Ben was back in LMP2 action with Thunderhead Carlin Racing following his podium finish at the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour with the McLaren 720S GT3, but he wasted no time in getting up to speed for round 3 of the Asian Le Mans Series at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit. Despite extreme weather, and difficult running conditions with very little dry running during the practice sessions for the weekend, Ben and the team worked hard to optimise the set up on the #45 Thunderhead Carlin Racing Dallara P217, and the car showed strong pace early on.
With the track running schedule compromised due to the weather, the team looked at options to improve the single lap pace for qualifying. However, outright pace was slightly hampered for Harry Tincknell in qualifying, and the session ended with Thunderhead Carlin Racing with a third row starting slot, in P6.
Ahead of the race, the team returned the #45 back to the original base set up and Ben’s teammate Jack took on the responsibility for the delayed start, following a severe rain storm. With a more neutral set up, the pace of the car was immediately there as Jack made a strong start moving from his sixth-place gridslot up to P4 during the opening stint. At the pitstops, the team kept Jack in the car and moved up to P2 before the race-leader lost control and span, moving Jack up to the race lead.
With track conditions drying, the front runners started to look at a risky switch to slick tyres. Thunderhead Carlin Racing opted to continue on wet tyres, but a call mid-stint brought Jack in to the pitlane out of sequence and a switch of tyres and Ben took over on a greasy circuit. As he took to the circuit, around half of the track was still wet, and it was a case of monitoring the grip levels as the surface evolved with each lap, building up speed quickly to maintain heat in the tyres.
Ben wasted no time in pushing the pace in the cockpit of the #45 and, after re-joining the race in P3, the young Brit’s first stint saw him move quickly up to the leading pair and took the race lead. With a clear track, Ben started to pull out a lead at the head of the field. Following an incident on track, Ben was unsighted of debris on track in sector 1 which caused a puncture. As Ben attempted to bring the car back to the pitlane, the punctured tyre caused bodywork damage which needed to be repaired and delayed the return to the track. With tyres changed and a new splitter fitted, Ben returned to the track in P5 and immediately worked his way back through the traffic.
It didn’t take long before Ben was back fighting for the podium positions, and a bold move around the outside of turn 1 saw the 23-year old retake the race lead. From here, Ben set about rebuilding the lead and set the fastest lap of the race before pitting with a 15s lead, to hand over to his teammates for a final stint each.
The lap following Ben’s pitstop saw a further incident out on track which brought out a full course yellow, dropping Thunderhead Carlin Racing back to P2 with a 30s gap to the leader as Harry returned to the track. The gap reduced with every remaining lap and, as the chequered flag fell with Jack now at the wheel, the #45 crossed the line in P2. However, a post-race investigation saw a time penalty applied to the race leader, and Thuderhead Carlin Racing were promoted and took the outright race win – the first of the season.
“It is such a great feeling to get the first official race win of the season with Thunderhead Carlin Racing. The team has done an absolutely fantastic job at each round, and it is great to finally have the race result we knew we were capable of, and to show what Jack, Harry and I can do. It was far from easy, and the track conditions were extremely tricky throughout the whole weekend, but we managed to stay out of trouble for the most part and brought the car home.
“The pace of the car all weekend was fantastic, and it felt absolutely perfect during the race. My stints all went well, and it was great fun to work my way through the pack and up to the race lead. It was frustrating to lose the lead on track with the full course yellow, but Jack and Harry did a great job in their stints, and I’m really proud of the result and to have scored the win and fastest lap of the race.
“With this result, we head to the season finale in Buriram just eight points off the championship lead, so all focus is on securing a strong result there and running our own race. We will be pushing to build on this strong result here in Sepang, which will give us the best possible chance for the Asian Le Mans Series title and entry in to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
“A huge thank you to the Thunderhead Carlin Racing team for giving us an amazing car again this weekend. I’d also like to thank Wentvalley Aggregates and Recycling for the continued support of my racing programmes.”
The season finale, round 4 of the Asian Le Mans Series, takes place at the Chang International Circuit for the 4 Hours of Buriram in Thailand, 21-23 February.