Ben joined Thunderhead Carlin Racing teammates Jack Manchester and Harry Tincknell in Italy for the 4 Hours of Monza, and the team showed strong improvements following the opening round, but bad luck saw the team narrowly miss out on a top-10 finish.
The weekend started well for the team, with the development and set up work which had been the focus in the run-up to the second event of the calendar proving to have made significant gains. The first practice session was run in dry conditions, and the all-British trio ended the session in a very strong P4, running confidently and knowing the areas where improvement could be found. Further improvements were made during the second free practice session, and the team ended the session feeling positive in P6.
Following these performances during the practice sessions, Ben was chosen by the team to qualify for the race. The pace of the Thunderhead Carlin Racing Dallara P217 was extremely strong during qualifying, but Ben’s fastest flying lap was deleted due to a track limits infringement on the exit of turn 7, Lesmo 2. Ben’s second quickest laptime had been his first attempt around the famous 5.793-kilometre Monza circuit, but he had encountered traffic during his effort which had compromised his pace at various points. Despite this, the #45 Thunderhead Carlin Racing entry lined up in P10 for the start of the four-hour endurance race.
Commenting on qualifying, Ben explained: ‘It was great to be put forward by the team to run in qualifying, and I am grateful to have been given this opportunity. Overall, it was a strong effort during the session, and the pace was certainly there to secure a strong position. I am disappointed with the end result, and apologised to the team for my small error, but these things happen when you are pushing to try and get everything out of the car. The car felt great, and we have shown that the car has the pace to run in the top-5 and we are moving in the right direction with the set up work that has been done since the last round.’
Ben’s teammate Jack Manchester was first in the car for the start of the race, running a single stint and eventually pitting from P12. Ben took over for the second stint, and he pushed hard to move into a top-10 position when a Full Course Yellow period brought about a number of late strategy calls by other teams, resulting in changes to the order. Ben stayed out on track during the caution period and, when the track went green and racing resumed, he had moved up to P8 and on the hunt for further positions before having to pit. After a very aggressive fuel strategy in the early stages of the stint, Ben was efficiently balancing fuel management whilst also looking to move up the order before eventually pitting from P6.
Ben handed back over to Jack for his second time in the car but, shortly after leaving the pitlane, an on-track incident brought the racing under caution again as the safety car was deployed. This saw the leader of the race make a late call for a pitstop, returning to the track ahead of the safety car, which put a lap between the leader and the #45 of Thunderhead Carlin Racing. This compromised the progress that had been made up to that point with the cars ahead still on the lead lap and, as racing resumed, the Jack was running in P11.
At the next pitstop, Ben returned to the cockpit and worked hard to reduce the deficit to the cars ahead. The pace of the car was still extremely strong and the gap was reduced, with Ben continuing to carefully manage fuel usage while pressing the teams ahead. As he entered the pitlane at the end of his second and final stint, Ben had moved up to P9 in the standings before handing over to Harry Tincknell for the run to the chequered flag.
Lady luck had one final cruel card to play during this final stint as a Full Course Yellow caution was called as Harry made his way on to the track. In an almost identical situation to the earlier caution period, all the leaders took to the pitlane and with all pitstops now completed, Thunderhead Carlin Racing had dropped a further lap, now running back in P11. Following the final restart, Harry was able to run cleanly for the remaining laps without pressure from the chasing pack, but the circumstances meant he was unable to move up the order, bringing the car home in P11.
Following the race, Ben explained:
"The end result of the weekend was not reflective of the performance and speed the car had, and the team has made significant gains since the opening race, so we leave Monza slightly disappointed but feeling really positive that we have the pace to challenge for the top-6 moving forward. The Thunderhead Carlin Racing team did a great job,
Jack and Harry drove well all weekend, and we are a much more competitive outfit than we were previously. We deserved much more than the end result suggested, but luck was against us, especially with the double safety car periods.
Personally, I really enjoyed my first stint and it was great to move up the field. We managed to pass the winner of the Paul Ricard race following the safety car restart, so we know we have the pace in the car and we are definitely moving in the right direction. We know where we can make further improvements ahead of the next race, and we now have a few weeks to prepare, regroup and go again for Round 3 in Barcelona.
Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to the team at Thunderhead Carlin Racing for all the hard work and support over this weekend, and for this opportunity to be part of this exciting ELMS project. I’d also like to thank my sponsor Wentvalley Aggregates and Recycling for their continued support."
Round 3 of the European Le Mans Series will be the 4 Hours of Barcelona, which takes place 19-20 July at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain. The race starts at 18.30 CEST (17.30 BST).