Ollie Wilkinson and the JOTA McLaren team were denied the opportunity to turn their impressive pace into a strong result in the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000Km, due to an electrical issue which forced the #38 car’s retirement whilst running eighth in France.
The McLaren 720S GT3 was on flying form in the hands of Rob Bell for the start of the six-hour Endurance Cup encounter, and fourth round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Powered by AWS on Saturday evening. Rocketing from 14th to eighth in the first 25 minutes, hopes were high for a bonus championship points haul until an electrical issue forced repairs – the eight laps lost ending their ambitions.
Free Practice on Friday presented the first chance for the team to shakedown the car following the damage sustained in the last round at Magny-Cours. With that shakedown complete, the JOTA trio of Wilkinson, Bell and Marvin Kirchhöfer were able to build their pace throughout pre-qualifying to finish seventh fastest.
Qualifying to set the grid for the six-hour race on Saturday morning consolidated that form, with Kirchhöfer first setting the bar, before Wilkinson and Bell’s stints earned a combined 14th fastest of the 54-car field.
A brilliant start from Bell got the JOTA McLaren crew’s race into the sunset off to a superb start, moving up four positions on the opening tour to lie 10th before a 10-minute safety car period suspended his charge. Back on it at the restart, Bell made swift work of Luca Ghiotti’s #12 Audi and Valentino Rossi’s WRT Audi to lie eighth before the electrical issue forced the #38 car into the garage for repairs.
Top team work got them back on track 15 minutes later, Wilkinson joining in 49th place and eight laps down on the leader. With their race all but over, Wilkinson conducted a thorough shakedown and once again proved the JOTA McLaren’s pace by posting a ‘purple’ sector two time before retiring the car.
“It’s such a shame,’ said Wilkinson. “We had a great car and great pace underneath us this weekend, so I’m gutted that we didn’t get the chance to fight for a really strong result. Overall we’ve made some great gains, seventh in pre-qualifying and an equally good qualifying shows we were in the fight. Once again, a great effort by the JOTA crew. We’ll come back stronger for the 24 Hours of Spa next month!”
Wilkinson has got a busy summer ahead of him, with the series’ next Sprint Cup outing at Zandvoort in two weeks’ time, ahead of the official test for the 24 Hours of Spa on 21-22 June. Then there’s time for another Sprint Cup round in Misano, Italy, on 1-3 July, before the all-important TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa on 28-31 July.