Ollie Wilkinson and Optimum Motorsport team-mate Lewis Proctor got their Intelligent Money British GT Championship campaign off to a strong start at Oulton Park, taking their first outright and Silver Cup podium in their new McLaren 720S GT3.
The duo backed up second place in the first one-hour outing of the season with fifth overall, fourth in class, in a frustrating race two which finished under the safety car. The results underlined the pair’s pace, which earned Proctor the closest-fought pole in series history – by 0.001 of a second, and qualified Ollie as the quickest Pro session McLaren, making it a promising start to Wilkinson’s 2019 Silver Cup crown defence.
A slick get away from the top spot ensured Proctor made a stellar first start of the season, claiming the lead into Old Hall corner ahead of the two 2 Seas Motorsport McLarens. From there the GT3 class debutant edged out a 2.6 second gap before Proctor began to lap the GT4 field, which allowed Jordan Witt to close in. But the Optimum machine remained out front before pitting early in the window.
Running two laps longer allowed the #10 McLaren to slip ahead and into the lead, with Wilkinson just heading over the start-finish line as Jack Mitchell joined the track. Wilkinson was in the process of hunting down the leader, whilst defending from the Jenson Team Rocket McLaren behind, when a rear wheel wide at the chicane allowed Michael O’Brien into second.
Whilst initially under pressure from the three-car train behind, Ollie began to pull clear and make in-roads on O’Brien, now leading following a stop-go penalty for Mitchell. Just as the lead fight began to get really interesting, however, a safety car with under nine minutes to go curtailed proceedings. Returning to green flag racing in time for just two more laps, Wilkinson held strong despite nursing rear damage after a heavy hit under the safety car, to take second and his first podium in McLaren machinery.
The McLaren Professional Driver started sixth overall, third in class, for the second one-hour race of the weekend, which proved a more frustrating affair. Although clean away, a push wide exiting Old Hall corner caused Ollie to lose ground to lie eighth, but wasted no time in recovering to break away from the four-strong pack in pursuit and regain ground on Matt Griffin’s Ferrari.
Wilkinson continued to pull out over a second on Dean MacDonald, recording multiple ‘purple’ fastest speed traps to make significant gains on Griffin and Mitchell battling for fourth ahead. Up to seventh with 40 minutes remaining, Wilkinson slashed the 2.3 second gap to Mitchell by over seven tenths of a second in a single lap before pitting to handover to Proctor.
Shod with new rubber, the McLaren Academy Driver climbed two positions as the rest of the field cycled through the pitstops, but a three-car incident at Island bend with 24 minutes remaining meant the second race ended under the safety car. With post-race penalties enforced, the Y.CO – The Yacht Company – McLaren recorded a fifth-place result, fourth in class.
“Our first British GT podium in the McLaren and a top five finish isn’t a bad way to start our first race weekend together,” said Ollie. “Lewis didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend and together we showed the pace that we’re yet to fully untap.”
“A little mistake in race one unfortunately lost us what could have been the lead and we had more to do in race two, but with a lot of incidents out there today – as the lengthy safety car periods proved – we’ve got to be happy with the points haul.”
Wilkinson and Proctor now lie second in both the outright and Silver Cup title fights as they look ahead to Donington Park in two weeks’ time, 15-16 August.
For full race results and championship points visit www.britishgt.com
Photo credit: Gary Parravani