BRDC Rising Star Ollie Wilkinson and Optimum Motorsport team-mate Darren Turner were cruelly denied a home race podium result at Silverstone this afternoon, capping a weekend to forget on the sole UK leg of the International GT Open series.
Wilkinson was in the process of taking Martin Kodrić’s Teo Motorsport McLaren and Norbert Siedler’s Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini for third when the Yorkshireman’s race was needlessly ruined – the #10 Mercedes out-braking itself and into the back of the McLaren, sending it into the side of Wilkinson and spinning both cars out of contention a few corners from the flag. Wilkinson’s swift recovery at least ensured seventh place for the #96 Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
With a maximum success penalty to serve in the pit stop, thanks to Wilkinson’s outstanding win at the Red Bull Ring, the Optimum duo knew a strong result in race one would be a tough ask. However, hopes were high for another Pro class podium on Sunday.
Qualifying P7 overall, sixth in the Pro class, was a promising start on Saturday. However, Wilkinson’s first race endeavours came to an end on the opening lap at Stowe, with contact resulting in heavy rear damage. Ollie managed to safely nurse the car back to the pits, albeit minus a rear wing. Swift team work saw a replacement fitted to then at least enable the Aston to return to the track for a shakedown, ready for qualifying the next morning.
Sunday started on a more positive note, with Aston Martin works driver Turner and Wilkinson’s combined average lap times clocking up sixth fastest. That was despite struggling with the car pulling left under braking, which later proved to be a broken subframe that had to be entirely replaced.
Yet more outstanding work from the Optimum outfit ensured Turner would take the start for race two. Clean away, he emerged sixth from Copse before battling with Tom Onslow-Cole. Although the Pro-Am Mercedes managed to nip past, it dropped down the order two laps later, reinstating Turner to sixth on lap three.
From there the triple Le Mans class winner carved himself out some clean air, pulling comfortably clear of P7 while keeping in contention with the lead pack. Although largely uneventful, Turner’s solid stint and series of flying laps helped move the Aston up the order once the mandatory pit stops were complete.
Wilkinson joined the fray fifth overall, tailing the #14 Lamborghini until a run wide on fresh tyres left him with some time to make up. The recently enrolled member of the BRDC Rising Stars programme knuckled down and pushed to catch what turned out to be a four-way battle for the lead.
As drama unfolded in the final minute, both Siedler and Kodrić began to run low on fuel and dropped to within Wilkinson’s grasp. Ollie was in the process of completing his move for third, around the outside exiting The Loop, when the car running sixth careered into the rear of the McLaren, in turn slamming Wilkinson into a spin. The #10 car continued unhindered and although handed a 10-second penalty for causing a collision, the resulting action did little to console the Optimum duo.
A dejected Wilkinson said: “A podium today would have meant a huge amount to the team. Those guys have done an epic job all weekend, not just to repair yesterday’s damage but also replace the entire subframe between qualifying and race two today. It was borderline as to whether we’d even make it to the grid. They’ve put in so much hard work and a podium would’ve been the icing on the cake.
“It’s absolutely gutting to have a podium result needlessly snatched away due to other people’s poor driving standards. It’s then interesting to see a penalty given that still places them ahead of us in the finishing order. But we’ve got to quickly put this behind us and come out fighting for the British GT title battle next weekend.”
Turner added: “Ollie was holding a strong fifth and putting in good, consistent times to keep the gap to the leaders honest, but we needed something to change at the front. It did when the two ahead started to run low on fuel. It was just unfortunate that whilst Ollie was putting us in P3, the guy running P6 ends up t-boning everyone, and that was the end of our podium result.
“The result really doesn’t reflect our efforts but it’s another big step forward. As Ollie showed today, he’s getting stronger in qualifying and was only a few tenths off me. It’s been really enjoyable to see Ollie’s development this season, sharing a car with Brad, Jonny and myself, he’s putting everything he’s learning to good use. He’s going to continue that development, take this one on the chin and move on to British GT at Donington.”
Wilkinson will now turn his attentions firmly towards the British GT Championship season finale at Donington Park next weekend, 14-15 September. Ollie and Darren will then return to GT Open for the penultimate series round in Barcelona, on 21-22 September.
Photo credit: Gary Parravani / Xynamic