Ben Barnicoat shines at Spa

Tuesday, August 3, 2021
GT World Challenge Europe - Spa 24 Hours - Race Report

Ben Barnicoat added to his impressive 2021 season with a stellar performance at the 73rd running of the 24 Hours of Spa with JOTA.

The headline GT3 endurance event saw Ben driving the McLaren 720S GT3 alongside Rob Bell and Ollie Wilkinson, with the three McLaren Factory Drivers finishing in 7th place after a hard-fought 24-hour battle, and a last-gasp attack in the dramatic closing stages. The result marks the best-ever result for McLaren at the event.

After the main qualifying session for all 58 entries, the average laptimes across Ben and his teammates secured the #38 JOTA McLaren a place in the Superpole qualifying shootout, ending the session in 19th. Ben was nominated for the shootout, with the results setting the final starting grid slots for the quickest 20 cars. This was Ben’s first ever Superpole appearance, and he didn’t shy away from the opportunity. After initially posting the quickest time for provisional pole, Ben’s laptime eventually ended the session 6th quickest. This result saw him with the biggest gain in the shootout, improving by 13 places from the previous session.

Ben wasted no time from the start and had already gained a position by the end of the first lap. A prolonged full course yellow period then saw the team take the early decision to roll the dice with the strategy. Ben wasted no time on the restart, and after making further progress immediately from the track going green, the pitstop schedules continued to play out which saw Ben move back up the order. In fact, each of Ben’s stints saw him move back through the field and regain a top-10 position, running as high as 2nd. The strategy saw Ben back out on track to take the stints to the 6-hour and 12-hour marks. With championship points are awarded at both times, as well as at the end of the race, securing an additional nine points to boost the team’s championship drive.

Ben and the JOTA team were unlucky with the timings of pitstops during the middle section of the race as they looked at a different strategy to the other leading cars. However, three pitstops were made during full green running, only to be followed almost immediately by a Full Course Yellow or a Safety Car. This enabled the lead pack to react on each occasion, pitting while the field was limited on race speed, therefore gaining an advantage.

Outright pace during the race was never in question for the McLaren. Ben set the fastest 30-lap average of any driver in the event by a staggering +0.35 which was highlighted when he battled to unlap himself on more than one occasion after the team dropped back with the ill-timed Full Course Yellow periods. This would set up the final stints for the team which would have a further twist before the chequered flag. With 9th place looking all-but-secured with an hour remaining, Ben would take to the track for the sprint finish before a late deluge of rain saw the playbook thrown out of the window. As the field scrambled for wet tyres, Ben took on a final challenge to chase down the group ahead. This determination paid off with less than 15 minutes remaining, securing 7th place and taking this to the finish line.  

Ben Barnicoat:

“It is amazing to get a such a great result at the 24 Hours of Spa, and to bring it home with the McLaren 720S GT3 and JOTA. Changeable conditions are always a challenging in such high-pressure races like Spa 24, and I had them in the opening and closing stints, but the car setup was spot on, and we managed to make up positions on both occasions, which just highlighted the strength of our package this weekend. We got hit by a penalty for track limits in the early stages which put us on the back foot, and we were incredibly unlucky with the Full Course Yellow timings in the middle of the race. However, Rob and Ollie were on top form throughout, and we were inside of the top-10 pretty much all the way through which is impressive in itself. It was also great to be able to fight in the dying moments of the race and secure the extra two positions in the last few laps. 7th sounded a lot better than 9th to me!
“I really can’t thank each and every individual of our team enough. In, what is the toughest GT3 race of the year, you can’t afford have any pieces of the puzzle missing and we didn’t. Everyone at JOTA and McLaren Customer Racing were amazing. Rob, Ollie and I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Ben returns to the track for round 7 of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS calendar, with the next Sprint Cup event at Brands Hatch, 28-29 August.