Arriving at the world-famous Ardennes track with a stunning new yellow and blue livery adorning the No.66 Ferrari F488 GTE EVO, hopes were very high of challenging for a major haul of points and at the start of the four-hour race everything went to plan.
American team-mate Sales, making his first appearance of the year with JMW, took the opening stint and made a great start from 10th position on the LMGTE grid before climbing into the top eight in class. Then, on lap two, everything went awry after contact at Les Combes.
Thankfully able to coax the damaged Ferrari back to the pits, the JMW mechanics duly set to work repairing the suspension, steering and bodywork. Falling five laps behind in the process, all hope of a strong finish was gone.
Sales continued after the pit-stop, before having to serve a drive-through penalty for his part in the lap two incident which only compounded the team’s woes. After handing over to compatriot Gunnar Jeanette mid-race, Sales returned to the race for a second short stint before Hutchison got behind the wheel of the No.66 car for the final hour. In the end, ninth place was the best possible result.
“It’s such a shame how the race turned out for us, the team did a great job all weekend and a fantastic job to get the car repaired – they deserved a podium”, said the Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays supported racer, “The car had quite a bit of damage, the suspension, steering rack, the left wing and the underside too. We lost quite a bit of downforce because of that.
“In my stint at the end I was able to do one or two decent lap times in a row, but because the tyres were being worked harder due to the lack of downforce the performance then dropped away. With the damage we had, all things considered, just getting to the finish was the best we could hope for.”
Following the usual pre-event practice sessions, qualifying on Saturday, 8th August, took place with Jeanette at the wheel of the JMW Ferrari for the all-important grid determining run. Like most of the drivers, Jeanette lost his best lap time due to a track limits infringement but did have enough time to set another of 2m20.706 seconds which placed him 10th quickest in LMGTE.
Sales’ strong start to the race, gaining two places on lap one, came unravelled when he was battling with a rival Ferrari over seventh at the end of Kemmel Straight on lap two. Nosing to the inside into the right-hander at Les Combes, as the rival car turned into the corner contact was inevitable.
Following the terrific pit-work of the JMW crew to facilitate the necessary repairs in double-quick time, Sales rejoined the race – under Safety Car conditions at that point – before salt was rubbed into the wound after the re-start when he was hit with the drive-through penalty.
Ultimately stopping for the mandatory first driver-change from 10th in LMGTE with an hour and a half elapsed, Sales handed over the Ferrari F488 to Jeanette. Following a stellar stint, he then pitted with around 90 minutes to go and Sales climbed back aboard.
With an hour to run, rain started to fall around part of the circuit and with 55 minutes to go Sales pitted again to hand over the JMW car to Hutchison for the run to the chequered flag. Joining the race ninth in LMGTE, the Scotsman threaded into the action when the circuit was under Full Course Yellow conditions due to the leading LMP2 class car having crashed into the barriers.
When the action got back underway, Hutchison put the hammer down and set the team’s fastest lap of the race, a time of 2m22.664 seconds, before improving further to 2m21.865 seconds. Three laps adrift of the next position in LMGTE, his hopes of gaining more places rested with any unforeseen errors or issues for others – especially with a Full Course Yellow period impacting the final half hour.
Even so, the first year ELMS driver pressed on and lapped very strongly throughout his stint to bring the JMW entry home safely in ninth in LMGTE – very much a case of what might have been after the early misfortune.
Round three of the ELMS season, which was scheduled to be the 4 Hours of Barcelona, has now been replaced by a second visit to Paul Ricard in France due to the situation with COVID-19 in the Catalunya region of Spain. The third race of the season will take place on Saturday, 29th August.
Provisional 2020 European Le Mans Series LMGTE Driver Standings
8th Finlay Hutchison, 18pts
Provisional 2020 European Le Mans Series LMGTE Team Standings
6th JMW Motorsport, 18pts