When we last spoke with Sean Walkinshaw, last year after the Blancpain GT season had just come to an end, he said he wished to stay with Nissan for a long time. A break-through season in 2015 was enough for Nissan to feel the same way about the 22-year-old. The Japanese manufacturer signed him up for a works drive with Nissan GT Academy Team RJN and placed him with GT Academy graduates Romain Sarazin and Matt Simmons to learn them the ropes of GT racing.
Walkinshaw himself didn’t take long to get up to speed in the Blancpain GT Series last year. Never before had he competed in the championship and despite only minor GT experience, he quickly picked up on teammate Craig Dolby’s lessons. By the end of the year the Always Evolving squad impressed with strong runs, but the bad luck that had already haunted them throughout the first half of the season hadn’t let up. Always Evolving wouldn’t return to the series in 2016, but Nissan and McLaren had already taken notice of the fast Walkinshaw and Dolby, as well as their Blancpain Endurance Series teammate Martin Plowman. While Dolby and Plowman went on to race with McLaren’s works team, Walkinshaw became a works driver in only his second season of GT racing.
“It’s really good to be a works driver,” the Belgian-born Scot says in the Monza paddock, having had his first taste of competing as a works driver two weeks before at Misano for the Blancpain GT Sprint Cup, where he’s teamed with Ricardo Sánchez in an assault on the Silver Cup. “It’s obviously very different from how MRS and Always Evolving ran last year, but it’s certainly a nice thing and I’m feeling more and more comfortable with the team and hopefully it’s going to be a very good season again.”
Benefiting from his status as a Silver-graded driver, placing Walkinshaw with rookies Romain Sarazin and Matt Simmons for in the Endurance Cup was a logical move. Carrying the team as the lead driver, however, is a completely new experience.
“Not much is different being a works driver now,” Walkinshaw continues. “The biggest different is that this year I’m the lead driver in the car, whereas last year it was Craig [Dolby] who was the lead driver and I was learning from him. Now I am and having to try and share my experience with my other two team mates in the car. Especially since they’re not very experienced, as they’re the new guys from the GT Academy, and this is their first-ever proper international race weekend. They’ve got a lot of pressure on them.
“Being able to work together with a factory team is amazing. Our car is going to get stronger after every round, the guys are going to keep learning and both Matt [Simmons] and Roman [Sarazin] are getting better and better at every round. Hopefully, by the time we get to Silverstone or Paul Ricard, we’ll be fighting for podiums and always be up there.”
Going back to 2015, there was always a sense of brotherhood between Walkinshaw and Dolby. Having made it through the roller coaster season together, the two remain friends, even though they’re now on opposite sides of the paddock.
“Obviously I miss Craig,” he laughs. “We’re good friends and I’ve known him for a long time, so it’s disappointing that we couldn’t be working together for this year. But he’s now driving for McLaren in the Sprint Series and I’m here, so we can now race against each other, which is fun.”