Ollie Wilkinson and co-driver, Aston Martin Racing works driver, Darren Turner, wrapped up their 2019 GT Open campaign with arguably their hardest-fought podium of the season, taking a triumphant third at Monza.
The outstanding performance from the Optimum Motorsport outfit saw a combination of Turner’s stint and the team’s stellar pitstop strategy put the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 into podium contention. But, from there, it was down to Wilkinson to out-drive a trio of outright title contenders to seal a third Pro-class podium of the year.
A further top six in class on Sunday cemented Wilkinson’s sixth-place standing in the outright title fight, signing off an outstanding part-season in which the 23 year-old scored multiple podiums and a maiden outright win after graduating to Pro class honours mid-year.
A strong start from Turner put the #96 in contention from the start of the first, 70-minute race of the weekend. Retaining seventh amid the opening lap tussles before moving up to sixth on lap four, Turner spent the remainder of his stint glued to the rear bumper of the Teo Martin Motorsport McLaren.
Finally released when the #17 car pitted early, Turner unleashed the Aston to punch in consecutive personal fastest laps before stopping late in the window. That strong stint and pitstop strategy left Wilkinson to filter out in third, four seconds adrift of Miguel Ramos.
Ollie had to put his aspirations for second in check, however, when damage inflicted earlier in the race caused oversteer and a run wide at the Parabolica. Despite a swift recovery, time lost allowed the #17 McLaren and #63 Lamborghini, leapfrogged in the pitstops, to bring the fight for the final place on the podium.
Wilkinson responded with a stand-out defensive drive, expertly keeping Fran Rueda and Giacomo Altoè at bay before the sister Emil Frey Lamborghini joined the party with seven minutes to go. Despite the added pressure and with all eyes on the nail-biting fight unfolding, the BRDC Rising Star kept the trio of top title contenders under control to pull a second clear at the flag.
A elated Wilkinson commented: “What a way to get back on the GT Open podium! That was a lot of pressure, but a mega race. It’s been a while since we tasted the podium champagne, the guys have worked really hard and things haven’t gone our way for a while, so this is just reward for them.
“The car was lovely to drive and that gave me the confidence to push, even though we were carrying damage that gave us a bit of instability on corner entry. It’s a shame I lost two seconds, as I could have chipped away at the gap and brought the fight to second. It made it harder work than it needed to be but I drove my socks off to hang on to third.”
Eager for a repeat result in Sunday’s final encounter, Wilkinson pushed hard to qualify sixth in class until an off at Ascari curtailed his session in the final minutes. A promising start for race two initially allowed Ollie to chase the fight for fifth overall until a downshift issue caused the Aston to lose ground.
Wilkinson did well to drive around the issue and maintain sixth in class unhindered, helping Turner to join the fray ninth overall. The multiple Le Mans winner battled on to take seventh overall and the team’s seventh top-six Pro result of the year.
Ollie concluded: “I’m happy to salvage another top-six result to finish off the year. The team did an amazing job to repair the car, but without any running-in time it was impossible to know we had a gearbox issue. It’s really credit to them that this result was even possible.
“It’s been quite a year of ups and downs in GT Open, but overall it’s been mega and I can’t thank everyone at Optimum enough. It’s also been an amazing experience to help develop the new Aston Martin Vantage and I’d like to thank everyone at Aston Martin and Aston Martin Racing for their help and encouragement, especially to Darren for all he’s done, and to Jonny for stepping in for Austria. I’ve learned and progressed more than I ever thought possible and I’m really excited for next year.”
Darren added: “It was a pleasure to watch Ollie’s defensive drive on Saturday, he worked out where he could back them up and drove the perfect stint. He didn’t get flustered and another podium was the perfect start to the weekend. He did a good job in qualifying today, particularly as it was really tight out there. The shunt was a bit frustrating, but just a clip off the curb can send the car off and we’ve all been in a situation like that.
“The team did a good job to get the car ready for the race. The car didn’t feel as good as it did on Saturday so we had to make sure we both had good stints. It wasn’t the most exciting result but we both made the best of what we had to finish top six in class.
“I’ve really enjoyed joining Ollie’s GT Open programme. You can see what he’s achieved this year from his performance on Saturday, he’s come on leaps and bounds and his progress is very encouraging. I’m looking forward to seeing him work hard over the winter, and to an exciting year next year.”
Photo credit: Gary Parravani