On course to chalk-up a welcome podium return and also an overall race finish well inside the coveted top 10, Hutchison and team-mates Ivan Pareras and Kim Luis-Schramm had performed superbly but a late-race excursion into the gravel for Schramm led to a vexing retirement.
Dundee teenager Hutchison made an excellent start to the three-hour contest in the Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO, moving up from sixth in the Silver Cup into the top five and also gaining five overall positions to move into 15th place.
While his stint was impacted by a lengthy 50 minute Safety Car period, following a major accident for one of the Porsches on the opening lap, when the action resumed Hutchison was able to take fourth in the Silver Cup and 13th overall as the first round of driver change pit-stops began.
After a terrific stint by Pareras during the second hour, where he moved up into third in class and the overall top 10, Schramm took over for the final hour but a fierce battle with one of the factory Bentley Continentals proved costly. Contact with 30 minutes to run dropped Schramm behind two class rivals and with just 15 minutes to go his stint ended with a trip into the gravel.
“I think it would have been a class win”, said a dejected Hutchison after the race, “It was a tough weekend to start with, but then it began to go our way until it ended like it did. It’s really frustrating as a podium was definite and our first Silver Cup win was on as well, but things like this happen sometimes and you have to deal with the disappointments.
“I got a good start to the race in the first stint, the lap time was really competitive, but then I spent most of my hour behind the Safety Car after the big crash the Porsche had early on. While we didn’t get the result we deserved, I’m really happy with the pace all three of us showed in the race. If it had gone our way at the end, I genuinely think the top five overall was a strong possibility too.”
Delivering the ninth fastest time in the Silver Cup class in free practice on Saturday, 28th September, the Phoenix Racing trio concluded the subsequent 90-minute pre-qualifying session an improved eighth in Silver.
Final qualifying took place on Sunday morning and the team-mates combined to deliver the sixth fastest time, 20th overall, but Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays backed driver Hutchison was frustrated to have been tripped up by one of the ‘Am’ class cars, costing a lot of time.
The Scotsman certainly showed the pace to challenge for the podium during his Safety Car impacted stint at the beginning of the race, but with his actual number of racing laps limited by the long and sustained cautionary period a move up into the class top four was a great return.
Pareras joined the race for the second hour fifth in Silver and 16th overall, and although his run was interspersed with a couple of Full Course Yellow periods he managed to break into the top three in class and run in close company with the lead pair of Silver cars.
Pitting from third and the outright top 10, Pareras handed over to Schramm for the final hour and all looked to be going swimmingly as he moved into second in class and ninth overall. With 40 minutes to go he was under immense pressure from the Bentley of Jules Gounon and while the Pro class car wasn’t a consideration in the Silver Cup battle, Schramm still defended stoutly.
With the battle reaching boiling point, into the final half an hour Gounon got by and some contact also resulted in Schramm dropping to 12th overall and fourth in class. Then, with 15 minutes to run, the Audi careered off the circuit into the gravel at the final corner – a massively disappointing end.
Hutchison, Pareras and Schramm end the Blancpain Endurance Cup season ninth in the Silver Cup standings with one podium finish to their credit – second place in class at Paul Ricard in France during the six hour ‘into the night’ race in June.
“This year has been a big learning curve for me, my first season in GT3 and my first at this level as well in Blancpain – it doesn’t get much tougher than this”, Hutchison added, “I’m looking forward to 2020 now and any opportunities that may come our way, hopefully we can be back in Blancpain next year and mount a big challenge.”
Final 2019 Blancpain Endurance Cup ‘Silver Cup’ Standings
9th Finlay Hutchison/Kim-Luis Schramm/Ivan Pareras, 42pts