It was a weekend to remember for Andrew Watson at the 1000 kilometres of Paul Ricard as Andrew and the #58 Garage 59 McLaren qualified on the front row and led the majority of the race before eventually coming home in 3rd place at the 6-hour race – marking Andrew’s first overall podium finish in the Blancpain GT Series.
On the back of a successful weekend at Silverstone in the Endurance Cup, Andrew headed to Circuit Paul Ricard full of confidence after displaying some brilliant pace in his McLaren at the home of British Motorsport. 1000 kilometres of Circuit Paul Ricard marked the first night racing of the year, and the first race of the year lasting over 3 hours – a key race on the build-up to the highlight of the Endurance Cup season, the Spa 24 Hours.
Friday’s practice sessions saw Andrew, teamed up once again with Ben Barnicoat and Côme Ledogar in the #58 McLaren 650s GT3, get up to speed at the French circuit; finishing both the sessions inside the top-twenty places, Andrew and the team worked hard to find the perfect balance in the car prior to Saturday’s qualifying session.
Starting Saturday’s action with qualifying, Andrew was selected to drive the first of three qualifying segments and was the standout performer in the #58! Finishing his qualifying session with a 1:54.244 lap time, Andrew put the #58 Garage on provisional pole after a sensational lap time that remained as one of the quickest laps of the weekend – despite running on heavy fuel. Andrew’s teammates then went out for their qualifying laps and the team secured a front row start after their combined qualifying lap time of 1:54.374 left them in 2nd place!
“That was definitely one of my best ever qualifying performances – I nailed the lap! It always feels great to come in after one lap and know that you have gotten everything out of it. It’s a brilliant result for the team, to start the race from the front row, and for my personal performance it was a great feeling to be the quickest driver in the car again despite the heavy fuel!”
With the 6-hour race getting underway with Ben Barnicoat at the wheel of the #58 McLaren, Ben quickly jumped into the lead of the race at the rolling start and defended the position through the opening laps of the race. Stretching out a gap at the front of the field, the #58’s progress was hampered when Full Course Yellows were converted to safety cars, bunching the field back up and forcing Barnicoat in the #58 to manage the restart and redo all his hard work stretching out the gap at the front – a theme that persisted through the entire race.
As he pitted bang on the two-hour mark, Andrew then took over the controls of the #58 McLaren and produced a fantastic two-hour stint. Delivering consistent lap times, Andrew managed the tyres brilliantly and also continued to stretch out the #58’s lead at the front of the field to over twelve-seconds.
Driving duties were then given to Côme Ledogar for the final two hours and the team held the lead until the final hour of the race when a small mistake cost them dear. When the #58 came into the pits for their final stop of the race, a member of the Garage 59 pit crew was deemed to have not been behind the pitlane line before the car set off and the team were handed a drive-through penalty.
Despite falling down the order from the lead of the race, Côme delivered a strong recovery drive and managed to get the #58 McLaren back into the podium places before the end of the race as the team crossed the finishing line in 3rd place to collect their first podium finish of the 2018 season!
“Today’s been a great day, qualifying was fantastic and then in the race, the whole team did a brilliant job. We felt we were really unlucky with the penalty and thought the podium was too far away after the drive through but Côme had a great stint and got us back onto the podium.”
“I was really pleased with my stint, how I managed the tyres whilst still being quick on track. It’s a great result for the team and we’ve picked up some good championship points. This is the perfect buildup heading to Spa 24, so huge thanks to everyone at Garage 59 for their support and hard work this weekend. We’re now full of confidence heading to Spa because the car was brilliant all weekend.”
Andrew now returns to his 3Y Technology BMW M6 GT3 for the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup round at Misano (22nd – 24th June) before joining back up with his Garage 59 team for the Spa 24 Hours (26th – 29th July).