Scottish racer Hutchison, competing at the Portuguese track for the first time in his career, took the final stint of the four-hour race for JMW Motorsport in the No.66 Ferrari F488 GTE EVO and moved up from eighth to seventh during the closing stages after a late pit-stop for one of the rival Ferraris.
Although qualifying was less fruitful than anticipated, ending the session 10th fastest, the race started well. Everything went smoothly during the early laps with Sales behind the wheel but, less than 15 minutes into the contest, the American visited the gravel after locking-up his brakes.
Working hard to overcome the disappointing set-back, plus a subsequent drive-through penalty and also contact from another car later in the opening stint, Sales, Gunnar Jeanette and Hutchison didn’t let their heads drop and fought all the way to the chequered flag.
“After everything we had to overcome, to finish the race in seventh wasn’t too bad really”, said the Dundee 20-year-old, “We were obviously compromised early on after Rodrigo’s off, then there was a drive-through penalty and some contact – which wasn’t his fault. When I got in the car for my stint at the end it didn’t feel like I was in a race to be honest, but we kept pushing to the finish.
“It’s been a great working with the JMW guys this year, they’re a fantastic bunch and really nice people to work with. I have enjoyed racing the Ferrari too, it’s a really nice car and easy to drive to be honest. It hasn’t been the season we wanted as far as results go, but I’ve learnt a lot and I want to thank my sponsors Hutchison Technologies, Evoson, and In-Home Displays for their support.”
Sales made a clean launch at the rolling start of Sunday’s race and remained in touch with the cars ahead over the first few laps. After 10 minutes of racing, just 0.6 seconds still covered eighth to 10th places and a great battle was in prospect.
Only a couple of minutes later, though, it all went awry when Sales missed his braking point heading into Turn Five. Darting out to avoid any contact at the apex of the corner, he ended up stranded in the gravel. Eventually able to recover to the track, albeit losing two laps in the process, Sales went on to serve the first pit-stop at around the half hour mark.
Taking a penalty stop later in his stint, and further compromised after contact which led to a spin, Sales eventually handed over to Jeanette at stop three. As the midway point of the race approached, Jeanette was then able to move into ninth when the No.88 Ferrari of Francois Perrodo dropped back following an incident.
It actually started to become a race of attrition in LMGTE, issues for the No.51 Ferrari and also the No.86 Porsche during the third hour enabling Jeanette to climb into seventh position as the squad’s recovery continued. He then pitted with just over 75 minutes to run for one of the scheduled stops, handing over the car to Hutchison who joined the race in eighth.
Embarking on the final race mileage of his maiden ELMS season, the Scotsman was determined to deliver a consistently strong performance and also remain in the battle for seventh place. After the No.88 Ferrari served its third pit-stop, Hutchison was within reach of the rival car – now driven by Alessio Rovera – as the final hour of action approached.
During the remainder of the race, British Racing Drivers’ Club ‘Rising Star’ Hutchison pressed on and was able to move back up into seventh before the chequered flag following a late pit visit for the Rovera car.
Subject to any enforced changes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Scotland’s Hutchison has one more race remaining in 2020 – the six-hour finale to the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup season a fortnight from now, on Sunday, 15th November, at Paul Ricard in southern France.
2020 European Le Mans Series LMGTE Standings
7th Finlay Hutchison, 38pts