Leading motor racing outfit SWR secured its maiden podium on only its second weekend in touring car competition during round four of the TCR UK Championship at Knockhill in Scotland on Sunday, 13th May – team owner Sean Walkinshaw taking an excellent top three result on his series bow.
Marking the 24-year-old’s first race outing in front-wheel drive and his debut in touring cars, Chipping Norton-based Walkinshaw confirmed the squad’s tremendous potential in TCR UK after building on fifth place in the opening contest to take third position in race two.
Standing-in for Howard Fuller, who achieved a best of fourth place for SWR during the championship curtain-raiser at Silverstone last month, Walkinshaw – who arrived at Knockhill fresh from his first win of the year in Super GT in Japan a week prior – thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Despite the strong results, it wasn’t the most straightforward weekend with a suspension breakage on the SWR Honda Civic Type-R in testing on Friday, 11th May, impacting preparations and stopping Walkinshaw from taking part in Free Practice on Saturday, 12th May.
With no spares available trackside, the team had to get a new wishbone flown in from official Honda partner JAS Motorsport in Italy and there was just enough time to get the car running ahead of qualifying. Without the possibility of putting a proper set-up on the No.55 car, though, Walkinshaw had to settle for the 10th fastest time.
With a much-improved car at his disposal for both races, the significant improvement in pace was clear to see and the Oxfordshire driver was able to reel off consistent times which were within just a couple of tenths of a second of fastest lap pace.
“It wasn’t the easiest weekend, but to end with a podium is fantastic for the whole team”, said Walkinshaw, “I didn’t do first practice on Friday and then we had the suspension problem in our second run, so we had to get the part flown in and missed practice on Saturday. We couldn’t get the car set-up properly before qualifying as there wasn’t time, but for the races the car was great.
“Both of my starts were really good and I just built into it, I didn’t know what it would be like in a front-wheel drive car so I took it carefully and then got into a rhythm. Race two was unfortunate at the start when I got tagged while leading from pole, but to come away with a podium from my first weekend in TCR UK is really good and great for the team to try and build on at the next round.”
He added: “We do have to say a huge thank you to the guys at JAS for getting the suspension wishbone sent to Knockhill so quickly. They had a massive weekend at the Nurburgring in Germany for the ADAC 24 Hour race, so to get everything turned around for us was really fantastic.”
Walkinshaw impresses on touring car debut at ‘anti-clockwise’ Knockhill
Round three on Sunday morning started on a damp-but-drying track and Walkinshaw launched from the fifth row of the grid well, moving into ninth, but was then challenged into the hairpin on lap two and the net result meant a slip to 11th after being held wide.
As the racing line dried, Walkinshaw gained increasing levels of confidence and so the lap times tumbled. Moving back up the order, he was into ninth again by lap eight and started to circulate within just a couple of tenths of a second of podium pace, soon moving into seventh.
Setting his best lap of the contest on lap 15, a time of 52.355 seconds within just 0.2 seconds of the fastest of the race, Walkinshaw broke into the top six on lap 17 just prior to the emergence of the Safety Car and when racing resumed on lap 22 he quickly grabbed fifth.
Closing on fourth placed Andreas Backman, albeit with the lapped Finlay Crocker between them, on lap 29 Crocker hit the kerbs at Scotsman too hard which launched his car into a spin. Mustering great reactions, Walkinshaw was able to avoid the incident and although experiencing a slight delay he closed back in on Backman and went on to take the flag just 0.8 seconds shy of the top four.
For round four, with the weather much improved, Walkinshaw started from pole position on the partially reversed grid and when the lights went out he made a textbook start – only his second in front-wheel drive.
Despite holding the line into the hairpin on the anti-clockwise Knockhill configuration, and looking all set to continue in the lead, contact to the rear of the Honda at the apex pitched Walkinshaw into a near-spin. Holding onto the car well, he dropped to second as a result and also came under pressure for third.
On lap four into the hairpin, British Touring Car Championship regular Josh Price managed to get alongside into the braking zone to edge Walkinshaw to third and although shuffled back to fifth a couple of laps later, he then consolidated and began to get into a strong rhythm.
As the battle over third closed-up, Walkinshaw moved back up into fourth on lap 11 and as the race approached mid-distance he was within 1.4 seconds of third spot. Edging ever nearer to the No.26 Volkswagen Golf GTi of Jessica Backman, into lap 19 just 0.4 seconds separated the duo.
Out of the hairpin Walkinshaw got a great run to move alongside but, into Clark, slight contact unsettled the Honda. Holding things together well, the SWR driver redoubled his efforts and at the hairpin the next time around more pressure forced Backman into a mistake. Walkinshaw sliced past for third position and instantly pulled away but, on lap 23, racing fell under Safety Car conditions.
Eliminating his three second advantage over the chasing pack, likewise the gap to second placed Price also closed up. Racing didn’t resume, though, until lap 31 and during a single lap dash to the chequered flag Walkinshaw maintained third to secure SWR’s richly deserved first TCR podium.
Brands Hatch in Kent will host the third event of the inaugural TCR UK Championship season over the weekend 2nd/3rd June.