Ben Barnicoat kicked off his 2021 racing season in winning fashion as part of the 2 Seas Motorsport Pro line-up which dominated the Gulf 12 Hours Bahrain. The McLaren Factory Driver starred during a close qualifying battle and throughout the two 6-hour races alongside team co-owner Isa Al Khalifa and McLaren Professional Driver Martin Kodrić at the wheel of the #33 McLaren 720S GT3. The trio shone under the lights at the Bahrain International Circuit to claim pole position, fastest lap and a first endurance event win for 2 Seas Motorsport, at their home circuit.
Ben has been working with and supporting 2 Seas Motorsport throughout their debut season in 2020 as part of his Factory Driver role with McLaren Customer Racing. However, this weekend marked the first race event the young British star had contested with the Bahraini-British team as they entered an exciting two Pro-car assault on the relocated Gulf 12 Hour event at the Bahrain International Circuit, with the #7 sister McLaren being shared by Ed Jones, Dylan Pereira and Lewis Williamson. Indeed, it was this line-up which would prove the closest rivals to Ben, Isa and Martin throughout the free practice and qualifying sessions.
The weekend’s first test session saw the #33 suffer a heavy impact in the opening minutes which would prevent any further running. The team worked overnight to repair the damage, and their efforts were not in vain as Isa battled with his teammates in the sister car to secure the top spots in free practice 2, while Ben went on to post the quickest time in the third and final practice session. This pace was clear through each of the qualifying sessions, and slight advantage tipped between the 2 Seas Motorsport cars. First blood went to the #7 at the hands of Ed Jones who narrowly pipped Isa to the top spot, then it was the turn of Martin to redress the balance as the team once again ended the session P1 and P2. With the starting grid set by the average of the three sessions, it fell to Ben to lay down the benchmark, and his efforts saw him post the fastest lap of the weekend and secure the team a front row lockout for their home event, with the pair split by just 0.2s over the three sessions.
Ben took the start of the opening race, maintaining the lead through turn 1 and then looking to make the most of the clear track while the chasing pack battled for position. The pace of the #33 McLaren was clear from the start, and Ben set about building a lead over the following laps which his rivals had no answer to. As he entered the pitlane at the end of his opening stint, Ben had stretched the lead to over a minute.
From here, Isa took over followed by Martin, and each of them picked up where Ben had left off. Lap times continued to eclipse the opposition, and the lead peaked at in excess of 3m 30s. A technical issue in the latter half of the opening race looked to undo all of the efforts as the team carried out two precautionary pitstops which ebbed away at the advantage. The second of these saw the car briefly return to the garage for the team to diagnose the issues, and with Ben back in the car for the final stint to the 6-hour mark, he joined the track in P4. The laps which followed were among the strongest of the young star’s career as he worked to close down the gap to the podium positions in the time he had left. Over the course of the remaining laps, Ben posted the quickest lap of the opening race, catching and passing the three cars ahead with 10 minutes to spare and at the chequered flag he had opened up a lead of close to 30 seconds.
The second half of the event saw the grid reform and Ben once again held the responsibility of leading the field away. From here, it was a case of picking up where they left off for more of the same and that is exactly what they did. Ben wasted no time in looking to rebuild the lead which had been neutralised and once again maintained the race lead from the start, he then built up a lead over the following laps before handing over to Isa. The drivers maintained their discipline over each of the stints and as the track temperature dropped, lap times across the grid improved. With Ben holding the fastest lap in the opening six hours, Martin then posted the quickest tour of the circuit in the second part. As the chequered flag fell, Ben and his teammates had extended the lead to over 2 minutes and secured the clean sweep of accolades for the weekend with pole position, two fastest laps and – most crucially – race victory for 2 Seas Motorsport on home soil.
“What an absolutely incredible result! I am so proud that we could produce such a performance and secure the victory for 2 Seas Motorsport here in Bahrain. On a personal note, I am also really proud to get my first outright race win in the 720S GT3 after playing such a key part in its development and having come so close on the debut of the car at this event in Abu Dhabi two years ago. The car and set up felt great in every session, and it was clear that we had the fastest all-round package all weekend on a grid full of strong manufacturers.
“I have worked with 2 Seas Motorsport throughout the past season, and it is amazing to see how well everyone works together, all pulling in the same direction, and that was clear to see in the way we worked over the whole event. It was really unfortunate to lose the second car so early as we had a real opportunity for a strong result and they kept us honest in every session, so we were looking forward to continuing that, but I am so proud of what we have all achieved. Martin and Isa produced faultless stints every time they got in the car and considering this was Isa’s first time racing the McLaren, that is a fantastic achievement.
“We did have a couple of slightly concerning moments during the event, especially after losing the other car, but we had faith in the car and trusted the team in the garage to do their job and we just focused on doing ours. I am really proud to be part of the 2 Seas Motorsport team and to have achieved this result here at the team’s home track, and I would like to thank the team owners, Isa and Nick Cristofaro, for their support and confidence in me to run this weekend.”