Ollie Wilkinson delivered a highly respectful Nürburgring 6 Hours race debut today to ensure he, together with team-mates Joe Osborne and Rob Bell, scored a top-10 finish in the second round of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup.
Consistency and calm proved key to the Optimum Motorsport trio as they climbed the order from 21st on the grid, after an incredibly close qualifying session in which one second covered the top 24 runners of the 49-car field, to finish 11th. They were then promoted to 10th following post-race penalties.
The result follows the team’s eighth-place finish in the first round at Imola last month, whilst showing their growing potential as the sole McLaren 720S GT3 competing in the most competitive GT championship worldwide.
McLaren Professional Driver, Wilkinson took on the starting honours for the longest race of the season so far. It was thanks to his foresight and patience that the Y.Co – The Yacht Company McLaren avoided the turn one melee after a clash at the front of the field, to emerge unscathed running in 15th overall.
Restarting 14th once clear of the resulting Safety Car period, Wilkinson was embroiled in a bumper-to-bumper fight, battling door-to-door with former World Endurance Champion Timo Bernhard. Despite a brilliant defensive drive against a far more experienced opponent, Wilkinson eventually had to concede position on lap 12.
Pushing on to head the fight for 16th, Wilkinson expertly held off the multi-car train in hot pursuit until the first round of pitstops 50 minutes in. There was no let-up in pace nor pressure as Ollie re-joined in 20th and soon set his fastest lap on fresh tyres before freeing himself of the #55 Attempto Racing Ferrari at the 90-minute marker, ahead of the second full course yellow.
The 24-year-old continued his stellar stint, recovering chunks of time from the 10-second deficit ahead, whilst keeping the train of cars – at times stretching down to 22nd position – at bay behind, before pitting under another caution after two hours of intensely close racing.
McLaren Factory Driver Rob Bell continued the charge to move ahead of the #159 Aston Martin for 17th and take off in pursuit of the #98 Rowe Racing Porsche. A drive-through penalty for the #31 Audi temporarily promoted the McLaren to 14th come the halfway mark, just before a third safety car period prompted another round of pit stops.
Resuming in 14th place, former Blancpain GT3 champion Bell continued the yo-yo fight with the recovering #31 car. Whilst he ultimately conceded that place, Bell stayed in contention and followed the Audi through a battle with the #107 Bentley to gain another place and run 13th with just over two hours to go.
Fellow Factory Driver, Osborne took up where Bell left off, chasing down the #100 car of Fabian Schiller for 10th until he had to drop two spots to the charging Dries Vanthoor and Joshua Burdon with 90 minutes remaining. Still, Osborne kept his cool whilst plenty of others lost theirs, to climb back up the order and finish 11th overall. Post race judicials then promoted the Optimum McLaren to 10th.
“It’s been quite a tough weekend but excellent driving, fantastic teamwork and flawless pitstops earned us our place in the top 10 today,” said Ollie. “The Nürburgring has always been a circuit I’ve wanted to race on and to take the start here, in arguably the biggest GT Championship, was pretty exciting and mind-blowing at this early stage of my career.
“This was only our second race as a team and we’re still learning in qualifying. We didn’t quite get the tyre temperatures right to optimise our first two runs. We nailed that for Rob’s session but a spinning car ruined his fastest lap, so the best we could manage was 21st.
“It all got a bit crowded on the outside of turn one at the start, but I managed to go down the inside and come out of it in 15th place and that got us up and running. It was great to then be battling with the likes of Timo Bernhard on my Nürburgring debut, it was just a shame I got blocked by an Am car and lost a few places ahead of the stops.
“Rob and Joe did brilliantly, it was really our calm and consistency that earned us that 11-place climb up the order. Everyone did an amazing job and we can be very happy with the result, as well as the invaluable preparation, and confidence boost, that’s given us ahead of the Total 24 Hours of Spa in October.”
Photo credit: Xynamic Automotive Photography