Ollie Wilkinson underlined just how far he’s come in his so-far short career in the second round International GT Open battles at Hockenheim, taking his maiden Pro class and outright podium on his debut weekend classified as a Silver driver. Third place in race two followed an impressive first top-five class finish on Saturday, capping his 23rd birthday celebrations in Germany.
Joined at Optimum Motorsport by new co-driver, Aston Martin works driver and triple 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner Darren Turner, Wilkinson arrived in Hockenheim standing second in the Pro-Am order. But, after an outstanding qualifying performance on Saturday morning, the Yorkshireman was upgraded from Bronze to a Silver driver, in turn promoting the #96 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3 to a Pro team entry.
That impressive qualifying run saw Ollie run as high as fifth and, despite losing four tenths in the final section of his fastest lap, still placed 12th overall and seventh in the Pro category.
A strong start for race one allowed Wilkinson to get in thick of the action and pass Jiatong Liang for 11th overall and sixth in class. His progress was then halted due to a three-lap safety car following a two-car incident at the hairpin, which only narrowly missed Wilkinson yet moved him up a further spot outright and in the Pro order.
Back to green with 57 minutes remaining, the field was clean away at the restart, Ollie pursuing Martin Kodric’s Teo Martín Motorsport McLaren. While the multi-car fight for sixth stretched ahead, Wilkinson kept comfortably in control of the two-car attack on his tenth spot from Frederik Schandorff and Thomas Jäger. Consistently quicker, the Aston Martin remained unchallenged to edge out a 1.8 second buffer ahead of pitting to switch with Turner ahead of half distance.
Jumping up three places to run seventh and fourth class after the pit stop cycle, Turner’s stint was spent admirably defending the Optimum duo’s position. The determined advances of the Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini only intensified in the closing stages and despite Turner’s defensive efforts, Norbert Siedler snuck past approaching the final 10 minutes.
Although Fabrizio Crestani threatened to pick up where Siedler left off, Turner expertly managed the gap. A clear run to the flag secured his and Wilkinson’s maiden finish as a driving pairing, eighth overall, whilst Wilkinson notched up his first finish as a Pro driver, fifth in class.
Sunday morning qualifying saw Turner in the hunt for pole position, which he duly claimed on his second flying lap before finishing up third fastest, just 0.041 off the top spot. Clean away from the second row for race two, the Aston Martin Racing works driver found himself in a three-wide fight with Edward Cheever and Henrique Chaves for second. Although Cheever briefly snuck through as the pack re-shuffled at the hairpin, Turner soon fought back to re-take Cheever and end the opening lap in fourth.
Ten minutes in and the front of the field was just as congested, with the top 16 of 24 cars covered by 12 seconds. Turner, meanwhile, was busy pushing for second, behind Giacomo Altoè and Chaves, whilst Cheever and Crestani threatened in the pursuing train of cars. Although the Optimum-run Aston Martin swarmed the rear Chaves’ McLaren come lap nine, Turner had to bide his time.
Chave’s early pit finally allowed Turner some clear air to up the pace and set the fastest lap of the race ahead of the pit stop window. The strategy paid dividends, as Wilkinson joined the fray in second place behind the race-leading Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini, with 26 minutes remaining.
Immediately on the pace, Ollie sliced two seconds off Mikaël Grenier’s 6.2-second lead in less than three laps. But just as he threatened to push closer, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Held up lapping a back-marker ahead of the final 15 minutes, Wilkinson was thrust into the clutches of Albert Costa. Despite successfully defending a robust challenge at turn seven, a slither wide at the following turn allowed the #63 Lamborghini to sneak through and Kodric to equally close in.
Remaining unphased, Ollie continued to drive with maturity and skill beyond his two full seasons of racing. Although the Teo Martín Motorsport McLaren launched a challenge around the outside of turn eight in the closing stages, a slide wide dropped Kodric down to the order. From there Wilkinson enjoyed an un-hindered run to claim his first ever outright GT Open podium and maiden top-three series result for the all-new Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3.
“I’m over the moon” exclaimed a beaming Wilkinson. “To take our first outright Pro class podium after only being upgraded to a Silver driver the Saturday morning of my birthday weekend is a dream come true. It wasn’t easy keeping ahead of the Pro drivers, I managed my time and tyres as best I could and used every ounce of my experience to stay in third.
“It’s amazing to take such a strong result in my first event co-driving with Darren, it’s been the best. I know I have a rare opportunity to learn everything I can from him and I can’t wait to see what we can do from here. Once again, the Optimum Motorsport crew has put in a flawless weekend as we continue to work as one to develop and learn with every race. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
Co-driver, Darren Turner added: “It’s been a really strong performance from Ollie this weekend. He hasn’t put a foot wrong and got quicker and quicker as the event’s has gone on. It’s really nice to work with him for the first time and I’m really proud of our first podium. The Optimum Motorsport team have done a great job, we can all walk away feeling very happy and see what we can build on from here.”
Wilkinson and Turner will reunite at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, for round three of the International GT Open series on 8-9 June.
Photo credit: Gary Parravani / Xynamic