Tough luck for Esmee Hawkey after brilliant qualifying in British GT debut
Esmee Hawkey offered a glimpse of her talent in her first British GT qualifying, where she was second in class - but a series of unfortunate issues in the two races prevented the British driver from capitalising on her pace.
After landing a seat in DTM in 2021, Esmee Hawkey saw her second season in one of Europe's top GT3 championships coming to a halt due to sponsorship issues, which put her very positive progression on hold.
With a new partnership with Ginetta, though, the British racing driver is now back on race tracks, returning to her home soil where she last competed in 2020, in a championship winning campaign in Porsche Carrera Cup GB.
Hawkey has in fact joined the highly-competitive British GT, in a full time GT4 entry with Toro Verde GT, as she teams up with Joe Wheeler in the #80 Ginetta G56 GT4.
“I came into this season with not a lot of testing under my belt in the Ginetta G56 GT4, but it's nice to be back racing on home soil after a few years of racing in Europe", Esmee said.
At the Oulton Park season opener over the Easter weekend, Hawkey offered a glimpse of her talent in qualifying, where she was able to set the fourth time among all the GT4 cars and second in the Silver class. Her qualifying effort was also the top result for non-McLaren cars, as the new Artura GT4s dominated the weekend.
Her teammate Joe Wheeler had contested the Q1, and ended P11 in GT4 and eighth in Silver class, over one second off Hawkey's pace due to traffic in his attempt.
"Going into qualifying, Joe had a bit of bad luck with traffic, but fortunately for my run the traffic was clear and we managed a P2 in the GT4 Silver class and P4 overall in GT4, so it was nice to be competitive right out the gate", explained Hawkey.
On Monday morning, the weather turned out to be one of the variables of race day. Rain had just eased before the start of race 1, but chances of further showers remained high.
James Cottingham led the way in a still very damp track, ahead of the McLaren of Kevin Tse and the Mercedes of Ian Loggie in GT3. In GT4, the McLarens led the pack with Brown and Millar retaining the top of the class; from eighth in GT4 Silver, Wheeler moved up to sixth in class and P21 overall - before a Safety Car was deployed for the stranded #67 Orange Racing by JMH McLaren in the gravel. At the restart, though, Wheeler's Ginetta lost the bonnet after a contact - and was struck by a tire blow on the following lap. After repairs, Wheeler was back in the pits for the mandatory driver change and Esmee Hawkey started her first stint in British GT, albeit three laps down. Ian Loggie meanwhile had moved up to second overall among the GT3 entries, and a brilliant battle emerged just behind for third. With Jules Gounon at the wheel, the #1 Mercedes made its way through traffic, battling the BMW of Harper behind. The Safety Car was again deployed when the #8 Mercedes of Neary went off in the gravel on lap 15. Gounon tricked Harper into a penalty at the restart as the BMW driver overtook the #1 Mercedes before the line; Harper would receive a drive through. The rain started to pour down; in the final minutes, a spectacular battle for the win saw Clutton, Adam and Gunn exchanging positions among the GT4 traffic. Adam got into the lead, while Gunn initially lost second, before fighting back in the closing minutes. On the final lap, Gunn attempted a late move and both the leaders went deep at the final corner, but the #4 2 Seas Motorsport Mercedes somehow managed to cross the finish line first, followed by Gunn and Clutton. In GT4, the Academy Motorsport's Ford Mustangs of Will Moore/Matt Nicoll-Jones and Erik Evans/Matt Cowley claimed a surprise 1-2 after pitting under caution at the second Safety Car, as the dominant McLarens dropped down the order. Michael Crees and Thomas Holland were third in the #55 Raceway Motorsport Ginetta. Esmee Hawkey was able to gain one more position on track and finished eighth in GT4 Silver. “In race one, we had a bit of an incident with the Safety Car where the field just piled up", Hawkey summed up. "It meant that Joe went into the back of a car, giving us damage, which cost us two laps in the pits." "Unfortunately, when I jumped in there wasn't really a lot I could do other than bring the car home in such treacherous conditions.
Another big shower just before the start of race 2 left the teams scratching their heads for the correct tyre choice at the start. Following her spectacular qualifying on Saturday, Esmee Hawkey was supposed to line up fourth place among the GT4 and second in the Silver class - but she had to start from the pit lane after repairs from damage sustained in race 1.
Her ill-fated weekend continued, as power steering failed on the out lap and the British driver was forced to wrestle with the car throughout her stint.
Gounon led Harper and Marciello at a very wet turn 1, before Harper dropped to fourth.
In GT4, the Arturas continued to dominate the field, with Clark preceding Wingley and Rawlings. Esmee Hawkey tried to close in on the cars ahead from the back of the 35 car pack - with weather changing by the minute.
Gounon initially checked out but then had to watch his mirrors from the return of Raffaele Marciello in the #15 Mercedes. When the two leaders caught the lapped GT4 field, Gounon and Marciello had to cautiously find their way past - and Marciello ended up in the grass, but could rejoin without damage.
Midway through the race, the GT4 pit window opened and the leading Optimum McLaren pitted. Esmee Hawkey extended her stint by a few laps, before handing over to Joe Wheeler, from ninth in class.
Ahead, the GT3 leaders pitted with 27 minutes to go, handing their cars over to Loggie and Ferguson; the latter emerged in the lead but then received a stop and go penalty for short pit stop time, leaving Ian Loggie as the new overall leader.
The #29 McLaren, now with Gough behind the wheel, was the GT4 leader after the round of pit stops, preceding Brown and Millar. After the driver change, Wheeler passed class rival Will Moore and moved up to eighth. Positions, though, were restored with two minutes to go.
Positions settled and Ian Loggie/Jules Gounon took victory in race 2, ahead of Ferguson/Marciello and West/Kirchhöfer in GT3; in GT4, it was a McLaren lockout with Gough/Wrigley taking class honors.
Esmee Hawkey and Jon Wheeler were ninth in GT4 Silver, after an unlucky weekend for the #80 Toro Verde Ginetta.
"For race two we wanted to get the damage fixed, and unfortunately, ran out of time", Esmee said. "That meant we had to start from the pitlane and, to make matters worse, as I started to leave the pit lane, I realised that we had no power steering, and the car was very hard to drive because of that."
"All of these factors hindered our performance quite drastically, but the team did an amazing job to get the car back out, so I know we'll do better next time."
Despite the difficulties, Hawkey's pace in qualifying with close to no previous experience of the Ginetta G56 car is a promising sign for the remainder of the season, which will resume at Silverstone on May 6-7, for a three-hour race.