Dundee 19-year-old Hutchison, along with regular Blancpain Endurance Cup team-mates Ivan Pareras and Kim-Luis Schramm, performed superbly over the course of the first half of the race at the legendary Belgian track on Saturday, 27th July, as the trio went from seventh on the Silver grid into the class lead despite the very challenging wet and rainy conditions.
Running second in Silver throughout Saturday evening and into the night, the No.5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO assumed the class lead around midnight when the Attempto Racing Audi came to a halt on track.
During the rain-lashed early hours on Sunday, 28th July, though everything changed when the Phoenix car aquaplaned off the track and the resulting damage which was sustained meant a hugely frustrating end to Hutchison’s challenge.
Salt was then rubbed to the wounds when, shortly after the incident, the race was red flagged for several hours due to the increasingly atrocious conditions. The action eventually re-started at 11.30 local time on Sunday morning but, alas, minus the Phoenix Racing Audi.
“Everyone did an incredible job this weekend, our race pace was phenomenal – we were as fast as the factory Audis – and everything was going really well”, reflected the Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays backed Scotsman, “I’m absolutely gutted the car aquaplaned but the water on track was really bad at that point and there were many cars crashing in those conditions.
“Our qualifying pace still isn’t where we need it to be, we’re continuing to work on that and we now have a good idea of what we need to do to improve it. In the races, though, we’re very strong and that makes what happened even more frustrating. Huge thank you to Audi, the Phoenix guys and, of course, my team-mates Ivan and Kim-Luis for their hard work. It’s a shame how things ended, but we proved our competitiveness against the factory guys so I’m happy about that.”
Following on from Wednesday’s parade of race cars into Spa town centre, the Phoenix squad’s first track action came on Thursday, 25th July. Placing 10th fastest in Silver during free practice, the team then improved to eighth quickest in pre-qualifying.
During the all-important qualifying sessions, Pareras was seventh in his run with a time of 2m21.843 seconds, Schramm then lapped in 2m21.333 seconds to go eighth in his session and Hutchison then set the fastest time of all three drivers in the final run with a lap of 2m21.159 seconds.
With the average of all times taken, the Phoenix Audi lined-up seventh in class for the beginning of the race but, as is so often the case in the Ardennes, rain arrived ahead of the start at 16.30 local time on Saturday so the action began behind the Safety Car.
Schramm took the opening stint and he moved through to third in Silver in the second hour, 28th overall, as the circuit started to dry out. Through the various driver cycles, the squad continued to run in the podium placings and as the sun began to set over Spa there were just six overall places separating the No.5 Audi, now in second, from the class leading Audi of Attempto Racing.
Dramatically, at around 23.00 local time, with worsening rain also making conditions difficult, the rival Attemtpo machine crawled to a halt and so the Phoenix car moved past into the Silver lead with a challenge for victory – and certainly a second podium of the season – looking a realistic prospect.
As Saturday became Sunday the squad continued to lead Silver, inside the outright top 20, with worsening rain well and truly making the track surface water-logged in places. Then, during the early hours while the race was under one of its many Full Course Yellow periods, the Phoenix Audi R8 aquaplaned off the track and made contact with the wall.
Although rejoining the track and carrying on under a Full Course Yellow period and subsequent Safety Car, at the next pit stop the team assessed the damage sustained and made the call to retire the car from the race.
“We were on our way for sure”, said Hutchison, “After racing to the podium at Paul Ricard we were able to take that momentum forward to Spa this weekend, it was a great chance to be on the podium again and perhaps even take our first win in Blancpain. Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way, but that’s motor racing sometimes. We’ll be back stronger and more determined than ever.”
Barcelona in Spain will be the destination for the final race of the Blancpain Endurance Cup season on Sunday, 29th September. Before then, Hutchison will return to the track in the sister Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe with team-mate Frederic Vervisch on 30th August and 1st September at the Nurburgring in Germany.
2019 Blancpain Endurance Cup ‘Silver Cup’ Standings
6th Finlay Hutchison/Kim-Luis Schramm/Ivan Pareras, 42pts