Dundee racing driver Finlay Hutchison and the Academy Motorsport team put together a highly impressive series of performances at Bahrain International Circuit in the Middle East on Saturday, 1st December, to emerge from the GT4 International Cup finale with a hard-earned top five finish.
Teaming with Matt Nicoll-Jones and his Academy squad for the first time, 18-year-old Hutchison battled power issues with the No.10 McLaren 570S to secure a brace of podiums in the event’s two Qualification Races, before then challenging again for silverware in the Main Race.
While developing brake issues ultimately prevented a top three bid in the grand finale, the Scottish youngster and team boss Nicoll-Jones combined to finish a highly competitive fifth overall, third in the Silver class, to deliver a successful end to Hutchison’s two-year tenure racing McLarens.
Notably too, the event marked Nicoll-Jones’ first time driving the car and the squad had only been able to work on the car and understand its intricacies for a single day before it had to be shipped to Bahrain. All in all, the entire team did a terrific job against some intense global GT4 competition and opposition with much stronger straightline speed at its disposal.
“It was a great weekend in Bahrain, we had to work very hard and race even harder to help overcome some power issues – there was a bit of a stutter all weekend with the engine – so to be on the podium in both qualifying races was good going”, said Hutchison.
“We did a lot better than expected, especially as our qualifying pace wasn’t as strong as we wanted, and in the second race I really had to fight hard to get back into P3. Unfortunately, in the main race during the last few laps, we had brake problems developing so you didn’t know where or when the car was going to stop which did cost us quite significantly.”
He added: “Working with the Academy guys was great, the weekend was good fun and I enjoyed it a lot. Bahrain is a cool track, the surface is low grip and there’s high tyre degradation but it’s a really nice circuit and without the few issues we had – out of our control – I think we would have been able to challenge for more. Still, it’s been a good way to end my relationship with McLaren.”
Successful conclusion to 2018 for GT4 star Hutchison
Working on set-up through the two practice sessions at the Sakhir track on Friday, 30th November, in qualifying later in the day a time of 2m13.359 seconds in session one from Hutchison secured a second row start for the first of Saturday’s races. In session two, a best lap of 2m12.864 seconds translated to ninth on the grid for Nicoll-Jones for the race two grid.
At the beginning of race one, Hutchison held second and pressured the leading Audi at the first corner. Swarming all over the rival machine, Hutchison looked every which way into Turn One again at the end of the first lap but also had to be aware of Milan Dontje’s third placed Audi behind.
Driving the wheels off his McLaren, Hutchison was soon edged behind Dontje’s quicker car but the Scot hit back brilliantly to swiftly retake second. As racing approached the 10-minute mark, though, Dontje was able to get better drive onto the back straight to move ahead again.
Into the second part of his stint Hutchison continued to push hard and with Dontje having taken the lead from the Audi of Fabien Michal, the Academy driver pressured the latter before taking second once again. Making the mandatory pit-stop from second at precisely the halfway point of the one hour contest, Hutchison handed over to Nicoll-Jones who rejoined in second place.
Passed by the No.36 Alpine with just over 15 minutes to run, Nicoll-Jones went on to take the flag in third. Post-race, however, the Alpine was disqualified due to a technical infringement and so the Academy McLaren was promoted to second.
Nicoll-Jones began the second Qualification Race from ninth and made an incredible start, surging through the pack into second before before settling into third spot. Then shuffled back several places on a very busy opening lap, contact to the left-rear of the McLaren heading onto the back straight pushed the car wide and cost momentum with Nicoll-Jones ultimately slipping to eighth.
After handing over to Hutchison at the midway point, the Dundee youngster delivered an inspired performance to haul the squad back through the order with some eye-catching driving. Moving up into the top six with around 20 minutes to run, Hutchison confirmed his class by edging closer and closer to the podium – taking third superbly with only five minutes to go.
Going on to line-up second on the grid for the Main Race, which began under night skies and the Bahrain floodlights, Nicoll-Jones started the encounter and got away well to lead into the braking zone for Turn One but the McLaren was squeezed to second by Dontje’s Audi. Although slipping away, racing then fell under Safety Car conditions at one quarter distance.
After the re-start the top three ran in close company and Nicoll-Jones did pressure Dontje initially before then coming under threat from the No.36 Alpine. Elbowed back to third just prior to the pit stops, when Hutchison took over the McLaren he threaded into the race in second but when the Alpine served its stop, the French car emerged in the lead and so Hutchison was third.
Soaking up big pressure from the No.39 BMW, Hutchison did slip to fourth with 20 minutes to run as the developing brake issues started to make life very difficult indeed. Doing everything he could, the Scotsman eventually finished the race in fifth, third in the Silver Cup, to cap a very strong weekend.
Hutchison’s plans for the 2019 motor racing season are expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks – keep an eye on www.finlayhutchison.com and follow Finlay on social media: