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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Watson: McLaren GT3 Still Has the “Pace to Win”

Andrew Watson buoyed by improved pace for McLarens, confident of chances at Spa…

Photo: Garage 59

Andrew Watson says the McLaren 650S GT3 still has race-winning potential after an improved showing so far this season and is confident of a good result in the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

Garage 59 led five of six hours in the Paul Ricard 1000km last month with Watson, Come Ledogar and Ben Barnicoat coming close to scoring McLaren’s first Blancpain GT Series win since 2016 before it had to serve a late-race drive-through penalty.

A late change to the entry list for this weekend’s Blancpain GT and Intercontinental GT Challenge blue riband event moved Watson to Garage 59’s Am Cup entry but the Northern Irishman believes both cars have a strong chance of winning in their classes.

“I think if you’d asked me before Ricard what the expectations for Spa was, it was probably to go for the long-haul and see where we end up but now, I’m completely confident, as we all are, that we actually have the pace to win it,” he told Sportscar365.

Speaking of the Am Cup entry which he will share with Alexander West, Chris Harris and Chris Goodwin, Watson added: “There is no doubt we have the lineup to win our class which is always a good mindset to go into an event with.”

West, Harris and Goodwin have scored Am Cup wins at the two most recent races at Silverstone and Paul Ricard, including finishing 18th overall and ahead of the entire Pro-Am field in France.

This recent performance improvement comes after a challenging 2017 Blancpain GT season for the car, which saw Strakka Racing face several problems over the season and fail to score any race wins.

“The new tires this year, for me, are a lot better and, especially at the last race at Paul Ricard, the McLaren was brilliant,” Watson explained.

“It gives us a lot of confidence for Spa and I’m really looking forward to it.

“The balance in Monza and Silverstone was actually good, it’s just, to be honest, we lacked straight-line speed.

“The SRO worked with us on that and once we got that sorted, it really just came to life at Ricard. 

“It was great for McLaren to be back at the sharp end. It’s still a great car so it deserves results.”

The current-generation 650S will be replaced by the all-new McLaren 720S GT3 next year, in a project headed up internally by McLaren Automotive.

Leinders-Run Sprint Cup BMW Program “Really Good Experience”

In addition to his Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup entry with Garage 59, Watson is also competing with Bas Leinders’ new 3Y Technology outfit in the Sprint Cup.

Despite the challenge he faces with swapping between two very different race cars in the McLaren and BMW M6 GT3, he has described it as a valuable learning experience.

“To be honest, the main reason I went with the drive was because Bas was going to be there and I know he knows Blancpain inside out,” Watson explained.

“He’s just a very good team manager in my opinion. That’s what led me there. If he hadn’t have been there, it would have made the decision a bit more difficult.

“It’s really good experience. The BMW can be trickier on the tighter tracks so it’s been a little bit difficult but I’m enjoying it and it’s good experience.”

Jake Kilshaw is a UK-based journalist. He is a graduate of Politics and International Relations.

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