Arriving at the tenth and final round of the year, the #38 JOTA McLaren had shown recent race-winning pace, but Ben and his teammates Ollie Wilkinson and Rob Bell struggled to replicate this around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. With each of the three drivers struggling to generate sufficient grip levels, the opportunity to secure the result that the team deserved and hoped for was unlikely. The early sessions saw Ben working to build the pace, and the pre-qualifying session ended with his quickest lap ensuring the sole McLaren entry was running solidly in the top-10.
A challenging qualifying session saw Ben pushing for a top-10 position, but traffic proved to be a factor as the grid of 46 cars vied for track position, affecting the final effort. At the flag, Ben set the benchmark for his teammates, crossing the line in 18th place. Ollie then took over followed by Rob, and as the qualifying session concluded, the #38 stood in 25th position, leaving the trio of McLaren Factory Drivers work to do over the upcoming three-hour finale.
The race got underway in warm and dry conditions, and Ben set about his stint as he has all season with a blistering first lap. Starting firmly in the midfield, Ben was cautious to avoid contact during the opening few corners, but his dogged determination saw him move up five positions and into the top-20 as the lap was completed. A Safety Car intervention on lap 2 put Ben in a prime position for further advances, making up two further places after the restart and was running in 16th place by the 30-minute mark. As the clock counted down to the end of the first hour, and the conclusion of Ben’s stint, he carefully positioned his JOTA McLaren to size up further opportunities and as the pit window opened the 24-year-old was running 13th with several leading cars opting to pit early. Capitalising on clear air ahead, and looking to sign off his season, Ben pressed on and reduced the gap ahead. He eventually pitted from 8th position to conclude an impressive opening stint.
From here on, Ben watched on as Ollie took the fight to the competition, engaged in a stint-long battle, fighting hard for 15th place as the race action settled for the second hour. He then brought the car into the pits for the final stint, as Rob then set off for the sprint to the flag. With race and championship positions very much at stake, the battles intensified as the time ticked down, and further action up and down the field saw further Full Course Yellow and Safety Car interruptions. Each of these periods closed the grid up and provided further opportunities, and as the final Safety Car released the pack with less than 4 minutes remaining, one final restart saw the #38 McLaren hold on to 13th at the line.
“Qualifying was the big disappointment from the weekend as we all struggled to unlock some raw pace on new tyres, which we still have some question marks around. However, heading into the race we were confident we had a better race setup than over a single lap, and the race proved that to be the case. The opening lap was absolutely crazy – probably one of the wildest ones I have ever been involved in – but I managed to keep out of trouble and make up some ground. From there, I just kept my head down and chipped away at the job in hand. It was a fun stint, and we definitely had front-running pace which meant I could move up to 13th, but that’s where the progress stopped unfortunately. We obviously wanted to end the season on a high and give the JOTA team and McLaren Customer Racing the strong result we have all been working so hard for but qualifying put us on the back foot.
“A huge thanks to everyone at JOTA and McLaren Customer Racing for what has been a really fun year, and to Ollie and Rob for all their efforts. We have shown we have the pace and ability to run as a frontrunning outfit, and to take on the best in the world. Despite not having the big results, this still goes down as one of my favourite seasons to date for the great team spirit and camaraderie, and I am really grateful to each member of the team for that.”
Ben now heads straight into another race weekend as he prepares to contest the next round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, the Indianapolis 8 Hour. The event takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 15-17 October.