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JOTA “Pushing” to Redress Last Year’s Brands Hatch Outcome

McLaren’s Oliver Wilkinson hopes JOTA can recall its Brands Hatch pace from last year…

Photo: Jules Benichou/21 Creation

McLaren driver Oliver Wilkinson says JOTA “will be pushing” this weekend to redress the outcome of last year’s Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Sprint Cup round at Brands Hatch where the team’s competitive run was ended by a dramatic crash.

Wilkinson and his former co-driver Ben Barnicoat had one of the quickest cars when the Sprint series last visited the British circuit last August, but their chances of claiming a home victory were dashed by an accident near the end of Race 1.

After Barnicoat built up a substantial lead in the opening stint, Wilkinson took over the No. 38 McLaren 720S GT3 and came under pressure from a charging Raffaele Marciello in the No. 88 ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo.

With just over five minutes remaining, the pair went side-by-side through Dingle Dell and made contact as they tried to negotiate a backmarker.

A touch sent the McLaren over the outer wall and into the bushes, ending JOTA’s weekend. Wilkinson missed the next race due to a knee injury but returned one event later.

The Brit, who is now teamed up with Rob Bell in Sprint, described the race as an episode when the “stars aligned” initially for JOTA, McLaren and himself until the crash abruptly halted their promising collective run.

“I had never won a race at this level before, and McLaren hadn’t for a long time,” Wilkinson told Sportscar365.

“When I watch it back, I know I had him at that point. So for me it was a case of ‘what if’ that weekend, and what could have been.

“We will be pushing. I know Rob and I will be pushing for JOTA and McLaren to be on the top step, because it means a lot to us.”

Wilkinson is hopeful that JOTA can recall the pace it had at Brands Hatch eight months ago, but has acknowledged that new variables are at play this weekend.

JOTA will tackle the event with a fresh McLaren chassis that was recently put through a two-day test at Silverstone.

“We showed very good pace last time we were there,” said Wilkinson.

“Year to year, things can change. We have the new Pirelli tire that we haven’t tested at Brands, so how that’s going to perform over the weekend for us is a little bit of an unknown.

“But we’re hoping, from what we’ve seen at Imola, that it’s not going to be too dissimilar to last year. We’re hoping that in Free Practice we can take off from where we left at the end of the last weekend.

“If we were on the same tire as last year, I would be very confident. Fingers crossed that if it is different in the practice sessions, it won’t take too much sorting out.

“I think if we get quite a warm day, we should be fairly strong. If it’s quite cool, I’m not sure how we’re going to fare, but these are things that the JOTA team have been working hard on over the last few weeks, to make sure they’re on top of it.

“I’m sure that if we do have to change anything to get back to the performance we had last year, it won’t take these guys long to figure out what to do.”

Wilkinson hasn’t driven at Brands Hatch since last year’s accident but is looking forward to returning to the venue.

“The last time I was there, I was making my way down out of the trees!” he exclaimed.

“Dingle Dell is going to seem a little faster than it used to for me… But we’re racing drivers and we know what we sign up for.

“I’m personally really looking forward to getting back to Brands. It’s a circuit that I have always loved, throughout my career. I love the nature of it and how there is such little room for error.

“That is one of the things that makes Brands appeal to me. So despite what happened, I am actually really looking forward to getting back.”

Imola Gave “Promising” Start to New Season

JOTA opened its second campaign with McLaren in GTWC Europe at the 3 Hours of Imola, which kicked off the five-round Endurance Cup season earlier this month.

Wilkinson, Bell and Marvin Kirchhofer finished 10th overall, as one of two McLaren crews to reach the points along with JP Motorsport in fifth.

However, JOTA wasn’t satisfied with its result according to Wilkinson, who felt that 10th did not reflect the group’s performance and potential.

“I think Imola was very promising for the start of the season,” he said.

“The car had unbelievable pace that weekend. We just didn’t quite manage to maximize it in qualifying because Rob and I got shafted by red flags. Marvin was fastest overall.

“And then I got hit off in the race. We re-joined but that dropped us down to about 17th. Then we actually got a really good pit stop, so we came back from 17th to 10th.

“It was a bit of a shame, because if we would have hung on around P10, in hindsight with the pit stop we would have jumped to about P6 and would have been up with the JP car.

“We would have been happy with that. We weren’t happy with P10 at all, after the quali pace and how the pit stop went.

“But I think it was a good, promising weekend in terms of showing good pace. So I’d like to think we’re in a good place with the car going into the rest of the season.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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