Optimum Motorsport enjoyed a near perfect weekend at Spa-Francorchamps claiming pole position and securing a dominant victory in the #96 Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
The result marks Ollie Wilkinson’s first win in the championship and comes hot on the heels of his great win two weeks ago in GT Open.
Practice ahead of qualifying proved to be tricky for both Ollie and teammate Bradley Ellis. But it was the rain affected qualifying session that provided the opportunity and momentum for the race win.
With rain falling heavily ahead of the short qualifying session, Ollie spectacularly jumped to the top spot in the opening qualifying round with a 2:42:997, to lap almost five tenths clear of anyone else. The top two qualified almost 1.2 seconds ahead of the remaining pack and matched with Bradley’s effort, the pair coveted pole position by a total 1.8 seconds.
On Sunday, Ollie made a perfect start and managed to pull a small advantage over the field from the outset. In what was a textbook drive, Ollie maintained a four-second margin at the front before handing over to Bradley at the mid-way point.
Bradley enjoyed a comfortable position at the head of the field, and from that point onwards it was all about managing the gap and keeping out of trouble with the lapped GT4s. From lights to flag, the #96 pairing kept calm and Bradley was able to drive to the flag to secure the race win; his first win since 2007 in the series. The pair sit third in the GT3 drivers’ standings, though just 16 points now covers the top three.
Things were less straight forward for the GT4s, but there were a lot of positives to take from the fly-away event.
Patrik Matthiesen and Mike Robinson started eighth in class in the #75, with the sister GT4 of Jack Butel and Connor O’Brien in the #35 three positions behind. Unfortunately for the latter, the race was ended prematurely with an engine issue and subsequent misfire. But early pace suggested progress with the GT4 Aston Martin had been made since its last outing at Donington.
Patrik had a great opening stint to move up to seventh at the start, and despite some closely fought battles was able to hand the car over to Mike in the overall GT4 top five. Like Patrik, Mike had an eventful stint, pushing hard in the tightly packed field before taking the chequered flag in fifth position.
With the first win of the British GT Season complete, the team now prepare for the next round of the series at Brands Hatch in two weeks’ time.
Optimum Motorsport Team Principal, Shaun Goff
“I’m just really happy to have been able to facilitate two wins on the bounce. It was challenging conditions on Saturday, so for Ollie and Brad to have put in two solid laps to start from pole position, it was an excellent representation of what they could do given the opportunity. The slick pit-stops, while staying out of trouble and managing traffic paid dividends, so credit to both drivers and team. I’m a really proud team principal at the moment. We feel we’ve made a real step forwards with the GT4s this weekend and the drivers are really confident. Unfortunately the #35 suffered issues, but Connor and Jack stepped up to the challenge. Connor was the fastest Aston Martin in qualifying, which also solidified that progress. Patrik had a solid stint in the #75 and a slick pit-stop to Mike with a stellar performance secured our best GT4 performance of the year, so we really turned a corner here. I’m really pleased, we just need to work hard on maximising qualifying and that will put us in a better position on race day.”
Ollie Wilkinson, #96 GT3
“It may have looked easy, but it was a hard weekend. FP1 and PF2 were dry and then quali which was wet – interesting as I had never driven here in the wet before – but it was a really good session to put it P1. Then it was a case of getting a good start and getting my head down. I tried to pull as much of a gap as I could as I knew that Bradley would have a harder time in the second half of the race but in the end it’s a great result. Thanks to all of the team as always!”
Bradley Ellis, #96 GT3
“It’s 11 years to the month since my last win in British GT. Qualifying helped spice things up a bit because at that point we were still a little off in terms of setup but it came to us in rain and that gave us the leg up we needed. The pole allowed Ollie to have some clear air and get into a rhythm quickly. It was a faultless drive from him as he met all the targets set by the team. After the stop, I had to do the same, managing the gap and maintaining that in the traffic as well and it worked well as there were times with no traffic where I was able to relax a little. I was fortunate to have that buffer to take some pressure off and I didn’t have to push too hard. A great result.”
Jack Butel, #35 GT4
“The Aston Martin was absolutely brilliant in the race and it showed amazing pace. We passed a couple of cars and were reeling in those ahead which was really positive. Then on the second to last lap of my stint we developed this misfire in turns six and seven and that was it really. A difficult end to a good weekend.”
Patrik Matthiesen, #75 GT4
“We came here without any practice and our first time with this car on this track so there was lots of learning to do ahead of the race. Qualifying was difficult as we went out on brand new rain tyres and with the track drying quickly we soon burned though the tyre but Mike did a great job to put a good lap time down. I had a mega start from P10 and it was into the battles. I was a bit nervous before the start but it went well with everyone going to the inside into turn one, so I went a bit to left and got a few places.”
Mike Robinson, #75 GT4
“It was good, but a bit of a shame we came out behind the McLaren after the stop. But the stint was good, I was pumping in the laps and chasing my old car! It was tougher at the end with Andy Priaux catching up and the last lap was especially interesting. But it was really hot out there and we have taken another step forward with the car and our race pace was really good, so lots of positives to take from that.”