The annual ‘into the night’ race at the Le Castellet track started well for the Sainteloc Racing driver and team-mates Frederic Vervisch and Markus Winkelhock, with the latter climbing from 12th on the grid into the top five during the opening hour of the race.
In an encounter where a number of entries suffered problems with tyre issues, and on-track incidents, the No.26 Audi trio avoided any such dramas en-route to 10th position overall – Dundee driver Hutchison bringing the car home to the chequered flag in the final hour.
“There are definitely positives to take away from Ricard”, said the 21-year-old Scotsman, “Fred and Winky were super quick, although I have to admit I did miss a bit of pace over a lap compared to them. We know the car is fast though, and the team did a great job again across the weekend.
“In free practice we did have some issues and in my qualifying session there was a problem with a loose wheel, so I went into my first stint of the race without a real feel for the car. We worked hard though and stayed out of trouble in the race, and it’s obviously good to come away with another finish in the points. We’re all feeling confident for the 24 Hours at Spa, I’m looking forward to that.”
Sainteloc’s No.26 trio claimed 12th on the grid for the longest race of the season so far, with Vervisch the fastest of the three. After progressing well through free practice and pre-qualifying on Friday, 28th May, during Saturday’s final qualifying sessions a combined average time of 1m54.555 seconds put Vervisch, Winkelhock and Hutchison within 0.6 seconds of pole.
Audi Sport factory driver Winkelhock started the race under bright blue skies at 18.00 local time on Saturday and after holding position early on, he moved through into ninth as the end of the opening hour neared. Staying on track as the first pit-stops began, he then pitted from an elevated fifth.
Hutchison took over for hour two, joining the action in seventh and racing some vastly experienced Pro drivers. Although slipping back a few places during the first half of his stint, the Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays supported driver stayed in touch with the top 10.
Just before the end of the second hour of racing Hutchison held 12th position and he remained on track as the next round of pit-stops started. Moving up into eighth place before he headed for the pitlane with two hours and 10 minutes gone, Winkelhock returned to the Audi for his second stint.
Lapping quickly throughout, the German driver set outright fastest sectors as he closed down the group ahead and when he stopped with around three hours and 15 minutes of racing complete, he was in seventh place. Vervisch embarked on his first stint next and threaded back into the action in 11th spot, before dispatching the Lamborghini of Norbert Siedler.
With night-time having properly arrived at Circuit Paul Ricard, Vervisch circulated with front-running pace inside the top 10. When a Full Course Yellow cautionary period was required around the end of hour four, Vervisch took the chance to pit again but stayed behind the wheel for a double-stint.
When the action resumed soon after, Vervisch was in ninth place and began a sensational battle with Christian Engelhart’s Porsche. Dicing for the next three quarters of an hour, the Lamborghini of Albert Costa also got involved later on as the trio queued-up behind the BMW of Timo Glock.
Vervisch took eighth from Engelhart with 90 minutes to run before trying to challenge Glock, but the delay enabled Engelhart to hit back 10 minutes later. As the end of hour five neared, Vervisch took eighth again and very quickly pounced on Glock as well to move into seventh position. Climbing into the top six as the final round of pit-stops started, Vervisch then handed the Audi back to Hutchison.
With just over 50 minutes to go Hutchison held ninth, but then moved up into eighth when Costa pitted. As the BMWs of Sheldon van der Linde and Glock closed in, Hutchison worked hard to keep both at bay but ultimately had to settle for 10th position.
Next, the Scotsman will be doubling-up his 2021 championship challenge with Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium hosting the third round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, and the race will also count as the opening round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli.
The eagerly awaited twice-round-the-clock Total 24 Hours of Spa will take place over the weekend 31st July/1st August. Before then, Spa will host a two-day official test on Tuesday, 22nd June, and Wednesday, 23rd June.
GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup Points
12th Finlay Hutchison/Markus Winkelhock/Frederic Vervisch, 3pts