Fresh from his maiden outing in the British GT4 Championship last weekend at a rain-lashed Oulton Park in the UK, the 18-year-old from Dundee celebrated an excellent runner-up spot in round one of the European season along with team-mate Ricardo van der Ende.
Championship officials, though, declared the No.10 McLaren 570S GT4 to have been released from the mid-race pit-stop in an ‘unsafe’ manner and so a 31 second penalty was applied post-race which dropped the duo to sixth overall and sixth in the Silver class.
Displaying tremendous speed across the weekend, Hutchison was second fastest in his qualifying session, determining the grid for race two, but hopes of battling for victory in Sunday’s contest went awry as a result of engine damage, a legacy of early race contact.
In the championship curtain-raiser on Saturday, which van der Ende started after qualifying fourth on the grid, Hutchison starred in his stint. Emerging into the race in third place after the mid-race driver change pit-stop, the Scottish driver quickly grabbed second and mounted a stirring late-race charge to close to within just 2.8 seconds of the race-winning Audi – before the luckless penalty.
“It’s been a disappointing weekend in terms of championship points as we could have had two podiums and very easily have been leading the championship”, said the Hutchison Technologies, Evoson and In Home Displays-backed racer, “Ricardo is a great team mate and I believe we are a good driver pairing, when averaging our qualifying pace we were one of the fastest cars on track.
“Race one went really well for us, so learning of a penalty on Sunday evening was a real disappointment. I was released by my pit crew after the pitstop at the same time as a KTM was driving down the pit lane, I stopped to allow the KTM past and then set-off again. The race stewards decided it was an unsafe release so we have to accept the penalty decision and move on.
“In race two, I had contact from behind at the start of the race which caused engine problems and they became progressively worse. Ricardo did a great job to finish the race eighth in class under the circumstances.”
Rapid duo prove Equipe Verschuur McLaren pace in qualifying and races
In the opening practice on Friday, 6th April, the No.10 McLaren ended the session with the fifth fastest time from the huge 44 car entry and in session two it was 14th fastest as preparations continued for the all-important qualifying sessions on Saturday morning.
Van der Ende took the first session, determining the grid for race one, and the Dutchman was fourth fastest – less than a tenth of a second shy of the front row. In the race two qualifying session shortly after, Hutchison scorched to the second fastest lap to get the season off to a great start.
For round one on Saturday afternoon, van der Ende took the opening stint and he made a terrific getaway at the rolling start to challenge for third but was then boxed out and edged to fifth. Wasting no time in re-taking fourth before the end of the lap, he started to pressure for third place and on lap seven he got ahead of the rival BMW to move into the podium placings.
With around 40 minutes of the one-hour race to go, van der Ende caught and passed the second placed Ginetta G55 of Stuart Middleton and remained ahead to the mid-race driver changes. Entering the pits with 28 minutes to go, van der Ende handed the McLaren over to Hutchison but the Scotsman’s exit from the pits was compromised by the slow KTM just in front of him.
Costing vital seconds, as soon as Hutchison had the opportunity to try and get ahead of the KTM he pounced and when the race order settled after the stops he held third. Quickly closing on the Ginetta, now piloted by Will Tregurtha, Hutchison swarmed all over his rival but a passing attempt had to wait when the Safety Car was deployed with just over 20 minutes to run.
Racing resumed around 10 minutes later and on lap 28 Hutchison produced a brilliant move at the chicane, around the outside, to grab second from Tregurtha. Instantly putting the hammer down, Hutchison pulled away and began to reel in the race leader who was almost five seconds clear.
Driving faultlessly, he dispatched several backmarkers and closed to within 2.8 seconds of the race winning Audi at the chequered flag to spark well deserved podium celebrations. The post-race judicial decision regarding the pit-stop release, though, went against the Equipe Verschuur drivers.
After his superb qualifying performance on Saturday, Hutchison took the first stint of race two on Sunday morning and despite being squeezed through Turn One at the start he emerged from the corner still holding second place. However, contact to the rear of the McLaren bent the left-hand exhaust…something which would go on to have a negative impact later in the race.
Running within just a few tenths of a second of third placed Patrick Zamparini, Hutchison stayed close behind the top two for several laps before the Safety Car was deployed. Racing resumed on lap 11 but another incident, almost immediately, led to the Safety Car making its second appearance.
This cautionary period lasted some time, over 10 minutes, and so race officials chose to delay the opening of the pit-stop window as a result. The action got back underway just inside the final half hour with Hutchison still in third and at the earliest opportunity he pitted.
When the race order started to settle after the stops, van der Ende held fourth place with the three cars ahead still to pit. When they made their stops, only the No.55 Ginetta managed to emerge ahead of the McLaren and so van der Ende settled into second place.
With around 15 minutes to go, the reigning champion started to encounter problems with the McLaren as excessive heat from the damaged exhaust melted the coil packs. With the knock-on effect of reducing power, eventually the engine lost two cylinders and van der Ende was powerless to prevent a slip to ninth before the finish – eighth in class.
Brands Hatch in the UK will host the second event of the GT4 European Series season over the weekend 5th/6th May. One week earlier, 28th/29th April, Hutchison will be back racing in the second round of the British GT4 Championship at Rockingham.