Optimum Motorsport battle hard; a strong showing in GTWC Nürburgring
Optimum Motorsport today completed its second round of the GT World Challenge Endurance Cup today at the fabled Nürburgring in 11th* position, with Ollie Wilkinson, Rob Bell and Joe Osborne racing the sole McLaren 720s GT3 entry in a highly competitive field.
Following on from eighth position last time out at Imola, the result in the first six-hour event of the season underlines the team’s competitive form in its debut season amongst some of the finest GT drivers and teams. The race also acted as the perfect warm-up for the forthcoming Total 24 Hours of Spa.
As expected, qualifying proved to be a close affair with just a second covering the fastest 24 cars on the grid. Former Nürburgring victor Rob proved to be the quicker Optimum Motorsport driver, his best lap in the #69 McLaren within the top ten but with the times all averaged from the three sessions, the team had to be content with 21st position on the grid.
Very much in the upper midfield mix, Ollie took the start but there wasn’t much patience at the head of the field with Albert Costa triggering a multi-car accident at the first turn, resulting in the first safety car after just seconds of racing.
Having survived the shenanigans to restart in 14th, this was a more ordered affair with the British racer settling into position before fending off the attentions of former WEC champion and Le Mans winner #98 Timo Bernhard. The McLaren Professional Driver put in a valiant defence, before wisely giving the Porsche driver some additional space to avoid contact in turn two with 30-minutes complete.
Just after the one-hour mark, Ollie pitting from 18th, resuming in 20th following the pitstop shuffle, only to find himself bottled up behind the #55 of Alex Aka. This cost him time before he was able to make the pass and set about closing the 10-second deficit to the #159 ahead. Mission accomplished, he handed over to Rob under Full Course Yellow on lap 60.
Rob’s first stint saw him quickly move ahead of Alex MacDowall, whilst homing in on Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #98 Porsche ahead. With others suffering pitstop penalties, this became a battle for 15th with Rob and his rival ahead closing down a 15-second gap with #31 Kelvin van der Linde in tow.
A further caution period saw Rob box from 15th, resuming in the same position at the half distance to continue the battle with the #31. It was a tough stint for former Blancpain GT3 champion Rob, matching the pace of those ahead but unable to make further gains before pitting and handing over to Joe in 13th position.
The battle with the #31 crew resumed into the final two-hours with Joe chasing first Mirko Bortolotti and then #100 Fabian Schiller for tenth place. However, with 90-minutes remaining, Joe ceded position to the recovering Dries Vanthoor and Joshua Burdon. With some further attrition, the strong showing closed with 11th position at the chequered flag.
With preparation for the blue-riband race at Spa complete, the team now turn its attention to GT Open in Austria and then the second trip to Donington Park in British GT.
*Following the event, a penalty for a rival promoted us to tenth position in the overall results.
Shaun Goff, Optimum Motorsport Team Principal
“I’m proud of the team and the result in this six-hour race. It’s a solid result just on the cusp of the top ten and we have some learnings to take to the Spa 24 Hours which will be beneficial to us, especially in qualifying. We didn’t maximise the tyre temperatures for those qualifying sessions, especially for Ollie and Joe.
“In the race, Ollie did a good job in his first two-hour double stint. He’s used to the one hour runs, but to do double that with no mistakes at this level is really encouraging. Then we had solid and professional jobs - as ever - from Rob and Joe to bring the car home unmarked. We can only be happy to be competitive against some of the most experienced teams in Europe. The race pace was good, strategy was also spot on. Perhaps we’re missing a little in terms of the punch out of the lower-speed corners, but a good weekend overall.”
"It’s been quite a tough weekend but excellent driving, fantastic teamwork and flawless pitstops earned us our 11th place today. It all got a bit crowded on the outside of turn one at the start, but I managed to go down the inside and come out of it in 15th place and that got us up and running. It was great to then be battling with the likes of Timo Bernhard on my Nürburgring debut. Everyone did an amazing job and we can be happy with the result, preparation - and confidence boost - ahead of the Total 24 Hours of Spa."
“It was great to pick our way through from where we started in such a tough race. Ollie did a good job in what is his first ever double-stint in racing and we learned a great deal as a team. To get so close to the top ten is a massive achievement for us in this environment, so we leave Germany happy with the car, strategy and team performance. Of course we always want more – but we’re within touching distance and more than happy with this weekend’s progress.”
“It’s good to move forward again and to find so many places in such a competitive championship, it shows our speed in the race. We just need to up our starting position a little bit more and there was various factors for that not being optimal, but we have learned from that and we’ll go forward and be better; that’s what this is all about.
“The race was tough and maybe the BoP wasn’t with us this weekend, so we had to make some setup compromises. The race setup wasn’t bad at all in terms of speed, perhaps a little tough in terms of being easy to drive, but we learned so much ahead of the big one - The Spa 24.”