The young Brit showed his ability to adapt to different styles of racing formulas, and he helped to secure a sold P11 finish against a strong LMP2 grid.
The team was on the backfoot early in the weekend’s proceedings after being forced to miss Free Practice 1, but this did not prevent the team pushing for the best possible result in each session. Ben was immediately up to speed in the remaining practice session, making the most of the opportunity to build up some important mileage in the Dallara P217. The top-10 was the target for qualifying after Ben and his teammates worked hard to push themselves and the car to further improve the pace. With more experience of driving prototype racers, Olivier Pla ran during the qualifying session, securing a P9 grid slot for the #45Thunderhead Carlin Racing entry. With the target of a top-10 start for the 4-hour endurance race achieved, the team took no chances when a minor technical issue was detected after qualifying, and an engine change was completed prior to the start of the race.
Ben’s teammate Jack Manchester started the race, and the car ran faultlessly throughout the opening double stint. Like Ben, this race marked the debut for Jack racing a prototype and also his first ELMS event, but the fellow Brit performed strongly during a chaotic start. At the driver-change, Ben prepared himself for his competitive debut outing in an LMP2 car with the team running well in P15.
Belted in to the cockpit for a double stint and clear of the pitlane speed limit, Ben wasted no time in chasing down the cars immediately ahead. Despite his lack of race experience running in LMP2 machinery, the 22-year old proved himself to be highly capable throughout his opening laps. Strong laptimes, careful tyre management and well-timed overtakes saw Ben move up the order, pushing hard for the top-10. As he pitted for fuel and tyres at the end of his first stint, Ben had caught and regained four places, with Thunderhead Carlin Racing now running in P11.
The second half of his stint saw Ben continue to push, and work to bring the gap down to the leaders while managing the performance of the car and working to gain as much experience as possible in race conditions. As the stint came to an end, Ben pitted from a solid P11, and handed over to Olivier Pla for the charge to the chequered flag.
Olivier continued from where Ben left off, with his sights firmly set on P10 for the remainder of the race. A strong closing stint kept the team in the hunt, but the pace of the leaders was too strong in the closing stages. As the flag dropped at the end of hard-fought four hours, Thunderhead Carlin Racing brought the #45 Dallara P217 home in P11, with the car ran faultlessly for the full race distance.
Commenting on his debut prototype race, and his first ELMS experience, Ben explains: ‘This was a huge achievement for the team, and we are really happy with how things went during the race. At this early stage of the season, we haven’t spent that much time working together as a team, and we missed the opportunity for mileage early in the weekend, but the mechanics did a great job all weekend and delivered a reliable car which proved itself over the full race distance. This allowed the three of us to keep pushing, and it is great to bring the car home after a solid race, with no issues after four hours. I’m extremely excited to see what we can achieve for the rest of the year as we all continue to learn more about the car and the series together, and I am looking forward to Monza next month.
At this stage, we know there is work to do on improving the pace in our car, and we did our best to achieve our 11th place finish. We will be working hard with Dallara to push for that top-10 position, which I am confident is a realistic target.’
Ben continued: ‘Overall, I felt the race went very well from my side, and I really enjoyed the whole event. Having Olivier as my teammate is a great benchmark for me, as he is regarded as one of the best prototype drivers on the grid, and for me to be able to work with him and match his pace was a real achievement for my first LMP2 race.
I must say a huge thank you to both Thunderhead and Carlin for having me as part of the team, and I am looking forward to building an even stronger relationship with the team as the year goes on.’
Round 2 of the European Le Mans Series will be the 4 Hours of Monza, which takes place 10-12 May at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy. The race starts at 12.00 CEST (11.00 BST).