Even with his tremendous pace and superb racecraft, though, the Dundee 17-year-old was prevented from securing deserved podium silverware with team-mate Csaba Mor as a result of contact from a rival in the opening encounter and a steering problem in race two.
Sunday’s race showcased Hutchison’s quality to the full, the Scotsman charging through the order brilliantly into seventh position from 22nd on the grid. With a prolonged pit-stop required to rectify an issue with the No.10 McLaren’s steering, though, the Equipe Verschuur drivers missed out on a realistic victory challenge and instead finished the race in a weekend-best eighth position.
Arriving at Paul Ricard with a freshly rebuilt McLaren 570s, following the luckless car fire last time out in Barcelona, Hutchison and Mor had a tough start to the weekend in pre-event practice when hardly any running was achieved due to an unfortunate oil leak from a damaged pipe.
Thanks to great work by the team, the issue was fixed ahead of qualifying on Saturday and Mor went on to post the fifth fastest time – just 0.3 seconds shy of the front row of the grid despite an extra 36kg of additional Balance of Performance [BOP] weight compared to the other McLarens.
Taking the opening stint of race one from the third row, the Hungarian was shuffled down to seventh at the first corner but he hit back to move into the top six midway through the opening lap and managed to break back into fifth soon after, before then taking fourth with 20 minutes gone.
Continuing to make headway, Mor’s cause was then helped by dramas for one of the BMWs which elevated him into third. Closing on the second placed Ginetta as the pit-window neared, Mor remained on track as the mandatory stops began to be served and soon took second position.
When the race leading Las Moras McLaren pitted, Mor inherited first place before then pitting with just a couple of minutes remaining in the pit-stop window to hand over to Hutchison. After good work from the pit-crew, the youngster joined the race in second place but he had a challenge on his hands with the tyres and brakes certainly past their best at that point.
Driving well, In Home Displays, Fitbox Virtual, Evoson and Hutchison Technologies-backed Hutchison eventually had to succumb to a challenge after running slightly wide in the final sector on his out lap but he remained in touch with the BMW and managed to craft a good gap to the chasing pack.
With 15 minutes to go Hutchison was still within three seconds of the top two but as the race entered the final 10 minutes he started to come under more pressure from the Porsches of Eric Tremoulet and Jim Pla, due to the level of wear to the tyres and brakes leaving him prone to attack. Running straight on at the chicane halfway along Mistral straight as a result of the issues, Hutchison was shuffled back to fifth but was determined to hit back and retook fourth the next time around. Pla, though, lunged back and the move delayed Hutchison which dropped him to sixth.
Undeterred, the Scotsman redoubled his efforts and managed to move back into fourth after passing both Pla and the Ginetta of Benjamin Lariche on the run into the chicane on lap 24. Contact from the off-line Pla, though, pitched Hutchison into a spin and the resulting damage led to an enforced and very disappointing retirement to the pits with a damaged rear wheel.
Due to a problem with the No.10 McLaren’s steering linkage in second qualifying on Saturday, Hutchison wasn’t able to showcase his undoubted pace and after coaxing the car back to the pits he had to sit out the remainder of the session. Starting race two on Sunday from an unrepresentative 22nd on the grid as a result, the Dundee racer was resolutely determined to make strong headway and he did precisely that.
With an eye-catching performance, Hutchison charged through the order and set things up for a very strong finish. Gaining five positions inside just half a lap at the start, Hutchison concluded the first tour in 17th place and started to pick off cars in quick succession. Matching the pace of the race leaders, the first year GT4 driver had broken into the top 12 inside the first 10 minutes of action and before the race reached the 15-minute mark he was into the top 10.
Not putting a wheel wrong, Hutchison produced some superb overtaking moves and after taking ninth shortly after he pounced for eighth and then decimated the gap to the seventh placed Porsche. Taking the position ahead of the opening of the pit-stop window, Hutchison began to notice an issue with the steering which seemed to be coming from the right-hand side of the car.
Pitting to hand the car over to Mor at the earliest opportunity, the team managed to rectify the problem but it came at the expense of a 75 second stop which frustratingly undid the magnificent work of Hutchison who had gained 15 places on his starting position. Meaning Mor emerged in 16th position, he set about making as much progress as he could and battled through into an eventual result of eighth position.
Notably, the No.10 McLaren took the chequered flag less just a minute shy of the race winning Las Moras car – without the required repairs in the pits mid-race, a potential race victory was unquestionably on the cards.
Finlay Hutchison “I’m really happy with the pace we had this weekend and we definitely had a chance of a podium, but it wasn’t to be unfortunately. It’s been a fantastic first year in GT4 and I’ve really enjoyed working with the Equipe Verschuur guys. What happened in race one was out of our hands, I was hit from behind and we ended up having to retire. In race two the car was working really well and it was a lot of fun coming through into seventh in my stint. The car did develop a steering issue and the team did a great job to sort it out in the pit-stop. Without that, though, we had a chance of fighting for the win so it’s a bit disappointing.”