Unpredictable, changeable weather in qualifying as well as some ongoing car issues – one being a defective damper – meant lower than expected grid slots for the weekend’s encounters, but Dundee racer Hutchison and Belgium’s Vervisch worked hard to deliver the goods in Sunday’s contests.
Charging through from an uncharacteristic 17th on the grid in race one to finish a well deserved eighth, in race two Vervisch and Hutchison fought back well from heavy contact and a spin for the former during his stint, while battling over position at Hawthorn on lap six. In the end, a top 12 result was the reward for their recovery which Hutchison was satisfied with, all things considered.
“We made quite a few changes from qualifying and the guys in the team found a problem with one of the dampers, so the car was much better for the races”, said the Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays supported racer”, We made a big improvement for Sunday, although the team is still working to identify the remaining issues.
“Race one was definitely a step in the right direction, to finish eighth from P17 on the grid was much better than we expected. We were a bit lucky to be in the right place at the start to avoid the incident, but I was happy with my performance and Frederic obviously did a fantastic job in the second stint. Race two was just one of those things, it’s unfortunate but to take P12 after all of that wasn’t bad at all.”
Hutchison gets first points on the board in GT World Challenge Europe
Changeable weather had a major bearing during qualifying on Saturday, 4th May, with both of the 20-minute runs impacted. Unpredictable throughout, with rain making way for bright sunshine and vice-versa at regular intervals, the grid-determining runs were also affected by red flag stoppages.
Hutchison took session one, setting the grid for the opening race of the season, and ended the heavily impacted run an uncharacteristic 17th overall on the times with the car’s balance not to his liking. The same was true for Vervisch in the second session, where he was 12th quickest for race two, but it soon became clear a rogue damper was one of the reasons for the lack of pace.
Determined to make a great start to his maiden race in GT World Challenge Europe, Hutchison did just that in the first of Sunday’s two encounters with a good launch away from the rolling start but a dramatic multi-car tangle out of Paddock Hill Bend led to the deployment of the Safety Car.
Fortunately, Hutchison was able to avoid the incident, keeping to the inside line, and he moved through into 12th place as a result. Racing resumed on lap six and the Scottish driver soon moved up into 11th following a stop-go penalty for Andrea Caldarelli, linked to the lap one accident.
Pulling away from the pack behind, Hutchison was over four seconds clear of fellow Audi racer Milan Dontje – one of his key rivals from GT4 European Series last year – as the pit-stop window neared and he ultimately stopped at the end of lap 16 to hand the No.11 ‘Blue Shark’ over to Vervisch.
After a great stop, the Belgian took to the track and when the race order settled with 26 minutes to go he was inside the top 10. Running close behind the Audi of Rik Breukers, Vervisch filled the mirrors of his rival's car lap after lap.
Heading into the final 10 minutes, the Phoenix driver had never been closer and after making a challenge to Breukers on lap 32 at Paddock Hill Bend, the Dutchman went wide under the relentless pressure and so Vervisch happily grabbed eighth place.
Immediately pulling clear, he had 1.8 seconds to make up to the Aston Martin of Marvin Kirchhofer and he swiftly reeled in his rival. With less than five minutes left the pair were nose-to-tail and at the chequered flag at the end of the hour, Vervisch was just 0.3 seconds shy.
Starting on the sixth row of the grid for race two later in the afternoon, Vervisch took the opening stint and after pressuring Mercedes driver Jim Pla during the early running he grabbed 11th place with a sensational move at Dingle Dell.
By lap six, he was in a position to try and break into the top 10 but contact from the Ferrari of David Perel, while Vervisch was battling with Hugo de Sadeleer at Hawthorn, pitched the Audi into a spin through which further heavy contact was sustained. Remarkably, Vervisch was able to continue and after a visit to the pits for a fresh tyre he headed back into the race on the lead lap in 18th place.
After a Full Course Yellow and Safety Car period, racing resumed with 41 minutes to go and Vervisch moved through into 16th before the pit stop window opened. Staying out for a further lap, when he headed to pitlane at the end of lap 16 he had risen to ninth with several rivals having stopped.
Hutchison headed into the race with just over half an hour to go and, from 18th place, he had a lot of work to do. Instantly getting up to speed, the series rookie made excellent progress to work his way up into 13th position by lap 23 and although nudged back to 15th spot with a little over a quarter of an hour to go, retirement for a Mercedes elevated Hutchison to 14th again.
Getting ahead of the sister Phoenix Racing Audi of Kim-Luis Schramm during the latter stages, Hutchison was able to break into the top 12 during the last couple of minutes of the contest following retirement of another of the Mercedes entries.
Misano in Italy will host round two of the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe season on 29th/30th June. Before then, Hutchison will be back on track next weekend, 11th/12th May, for race two of the Blancpain Endurance Cup campaign at Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit where he will partner Schramm and Ivan Pareras for the three-hour encounter.
2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe Standings
11th Finlay Hutchison/Frederic Vervisch, 2pts