The final weekend of the Asian Le Mans Series saw Ben return to the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi with the McLaren 720S GT3 for the first time since 2018. The McLaren Factory Driver made his impressive debut at the circuit as the final part of the car’s development programme, and he was looking to build on his impressive start to the 2021 season which has seen already seen a race victory in Bahrain and podium finish in Dubai.
The opening laps of the weekend’s first race saw Ben’s teammate Brendan sustain damage to the front left corner of the car. Despite the heavy impact, the McLaren was able to continue but suffered with overheating issues for the remainder of the four-hour event which prevented the three drivers from being able to mount a charge for the podium positions. After sterling efforts by Brendan and Ollie, Ben took the final stint but had to manage the pace to the flag while losing around 2 seconds per lap. In spite of the issues, the team secured 10th, and with it a valuable championship point going into the final race.
“The incident at the start of the race wasn’t Brendan’s fault, it was just a racing incident. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a consequence of the contact, we were losing 1.5 to 2.0 seconds a lap for over three hours of the race and we could only push from time to time due to the overheating. I jumped in for the final stint and when I could, I pushed, and the pace of the car was really good.
It was frustrating as the Inception Racing team did a great job with the strategy and, had it not been for the overheating issue, I think we would have been in for a good day. These things happen, that’s racing, and we will come back stronger.”
Following a very late night of hard work from the Inception Racing crew and the car now repaired, the team went into the final race of the series full of confidence and looking for a strong result to sign off the campaign. A blistering start by Brendan would get proceedings underway, moving from 7th to 3rd within the opening laps and fighting against the professional drivers for much of his stint. Two Safety Car periods would interrupt his run, but more strong strategy work from the Inception Racing pitwall would see driver timings managed perfectly and reduced the number of pitstops required.
A switch Brendan for Ollie in the closing stages of the second Safety Car appearance presented the #7 McLaren with an opportunity for a strong latter half of the race which the team capitalised on. Ollie joined the track with a sizeable 50 second gap to the class leader, running in 5th, but a stellar drive saw him steadily move his way up through the field to close the gap and pass the leader in the closing laps of his stint.
With just under half the race remaining and in a commanding position, Ben would take on a double stint to the flag. He rejoined the action in 3rd after the driver change and was quickly on the pace as he set about closing the gap to the lead pair. Such was Ben’s pace that he had caught and passed the 2nd-place Porsche within a lap and he then pulled out a comfortable gap as he worked to close down the GT class leader.
In a final twist, Ben’s charge was briefly halted as he was judged to have made contact making the pass and had to concede the position. This decision saw the 11.5 second gap Ben had built up deleted, all but ending the chance of a victory. However, Ben remained undeterred and once again moved back up to 2nd and set about working on reducing the gap to the leader. In fact, such was his pace that Ben posted the fastest lap and recorded the best average stint performance of the race, eventually crossing the line in 2nd, just 10 seconds off the race win.
Despite the potential victory being snatched away, the result scored 18 further championship points which saw Inception Racing finish 4th in the championship and earn an automatic entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans later this year.
“It’s great to end the Asian Le Mans Series on a high note and with the P2 finish, the team did an outstanding job today. Brendan’s start was amazing and to hold some of the Pro drivers off as long as he did was just unbelievable. The second safety car lasted just long enough for us to get Brendan’s drive time completed and then Ollie was in the car, and he got his head down and closed the gap.
I got in for my double-stint and was so happy with the car. The pace was impressive, and the car felt great. Into that last pitstop, I had to make some big moves but unfortunately, I had to let the Porsche back by which I consider to be an unfair penalty, but these things happen. Were it not for that, I think we were in for a win today and the 720S GT3 was brilliant all afternoon.
I must say a big thanks to the Inception Racing team, Brendan and Ollie – it’s been a great few weeks together and I hope it isn’t the last time we all race together. It would be great to get the band back together again and see what else we can achieve together.”