After a challenging start to the weekend, which saw Ben have limited track running in the car, Ben was immediately up to speed around the challenging 6.213 kilometre circuit at the wheel of the latest McLaren GT3 model. Qualifying was undertaken by Ben’s teammate Alvaro Parente, a winner of the event in 2016, and this experience paid dividends as the Portuguese driver progressed through the initial sessions into the top-10 shootout. Here, over one flying lap, Parente secured an all-important front-row grid slot for the number 60 car.
Ben was chosen to take the start of the race, which presents a unique challenge in the world of motorsport as it takes place before sunrise. The opening laps around the tight and difficult circuit are then run in darkness before a different set of challenges are presented to drivers, as they race over the top of the mountain course directly into the sunrise.
Despite these difficult conditions, Ben made a strong start from the front of the grid of more than 30 GT cars, and a cautious but fiercely determined approach saw the 23-year old Brit maintain a push for the lead over the opening laps. Conscious of it being a marathon, not a sprint event, Ben held station but kept pushing for a way through, and when an opportunity presented itself before the sun had risen, a bold move through the fastest section of the circuit moved the number 60 720S GT3 up into the overall race lead.
An early Safety Car period saw the team make a bold strategy call which split the leaders, as the early pitstop then saw the front runners on different pitstop cycles. This saw Ben and his teammates Alvaro and Tom consistently moving up through the pack and regaining the lead after each scheduled stop. A pitlane speed infringement saw the team handed a 30 second penalty which put a temporary halt on the charge through the pack, but with several hours still remaining, consistently quick laptimes saw Ben and his teammates move the 59Racing entry back up to fight for the podium positions.
An action-packed final two hours of the race saw front-runners suffer with tyre damage and the order of the leading pack changed with almost each lap. The weather also looked to present a different challenge in the closing stages, with lightning and rain forecast for the final few laps. Despite these potential distractions, Ben continued to lap the technical Mount Panorama circuit and make moves to keep the team in contention going into the final hour. As he pitted for the final time to hand over to Tom Blomqvist, the team was sitting in fifth place.
Tom picked up where Ben left off with a string of quick laps, and with dramas continuing to affect the leading cars as the clock ticked down, the number 60 was running in second place with two laps remaining. The team which had dropped to third place had been forced to make a late pitstop due to a tyre failure, which had promoted the number 60 into second, but now running on new tyres, the gap was quickly reduced as Tom looked to bring the car home in an impressive third place, and the much-feared rain storm arrived as Tom negotiated the final turns of the last lap. However, a regulation infringement by the team during the pitstop saw them penalised with a 30 second penalty, promoting Ben, Tom, Alvaro and the number 60 720S GT3 back up to the second podium position.
“What a race! I think we experienced very emotion during this weekend. We knew we had a strong package coming into the event, and the 59Racing team has done a great job with the set up of the car, which felt like it was on rails over the top of the Mountain. It just fills you with confidence as a driver when the car feels balanced and stable, and that showed in the laptimes that we were able to put in. Alvaro did an amazing job during qualifying to put us at the business-end of the grid, and then the three of us just focused on consistent laptimes, and it just all came together perfectly over the course of the race.
“I felt comfortable throughout the whole time I was in the car, and Alvaro and Tom putt in some great drives during their stints which is a massive credit to the team, and I would like to say a sincere thanks to them for the opportunity to showcase the 720S GT3 at this track – a real bucket-list experience.
"The 59Racing crew didn’t miss a beat during each of the pitstops, and we made a bold call early on with the strategy and it was a great call. We were unlucky with the penalty, but I think everyone had a mixture of good and bad luck, and to take home a podium finish is a really huge achievement, especially as this is the first time the 720S GT3 has competed here.”