While delighted to take the first silverware of his debut Blancpain campaign in one of the toughest races of the year, the result was tinged with a little disappointment for the 19-year-old from Dundee as he and team-mates Ivan Pareras and Kim-Luis Schramm had led the Silver class until late on.
Even so, the Phoenix Racing trio only missed out on a famous win by just under four seconds and also finished the race just shy of the outright top 10 after 1,000 kilometres of intense action, posting a top 12 result overall. In terms of the Silver Cup standings, Hutchison, Pareras and Schramm have leapt up from ninth in the championship to fourth place – just a single point shy of third.
“It was disappointing to lose the win, we had led the race for a long time, but finishing in second and taking our first podium in Blancpain is obviously a fantastic result”, said Hutchison, “It was a big surprise to be on the podium this weekend, especially after qualifying and the pace we’ve been missing so far this season. The result is much further up the order than we expected to be.
“Everyone did a fantastic job, the car was light on its tyres in my double stint and I was racing well against the leaders on tyres that were 10 to 15 laps older than some of theirs. I knew at the start of the season, with our line-up, we had the capability to be on the podium but after round one at Monza that seemed a distant hope. Big thank you to the guys in the team for a great job.”
Preparing as strongly as possible in practice at Paul Ricard on Friday, 31st May, during the 90-minute pre-qualifying session the No.5 Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO lapped fourth quickest in Silver but in final qualifying on Saturday morning the squad had to settle for eighth fastest in class on combined times.
Lining-up in 28th spot on the overall grid, Hutchison took the start for Phoenix Racing and each of the drivers ran a double stint – so the Scotsman had two hours behind the wheel of the Audi. After making a clean start, the first year GT3 driver looked to make good early progress but racing fell under Safety Car conditions early on following a multi-car tangle on the Mistral Straight on lap two.
When racing resumed around 25 minutes later, Hutchison lapped competitively and set about making a charge through the field but the Safety Car soon neutralised the action once again to halt any initial progress.
When green flags were shown soon after, though, the Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays backed racer started to move up the order and he climbed through to seventh and then into the top five before pitting to hand over to Schramm after two hours.
As the first half of the German’s stint neared a conclusion, he ran in third place in Silver and also broke into the top 10. During hour four of the race, the night skies began to set-in over Paul Ricard and Schramm was able to climb into the Silver lead when the next round of pit-stops began.
Pitting from the lead to hand over the car to Pareras for the final two hours of competition, the Spaniard joined the race still holding the advantage at the head of the Silver field and in ninth position overall. Going into the last 20 minutes the class victory looked secure but, during the closing stages, Pareras was edged back to second in Silver – still a sensational result.
“It’s been a great weekend at Ricard and much better than we thought possible”, said Hutchison, “I’m looking forward to the next round at Spa but I think we need to wait and see what the BOP [Balance of Performance] will be for the Audis, it’s hard to know how competitive we’ll be until we know about that.”
Round four of the Blancpain Endurance Cup, the Total 24 Hours of Spa, will take place over the weekend 27th/28th July with two official test days at the Belgian track scheduled for the beginning of July. Before then, Hutchison will be back in action in the sister Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe with Phoenix Racing team-mate Frederic Vervisch on 29th/30th June at Misano in Italy.
2019 Blancpain Endurance Cup ‘Silver Cup’ Standings
4th Finlay Hutchison/Kim-Luis Schramm/Ivan Pareras, 36pts