As temperatures soared across Europe at the weekend, Ben Barnicoat was back in European Le Mans Series action for round 3 of the championship, taking place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain. The four-hour endurance battle saw Ben and his Thunderhead Carlin Racing teammates achieve the best result to date, securing the first points of the season with a hard-fought P9 finish.
After more than two months since the last round in Monza, Ben was back in the Thunderhead Carlin Racing Dallara P217 in the all-English line-up alongside teammates Jack Manchester and Harry Tincknell, and early pace for the weekend looked strong in the weekend’s opening sessions. Despite the high temperatures creating very demanding conditions in the cockpit for the drivers, as well as for the engineers setting the car up, the team showed big performance improvements, and confidence was high as the second free practice session ended with the team running in the top-6.
The 10-minute qualifying session saw Ben’s teammate Harry Tincknell take on driving duties, and the 27-year old secured P8 – the highest grid slot of the year so far – as the team continues to find pace in the #45 Thunderhead Carlin Racing entry.
Commenting ahead of the race, Ben explained: ’We knew we were in a strong position off the back of the last race in Monza where the car felt quick, and we were confident as the first session went green here in Barcelona. The high ambient and track temperatures are going to be a challenge for us, as they will be for everyone, and we still had some work to do to find the sweet spot with the setup, but we are feeling confident, and the Thunderhead Carlin Racing team is working hard to give us the quickest car possible for the race. The added challenge will be the race being run into darkness, with no floodlights, so that is going to be a new experience for me, but I cannot wait.’
As with the previous rounds of the season, Jack Manchester started the race, and was looking to make progress through the field as quickly as possible. Wasting no time, Jack made moves and was running in P5 before being hit by a competitor which caused damage to the rear wing of the #45. This damage affected Jack’s pace, and he battled his way to the pitstop where the rear wing was changed. Pitting from P7, Jack handed over to Harry while the Thunderhead Carlin Racing pitcrew set about changing to the rear wing. Quick work saw the wing replaced in 1m 20s, and Harry returned to the track just outside the top-10.
An incident-free stint for Harry saw him regain ground and move back up in to the points-paying top-10. Jack returned to the car for his second stint but was again involved in an incident which wasn’t his fault, causing him to spin and lose ground. Jack recovered well, returning to the track in P10 and was quickly back up to race pace without letting the incident affect his focus.
With Ben waiting to take over, Jack brought the #45 into the pitlane, but as he crossed the line the safety car was scrambled due to an incident on track. This proved to be the worst-case scenario in terms of timings as it eventually put the #45 two laps down. Despite this, Ben was fully focused as he emerged from the pitlane in P10 just behind the race leader on track. The rest of the lead pack were almost an entire lap ahead, running at the back of the train behind the safety car, giving Ben a mountain to climb if he was to move up the order.
A late afternoon start saw the race continue as the sun set, and as the temperatures began to drop, so did the laptimes as Ben set about the task of closing the gap with just under an hour and a half remaining. Ben’s pace throughout his stint was among the quickest on the circuit, and the 22-year old from Chesterfield continued to push as darkness fell over the 4.655km circuit. This continued pressure paid off, and Ben pulled back the gap and made a move stick to bring Thunderhead Carlin Racing back up to P9 in the closing stages, which is where he would eventually finish.
Following the race result, Ben commented:
‘This a strong result for us all. It is great to have scored our best finish of the season, and to get some points on the board, and the result is a real credit to the great drives by Jack and Harry, along with the hard work by the Thunderhead Carlin Racing team. We continue to learn and gain valuable experience with each and every lap, and this race brought some new challenges which I definitely enjoyed taking on. These LMP2 cars are extremely quick and racing here in Barcelona in the dark with no floodlights is a real test of any driver. I loved it!’
‘We were extremely unlucky to get tangled up in incidents that weren’t our fault, and the safety car period couldn’t have come at a worse time, but we know we have strong pace in the car and there are a lot of positives to focus on from the weekend. The result and the pace we showed puts us in a good place, and the whole team is getting stronger with each race. From here, we have a solid foundation for our home race next time out at Silverstone.’
‘Thank you to the whole Thunderhead Carlin Racing team for another strong weekend, and to my sponsor Wentvalley Aggregates and Recycling for their continued support. I am confident we will continue to go from strength to strength and I’m really looking forward to being on home soil for the next race.’
Round 4 of the European Le Mans Series will be the 4 Hours of Silverstone, which takes place 30-31 August. The race starts at 14.30 BST.