Ollie Wilkinson and co-driver, Aston Martin works driver Darren Turner, delivered a stellar recovery drive in the International GT Open at Barcelona, bouncing back from a non-finish on Saturday to climb 11 places and seize a top-five result on Sunday.
The Optimum Motorsport duo pulled off the recovery after a frustrating first day in challenging conditions. A broken stub axle ended Wilkinson’s stint on his out-lap to deny him in race one. However, a stellar charge early in race two brought the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 from 16th on the grid to the cusp of the top 10. It meant Wilkinson paved the way for Turner to climb up to fifth and join the fight for third in the closing stages.
The penultimate outing of the GT Open season got underway with a tricky qualifying session, following heavy rain and thunderstorms on Saturday morning. Turner was the first to adapt, topping the field for half the session before securing the third fastest time to hold a second-row grid slot for the first, 70-minute race of the weekend.
A strong start for the ‘declared wet’ first encounter helped Turner retain position into Turn One before the tricky conditions and standing water caused multiple opening-lap incidents, leaving the Aston Martin fifth. Once clear of the resulting early safety car period, Turner wasted no time in getting to terms with the Senkyr Motorsport BMW before a move around the outside of SEAT corner secured fourth overall, and third in the Pro class.
Continuing his charge, Turner pressed on and pegged the gap to the leading pack before moving up the order through the pit stop cycle. Wilkinson joined the fray in second place but his stint ended on his out-lap, a broken stub axle ending the #96 car’s efforts at Turn Nine.
In stark contrast to Saturday, not a rain cloud was in sight come Sunday and the final outing of the weekend got away under sunny Spanish skies. Making a promising start from the eighth row after a difficult qualifying, Wilkinson picked up two places on the first tour to tail Miguel Ramos.
Past the #10 SPS Automotive Mercedes for seventh in class on lap four, the BRDC Rising Star set about clawing back the three seconds lost to the group ahead. Making light work of the deficit, Wilkinson slashed the margin by over 0.5s a lap to fill the mirrors of Indy Dontje’s Mercedes amid the gaggle of cars battling mere tenths of a second apart for a place in the top 10.
That stealthy drive allowed Turner to take up the fight in ninth at the halfway point. Picking up where Wilkinson left off, the multiple Le Mans winner rapidly worked his way through the multi-car train to run fifth with 12 minutes to go.
But, just as Turner glued himself to the rear bumper of the fourth-placed Teo Martin Motorsport McLaren, a late-race safety car suspended battle. As racing resumed for a four-minute sprint to the chequered flag, the #96 car charged on with the podium in sight, however, with only two laps to go Turner and Wilkinson settled for a top-five result.
Wilkinson commented: “It felt good to be back at the sharp end today and put the disappointment of Saturday behind us. We’ve struggled this weekend but the Optimum crew have worked hard to get the car right, particularly between qualifying and the race today. Those changes really paid off, the car was really nice to drive and I was able to chip away and bring us into the fight for the top 10, then Darren did a great job to make us top five.
“It was a shame we didn’t have a little bit more, but we gave it everything so that’s all I can ask for. This is a nice result for the team, the last four race weekends have been tough but all of their hard work has come good today. We go onto fight in the final round at Monza.”
Co-driver Turner added: “It’s a nice result for us today. Qualifying didn’t go as well as we’d hoped, but Ollie bounced back from 16th, got stuck in and did a good job. He had a very good opening stint and made the most of what was not an ideal starting position, he got his head down and we made strong progress.
“I fired out from the pit stop in a good position, continued the work Ollie had been doing and got as high I could. The pace around us was very similar. It’s frustrating when that happens because you’re not going to make up a position unless someone makes a mistake. I enjoyed the race and I’m happy to get fifth, but I’m most happy about Ollie’s opening stint and where we are now with the car in race trim. On to Monza, the extra test day will be useful, we’ll be hoping to make the most of that and qualifying to put us in a better position for the final races of the season.”
Ollie and Darren now look ahead to the GT Open season finale at Monza, Italy, 12-13 October.
Photo credit: Gary Parravani