A weekend with many differences for Optimum in GT Open

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Heading back out to Hockenheim in Germany for the second round of the International GT Open Series proved to be a very different one for its young gun Ollie Wilkinson and their #96 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GT3 this weekend.

Firstly it was the young mans 23rd birthday (so happy birthday to you), secondly he would over the course of Saturday's events be elevated to Silver grading and thirdly - he got to do it all with Le Mans winner and AMR factory driver Darren Turner by his side.

Having entered into the preliminary Free Practice sessions still categorised as the Pro-Am entry that they had been to date, we understand that at the request of the series Wilkinson was reassigned as being a silver graded driver and a decision was then taken by the team to step up into the full Pro class in time for race 1 on Saturday.

Lap times over Saturday were continually falling for the crew as Wilkinson was about to take the first round of Qualifying that would decide his starting position for Race 1 and that was done with his quickest time of the weekend so far with a 1:37:880 meaning a P12 grid slot.

With cars in front of the #96 Vantage GT3 either being of different class and/or having their Pro driver aboard at the start it was never going to be easy for Wilkinson to stay in contact with some of the cars ahead. Still in only the start of his third season of full motor racing Wilkinson showed a great level of maturity from the start by staying out of trouble, holding the correct racing line around turn 1 as others went many cars width wide and stealing two places in the process. His local AMR Driver Academy Coach (Turner) would have been proud!!

On only the second lap Wilkinson was extremely lucky not to be collected by the #19 Lamborghini as it smashed into the rear of the #19 Mercedes AMG going into the hairpin - a collision that took place literally a couple of metres in front but he did at least have the next eight minutes of a Safety Car period in which to calm down and catch his breath!

As the race went green again, the next fifteen minutes or so seemed to be appear fairly static for the #96 car with it holding station to cars front and rear to hold a comfortable P10 overall and P5 in class position just ahead of the mandatory stop which the team elected to do straight away. As Turner was being strapped into the car a beached car over at the hairpin brought about a few moments of panic should a Safety Car have been called with them having just pitted under green. That was thankfully not to be and Turner was away for his first racing experience in the series for five years aboard the latest specification of AMR Vantage GT3.

The final fifteen minutes proved to be very competitive for Turner as having moved up to P7 overall and P4 in class he would have to defend his position - quite robustly sometimes as the #14 Lamborghini wanted past. Unfortunately it wasn't too long before the clearly faster Lambo' made its move and the #96 went back to P5 in the Pro Class which is where they finished at the end of the first seventy minutes of racing.

Sunday morning was a new race day and was the turn of Darren Turner to take the #96 out to Qualify for the sixty minute race that he would be starting yet his time of 1:37:440 was still not fast enough to break the Emil Frey Lamborghini lock out of the front row.

Again, with multiple cars taking the racing limits well beyond that of the white lines out of turn 1 on the opening lap, a rule abiding Turner would soon find himself being 'mugged' of his P3 position by at least three cars before he was able to redress the balance with a single position nett loss by the end of the first lap.

Whilst the leading Lambo' slowly escaped into the distance the other simply baulked everyone else early progress with a procession of at least nine other cars bumper to bumper behind. That situation wasn't really going to change until the start of the pit stop window when the 'slower' Lambo' pitted and released the cars behind. When the next car ahead of Turner also pitted some very quick laps where soon pinned onto the timing screen by Turner with a fastest lap to date amongst them.

Pitting just after the half way mark, Wilkinson would emerge P3 overall and P2 in Class but with some seriously faster drivers and cars behind him and all wanting past him as soon as possible. Trouble for Wilkinson soon came in the form of a back marker that broke his rhythm and forced the #96 to go defensive too early leaving him little opportunity of keeping the #63 Lambo of Albert Costa behind him - down to P3 in class with still over fifteen minutes to go.

As two more cars moved up onto the tail of the Vantage GT3 the pit crew could only offer words of advice and encouragement Wilkinsons way but then a little bit of luck helped him out as a mistake from the then overtaking #59 McLaren allowed it to be overtaking itself by the #10 Mercedes AMG all giving Wilkinson the gap he needed to take the car to the flag.

In a near reverse repeat of the opening round of the Series from Paul Ricard last month, the #96 car of Ollie Wilkinson and Darren Turner secured a P3 podium finish in race 2 at Hockenheim but this time in the Pro class. A great effort and well done to all concerned - receiving the silverware for this race must have been the best birthday present that he got this weekend.

The Series now moves onto Spa Francorchamps in early June and this is the event that the team will be attending over that of the third round of the British GT Championship at Silverstone.

Photo credits - GT Open / Optimum 

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