Driving for leading team JMW Motorsport in his debut season in the prestigious series, the 20-year-old Scottish racer impressed in the squad’s unmistakeable yellow Ferrari F488 GTE EVO as team-mate to former title winner Jody Fannin and Hunter Abbott.
Qualifying eighth in class for the opening four-hour race of the ELMS season, the JMW trio ran very well indeed with a series of competitive performances. As the last lap approached, a late puncture for the Ferrari threatened Fannin’s fifth position. When the No.98 Aston Martin pitted with a similar issue as the last lap began, the JMW machine was able to take fourth – despite a deflated tyre.
“It’s great to be back, I’m delighted to be back racing”, said Dundee's Hutchison, “The Ferrari is really nice to drive, it’s pretty friendly, and I got adjusted to the lack of ABS quite quickly. It was a spectacular finish to the race, Jody [Fannin] crossed the line with a flat tyre after a puncture at the end but with the Aston in the pits after popping a tyre as well we were able to take fourth.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the JMW guys and both Jody and Hunter [Abbott], it’s been quite strange actually working with a British team again – I’ve not done that since I was in Formula Renault back in 2016. It’s been a good start in ELMS, I’m looking forward to Spa now next month.”
Late-race drama delivers hard-earned top four at Paul Ricard
Although there was a two-day test at the Le Castellet track earlier in the week, Hutchison didn’t have his maiden run in the Ferrari – his first track time in a race car since last year – until the free practice session on Friday, 17th July. It also marked his first ever run on Goodyear tyres.
Abbott started Sunday’s race and put together a strong opening lap, gaining two places to move into the top six. Challenging the No.98 Aston Martin, he applied significant pressure and with 10 minutes gone there was nothing to split them.
As the battle intensified, with lots of LMP3 class cars in the mix too, Abbott moved up into fifth as a rival slipped back and then made the breakthrough on the Aston to climb into fourth with just over 15 minutes elapsed. At the half-hour mark, Abbott was then edged back into Turn One by the No.83 Ferrari but soon after moved into the top four again at the expense of the No.77 Porsche.
As the first hour approached, the LMGTE cars started to make their initial driver-change pit-stops with Abbott eventually pitting from second in class. Hutchison got behind the wheel for the second stint and joined in fourth, just as the race fell under a Full Course Yellow cautionary period.
Racing got back underway with around two hours and 50 minutes to run, and the Scot was 3.5 seconds shy of the podium placings. In traffic, though, the Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In-Home Displays-backed driver was edged back to fifth by the No.77 Porsche of Alessio Picariello.
As the Porsche continued to move higher up the LMGTE order, so too Hutchison made progress and swiftly took fourth from one of the rival Ferraris. No sooner had he done that, the ELMS rookie then sealed third from another Ferrari around the outside at the end of the Mistral Straight on lap 37.
Just a quarter of an hour into his stint Hutchison was only six seconds away from the top two in LMGTE and he maintained his third place. Midway through the second hour of the race, though, the Safety Car was deployed due to an LMP2 car having gone off the circuit into the barriers.
Racing resumed with two hours and 10 minutes left on the clock, Hutchison five seconds behind the Porsche of Picariello, and the JMW driver did begin to come under significant pressure from the No.60 Iron Lynx Ferrari. As the race neared the midway point, Hutchison worked wonders to save a pretty major moment but the delay enabled Sergio Pianezzola to nip through to third.
Staying within touch of his rival, with one hour and 50 minutes to go the Scot pitted from fourth in class to hand the car back to Abbott. When the race order settled, Abbott held fifth and had his mirrors filled with the No.98 Aston Martin – now with Mathias Lauda at the wheel.
Moving into fourth and fifth respectively as the final 90 minutes approached, Abbott continued to soak up immense pressure but on lap 71 Lauda was able to go through. Moving back into the top four ahead of the final pit-stop, Abbott pitted to hand over to Fannin with just over an hour to run.
As former class champion Fannin’s stint began, he had the No.98 Aston right behind with Ross Gunn at the wheel and the JMW car was edged back to sixth on lap 88 on Mistral Straight. When the final round of stops had shaken out Fannin was fifth and looked set to remain there to the conclusion.
On the final lap, though, there was drama aplenty in LMGTE – the Aston Martin pitted after sustaining a puncture but got trapped in the pitlane. Fannin too was impacted by a puncture on the Ferrari, but he expertly made it to the finish to grab an unexpected fourth place despite the flat tyre.
Round two of the European Le Mans Series will take place over the weekend 8th/9th August at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps.
Next weekend, 25th/26th July, Hutchison will be starting his GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup season at Imola in Italy with the Haupt Racing Team in the No.5 Mercedes-AMG GT3, partnering team owner Hubert Haupt and Sergey Afanasiev.
2020 European Le Mans Series LMGTE Driver Standings
4th Finlay Hutchison/Jody Fannin/Hunter Abbott, 12pts
2020 European Le Mans Series LMGTE Team Standings
4th JMW Motorsport, 12pts