A tough race saw Ben forced to retire near the end of the three-hour event, but not before the young Brit and his teammates Martin Kodrić and Lewis Williamson had shown potential throughout qualifying and the race at the world-famous Imola circuit.
A combined average laptime from each driver is used to set the starting grid, and the three 59Racing teammates were separated by just 0.8 seconds over the three flying laps. The combined times highlighted the intense competition throughout the field, with just 0.4 seconds separating pole position and the #60 McLaren 720S GT3 on the seventh row. Lining up in P13, Martin would take the start for 59Racing which qualified as the top-performing of the two McLarens debuting in the championship.
The chaotic rolling start around the 4.959km circuit saw the grid of more than 40 GT3 cars battling for position into turn 1, but Martin kept himself out of trouble and moved up to P12 in the opening laps before being hit. Despite the contact, Martin recovered well to maintain P15 and slotted into the high-speed train of cars looking for opportunities to pass, but his opportunities were limited by several safety car periods due to on-track incidents. The third safety car appearance occurred just as the race approached the 60-minute mark, and with the pace now limited and the pitlane window open, Martin pitted to ensure the least time was lost for the driver change.
With the field all grouped behind the safety car, the pitlane was heavily congested and the pitstop was compromised as Lewis climbed in to the cockpit. Lewis left the pitlane in P31 with the positioning of other cars causing the team to lose time, but the pace of the McLaren was clear and, over the following laps Lewis had recovered 10 places and was closing on a top-20 position before the team received penalties for speeding infringements forcing Lewis to take two tours of the pitlane, losing the positions he had fought so hard to make up.
Ben took over the final hour stint and was running in P30 as he headed out on track. Running in clear air, Ben was able to stretch the legs of the 59Racing 720S GT3 and show the pace which penalties and traffic had restricted Martin and Lewis in the earlier stints. Ben posted consecutive green sectors as the fastest laps for the team so far, and fourth quickest overall just behind the race leaders. Ben’s pace was then stunted as the stewards handed a third penalty to the team for contact earlier in the race, and following the restart from the fourth safety car intervention Ben was forced to bring an early end to proceeding for the #60 720S GT3 after contact as he made up a position.
“A disappointing end to a challenging race, but we leave the weekend with a lot of positives. The car felt extremely strong and we showed that we had the pace when we got the chance to run in clear air. Imola is a difficult circuit to pass at, and the grid this year is incredibly closely matched as qualifying showed, but we were able to make an impact moving up the order as we recovered.
“It was a tough weekend, but it is great to be back racing and we have a huge amount of potential in the team, the car and drivers. I’d like to say a huge thank you to the whole 59Racing team on making a strong start to their European racing campaign against some of the best teams and drivers in the world, and we have shown that we can compete and challenge at the highest level.
We are working on fitting all the pieces of the jigsaw together and we will arrive at the Nürburgring stronger than ever in a few weeks.”
Ben will return to track action with 59Racing for the second round of the GT World Challenge powered by AWS Endurance Cup at the start of September for the 6 Hours of Nürburgring, 5-6 September.