Harrogate-based, Ollie Wilkinson and teammate Bradley Ellis returned to their International GT Open winning form at Silverstone this weekend, taking a sweet Pro-Am race victory on home ground aboard the Optimum Motorsport Audi R8 LMS.
Racing on the 3.66-mile Grand Prix circuit for only the second time in Wilkinson’s short career, the duo were hoping that Lady Luck would return for the series’ only UK round following a challenging outing at Hungary last month.
Saturday’s round five GT Open Pro-Am win marks the second class victory of Ollie and Bradley’s debut season as a driver pairing, following their maiden win at Spa Francorchamps back in June.
Ellis’ strong qualifying form on Saturday ensured the My Possible Self backed Audi clocked in third fastest, just one tenth of a second off class pole, ready for the first race of the weekend. A sterling opening stint began with holding eighth overall and third in class, while staving off the early intentions of Toby Sowery’s Lamborghini Haracan. Ellis expertly upped the pace to pull a 1.5 second advantage to catch second in class, and the tail-end fight for fifth overall.
Clocking in the second fastest of the field come lap nine brought the fight to Daniel Keilwitz and piled on the pressure heading towards the pitstop window. With no success penalty to serve, Ellis knew there was no need for heroics. Opting to pit as late as possible, a series of flying laps while glued to the Ferrari’s rear bumper as the leaders cycled through their stops would prove pivotal.
A slick stop from the Optimum Motorsport crew coupled with Wilkinson’s rapid pace from the outset ensured Ollie joined the fray with the Pro-Am class lead, fourth overall. In a stellar stint, the 21-year-old kept the former class leading Lamborghini of Jiatong Liang at bay to build more than a three second lead within 10 minutes of taking the wheel.
Wilkinson look set to extend that advantage when a slow left rear puncture began to hinder the Audi’s progress heading into the final 15 minutes. Losing around two seconds a lap, the young Yorkshireman soon came under fire from a hard-charging Daniel Perel intent on stealing the class lead.
Perel may have closed within striking distance, but Wilkinson refused to bow to the immense pressure to take his second win of his debut GT3 career and first at Silverstone.
Although a tricky second qualifying session on Sunday morning meant a repeat performance was nigh-on impossible, Wilkinson and Ellis dug deep to climb back up the order to near podium contention with the odds stacked against them.
Overcoming a 21st grid start, a 10 second success pit stop penalty from Saturday’s class win, plus an unfortunate 10 second penalty for avoidable contact, the duo delivered a stealth recovery charge that was rewarded with another top five points-paying finish and outstanding 13th overall.
Wilkinson and Ellis now sit fourth in the Pro-Am title fight, just seven points behind Marcelo Hahn, as they head towards round six at Monza, Italy, on 22-23 September.
Ollie Wilkinson: It’s an amazing feeling to win at Silverstone having only raced here once before. I didn’t dream to be winning in my maiden GT3 season, not least at iconic tracks like Spa and Silverstone. It means a huge amount, particularly when we came so close to losing the lead with the slow puncture.
Qualifying put us on the back foot for race two, as I lost two flying laps in the first stint and couldn’t maximise our second set of tyres. I was disappointed to pick up a penalty as I tried to avoid an incident ahead. We had strong pace and consistency and if not for the penalties looked strong for another podium, so all-in-all a remarkable weekend.
Bradley Ellis: Winning here on home soil is really cool. This weekend has proved that we’re not far away as a combined all-round package, everything is coming together. Ollie has shown strong potential right from Friday practice, and he’s closing the gap to the Pro drivers at every outing.
We’re very consistent amid the fierce competition, our pace is strong but in racing this close the smallest time loss is costly. We did a great job pulling back the race two result to push for a podium, so we can be happy with valuable points for fifth in class as we look ahead to Monza.