Scottish endurance racer Finlay Hutchison began his debut season in the LMGTE class with an impressive fourth place finish. The 20 year old joined new team mates Hunter Abbott and former title winner, Jody Fannin in driving leading team JMW Motorsport’s unmistakable yellow Ferrari F488 GTE EVO in last weekend’s race.
To add to the excitement, Hutchison didn’t have his maiden run in the Ferrari until the free practice session last Friday, just one day before qualifying which was also his first track time in a race car since last year. It also marked his first ever run on Goodyear tyres.
Qualifying eighth in class for the opening four-hour race of the ELMS season, the 4 Hours of Le Castellet at Circuit Paul Ricard, the JMW team were in good spirits for race day.
Abbott started Sunday’s race and put together a strong opening lap, gaining two places to move into the top six. Challenging the #98 Aston Martin, he applied significant pressure and with 10 minutes gone there was nothing to split them.
As the first hour approached, the LMGTE cars started pitting to make their initial driver-change with Abbott eventually coming into the pit holding second place. Hutchison got behind the wheel for the second stint and joined in fourth position, just as the race fell under a Full Course Yellow cautionary period.
Racing got back underway with just under three hours to run, and the Scot was 3.5 seconds shy of the podium placings but was edged back to fifth by the #77 Porsche of Alessio Picariello.
As the Porsche continued to move higher up the LMGTE order, so too Hutchison made progress and swiftly took fourth from one of the rival Ferraris. No sooner had he done that, the ELMS rookie then sealed third from another Ferrari around the outside at the end of the Mistral Straight on lap 37. Hutchison continued to battle on and with just one hour and 50 minutes to go, he pitted from fourth in class to hand the car back to Abbott.
Once Abbott had rejoined the race he held fifth and had his mirrors filled with the #98 Aston Martin, now with Mathias Lauda at the wheel.
Moving into fourth and fifth respectively as the final 90 minutes approached, Abbott continued to soak up immense pressure but on lap 71 Lauda was able to go through. Moving back into the top four ahead of the final pit-stop, Abbott pitted to hand over to Fannin with just over an hour remaining of the race.
As former class champion Fannin’s stint began, he had the #98 Aston right behind with Ross Gunn at the wheel and the JMW car was edged back to sixth on lap 88 on Mistral Straight.
On the final lap, though, there was drama aplenty in the LMGTE class, the Aston Martin pitted after sustaining a puncture but got trapped in the pitlane. Fannin too was impacted by a puncture on the Ferrari, but he expertly made it to the finish to grab an unexpected fourth place despite the flat tyre.
“It’s great to be back, I’m delighted to be back racing”, said Hutchison, “The Ferrari is really nice to drive, it’s pretty friendly, and I got adjusted to the lack of ABS quite quickly. It was a spectacular finish to the race, Jody [Fannin] crossed the line with a flat tyre after a puncture at the end but with the Aston in the pits after popping a tyre as well we were able to take fourth.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the JMW guys and both Jody and Hunter [Abbott], it’s been quite strange actually working with a British team again – I’ve not done that since I was in Formula Renault back in 2016. It’s been a good start in ELMS, I’m looking forward to Spa now next month.”
Round two of the European Le Mans Series will take place over the weekend August 8/9 at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps.