Back in action for the first time since his popular maiden Blancpain Endurance Cup podium at Paul Ricard in France at the beginning of June, the 19-year-old from Dundee reunited with experienced GT racer Frederic Vervisch for the resumption of the sister series and the duo performed very competitively.
After taking a hard-fought top 10 finish in the opening encounter on Saturday evening in the No.11 Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO, in race two an early pit-stop helped deliver an excellent fifth place finish. As a result, the team-mates depart World Circuit Marco Simoncelli 11th in the championship standings.
“I’m really pleased with P5, it’s a good result, and it was unfortunate we lost a few positions at the end of race one – that was a really close battle Frederic was having”, said Hutchison, who is backed by Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays, “We worked on developing the car from practice and qualifying, and in the races it was handling pretty well and feeling good.
“In race two I had a bit of a battle with the WRT Audi of Rik Breukers, it was tight and he was quick, but luckily he got into a battle with one of the Mercedes and after that I was able to control things to the finish. We’re making good progress and now we go straight to Spa for the Blancpain Endurance test this week for the 24 hour race – I can’t wait for that!”
During the first of Saturday morning’s two qualifying periods, Hutchison ended the run with the 15th fastest time of 1m35.204 seconds which was just half a second shy of the top six in a very tightly fought session. Likewise in the second qualifying run the time differential to pole position was the same for Vervisch, 0.9 seconds, but this meant 12th quickest for him in session two.
For race one of the weekend, getting underway at 19.45 local time on Saturday, Hutchison took the first stint in the ‘Blue Shark’ and after maintaining 15th at the rolling start he gained two places when two cars tangled with almost 10 minutes elapsed.
One of them rejoined just as Hutchison was passing the scene of the incident but the Scotsman made the place his to move up into 13th position. He was then edged back to 14th spot behind Steijn Schothorst prior to a Full Course Yellow cautionary period five minutes later.
After officials deployed the Safety Car, racing resumed with around 35 minutes to go – as the late evening sun got ever lower in the sky – and a lap later the pit-stop window opened. Hutchison, along with a number of other drivers, took the earliest opportunity to hand over the car to Vervisch.
When the race order settled the Belgian held ninth position, having made great progress through an excellent pit stop from Phoenix, and he then moved into the top eight with 25 minutes to run ahead of another Full Course Yellow period. With only 12 minutes remaining, the action got back underway with Vervisch under huge pressure from Kelvin van der Linde in a train of three Audis.
Working hard to stay ahead of his rivals, Vervisch did all he could to make the No.11 car as wide as possible as van der Linde, and behind him Nick Foster, swarmed. Into the final five minutes, van der Linde managed to nose ahead of Vervisch and the latter had to run out wide which also ultimately meant a slip to 10th position where he stayed to the flag.
For Sunday afternoon’s race, Vervisch took the opening stint and from 12th on the grid he made an instant impact with a great first lap. Getting away well at the rolling start, he was put wide through the first sequence of turns but recovered without drama and ran inside the top 10 mid-lap.
Through some very hectic early action Vervisch took ninth and then moved up into eighth position on lap two after two Mercedes cars tangled. Running tight to the rear bumper of the Jim Pla car, which had been involved in the incident, the Phoenix Audi pressured as the action calmed down.
Lap after lap, Vervisch applied huge pressure but 10 minutes into the race officials opted to hand Pla a penalty for his part in the lap two tangle and when the Mercedes pitted the No.11 Audi moved up into seventh as a result.
Maintaining position as the race neared the pit-stop window, with just three minutes to go until the first of the driver changes a Full Course Yellow was declared due to debris on the circuit. Following the appearance of the Safety Car before the re-start, the action resumed with just under 32 minutes to run and Vervisch pitted straight away.
Hutchison climbed aboard the Audi and headed back out onto track in 25th position, but with the vast bulk of the 28 car field yet to pit he would rapidly climb the order again. With pit-stops still taking place, Hutchison held 11th position with around 27 minutes to go and this then became ninth.
When the order had plateaued, the Dundee teenager was in fifth position with 22 minutes still to run but also under heavy pressure from the similar Audi of Rik Breukers. Driving beautifully, and with strong pace, Hutchison began to edge clearer bit by bit as Breukers himself started to fall into the clutches of the No.89 Mercedes.
Into the final quarter of an hour Hutchison consolidated his fifth position but with five minutes left on the clock Nico Bastian managed to squeeze past Breukers. It proved no hinderance to Hutchison, though, as the Scot went on take the chequered flag a season-best fifth with a great performance.
There are just two weeks to wait until the third race meeting of the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe season which will take place at Zandvoort in The Netherlands on 13th/14th July. Before then, Hutchison will be back on track at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium tomorrow, Tuesday, 2nd July, and Wednesday, 3rd July, for two days of officially timed testing for this month’s Total 24 Hours of Spa.
2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe Standings
11th Finlay Hutchison/Frederic Vervisch, 8.5pts