OIlie Wilkinson was thankfully unhurt in a major accident in which his JOTA McLaren 720S GT3 was speared out of the race lead in the closing minutes of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Sprint Cup outing at Brands Hatch.
Wilkinson was doing a superb job of defending the #38 JOTA car’s race-long lead whilst navigating his way through back markers when the second-placed #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes squeezed into a decreasing gap, spearing Wilkinson to the left and over the top of the barriers at Dingle Dell.
Wilkinson and team-mate Ben Barnicoat had been on course to take theirs and the JOTA team’s first victory in the series, and on home turf too.
The JOTA duo have been knocking on the door of a podium finish since their Sprint Cup debut at Magny-Cours and today looked to be the day to make it happen, even when a disappointing penalty dropped Barnicoat from pole to start third.
Undeterred, Barnicoat made a blistering start, dispatching Audi WRT’s Charles Weerts before overhauling the #88 car around the outside of Hawthorns to lead by the end of lap one. From there, Barnicoat took off unchallenged, delivering a commanding performance to pull out an enormous advantage come the compulsory pit stops.
Despite losing some of that advantage due to a slow getaway from the pits, Wilkinson rejoined in the lead before a combination of traffic and the hard-charging Mercedes meant Raffaele Marciello was able to close the gap and pile on the pressure in the closing stages.
Wilkinson mounted a faultless defence, not putting a wheel wrong lap after lap around the iconic 2.433-mile track, right up until just five minutes of the race remained.
The incident unfolded when Wilkinson was lapping the #93 Sky Tempesta Racing Ferrari of Giorgio Roda. Marciello tried to do the same and sandwiched the Mercedes-AMG in to a decreasing gap between the Ferrari and McLaren.
The resulting contact speared Wilkinson off track at high-speed (185 kph at that point), the McLaren clearing the barriers before coming to rest on a bank. Wilkinson thankfully walked away bruised and battered but unhurt, testament to the strength of the McLaren 720S GT3.
The car, however, suffered extensive damage putting the team’s attendance for the Endurance Cup at the Nürburgring next weekend in jeopardy. Marciello, meanwhile, was judged to have been predominantly responsible for the multi-car collision and received a stop/go penalty, converted to a 40-second post-race penalty.
Wilkinson commented: “I’m thankfully ok, a bit bruised and battered but in a much better state than the car is – its outstanding strength really is testament to McLaren. I’m just so disappointed for us all, Ben and the JOTA crew have done another outstanding job all weekend and this is no reward.
“It’s really disappointing to be denied the chance to properly fight for our first race win. Equally as frustrating is the knock-on effect of us now potentially having to miss the next GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup round at the Nürburgring next weekend.”