.
Returning for his second campaign in Europe’s leading GT3 series with the #38 JOTA McLaren 720S GT3, Wilkinson rejoins fellow McLaren Factory Driver Rob Bell and new team-mate Marvin Kirchhöfer this year.
The JOTA squad got their season off to an encouraging start at the challenging Imola circuit, showing their potential from testing with the second-fastest time set on Wednesday, whilst continuing to learn and adapt to the new Pirelli tyre.
Carrying their form through the qualifying amid the packed 50-car grid, the trio climbed the order through each of the 15-minute sessions, despite best runs being hampered by red flag stoppages. Building on Bell’s initial benchmark, Wilkinson improved on the McLaren’s best lap time ahead of a blistering final run from Kirchhöfer, which secured the JOTA entry 10th on the grid for the three-hour race on Sunday afternoon.
With Bell taking on starting duties for the first battle of the Endurance Cup season, the #38 steered clear of trouble amid a frantic first few laps before the field was neutralised due to the first of many safety car periods. Lying just outside the top ten when racing resumed, Bell continued with strong pace and challenge for position ahead of the first round of pit stops.
A swift stop and driver change from the JOTA crew ensured Wilkinson joined the race for the second hour lying 12th overall. Despite his clear pace, several further safety car interventions interrupted the flow and progress amid the bunched-up field proved difficult.
Contact from a rival then pushed the #38 wide, but thanks to his skilful recovery Wilkinson was soon back in the fray, fighting hard to regain lost ground before handing over for the final stint to Kirchhöfer.
Stellar pit stop strategy ensured the third mandatory stop and driver change took place under yet another safety car period, helping to push the McLaren back up the order. Despite another hour stinted by stop-start safety cars, Kirchhöfer maximised opportunities in the final stages to get back in contention, eventually finishing 10th to secure the team’s first well-earned points of the season.
“It’s great to start the season by putting our first championship points on the board, but we had to fight hard to get them,” said Ollie. “It was a shame we got knocked back with that hit in my stint, but we were quick to recover. We all had to dig deep and fight hard through the intense competition this weekend. Rob and Marvin did a great job and thanks to the entire JOTA crew for giving us such a strong car and great pit stop strategy, which helped us get back in the game. We’ve made a lot of progress we can build upon and carry forward into the first Sprint cup round on home ground, at Brands Hatch next month.”
Wilkinson will return to the wheel of the #38 McLaren for the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Sprint Cup round at Brands Hatch, 30 April – 1 May.