Dominant performance unrewarded at home event for Ben Barnicoat

Monday, August 30, 2021
GT World Challenge Europe - Race Report

It was a case of what-might-have-been for Ben Barnicoat and his JOTA teammate Ollie Wilkinson at the latest round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge powered by AWS Sprint Cup round at Brands Hatch.

An action-packed opening race of the weekend saw Ben produce a dominant drive to take the lead before going on to deliver one of the stand-out drives of the entire season during his opening stint. A high-speed incident in the closing minutes of the race for Ollie, who walked away unharmed, would rob the pair of a well-deserved first win.

Qualifying for the first of the weekend’s double-header at the Kent circuit saw Ben provisionally top the timesheets, before a post-session penalty dropped the #38 McLaren to the second row. Undeterred, but arguably even more determined, Ben was spurred on to regain the lost positions as soon as possible. Indeed, he had dispatched of the first overtake before the apex of Paddock Hill bend after the lights went green, and he immediately placed himself firmly under the rear wing of the race leader looking for a way through.

Demonstrating the pace which had been evident during qualifying, Ben remained patient as he headed out onto the Grand Prix circuit for the first time and, with a strong exit from Surtees, carried more speed on the approach to Hawthorns. A late jink to the outside wrong-footed the defenceless leader and Ben made a bold move around the outside to take the race lead with less than one lap of the race completed.

Unchallenged and now running in clear air, Ben started to open the lead to the chasing field and immediately pulled a comfortable 2.3-second gap over a single lap. A string of fastest sector times would see this advantage grow over the course of the 30-minute stint, gaining around 1-second per lap as none of his competitors had any answer. At a circuit notorious for close racing, with drivers normally separated by tenths of a second, this individual drive underlined the talents of the 24-year-old and the work by the JOTA team.

Ben pitted from the lead having built up a sizeable 30-second lead by the mid-point of the race, making way for his fellow Factory Driver Ollie. Some of the advantage was lost with a slightly delayed pitstop, but such was the margin that the team and Ollie could take a little extra time to ensure everything was as it needed to be before rejoining. As the pitstops cycled through, the #38 still held the lead but the gap had dropped to below 10 seconds.  

As the laps counted down, Ben watched on from the garage as the JOTA McLaren worked its way through back-markers, and with 15 minutes remaining Ollie was forced into managing the defence of the lead from the fast-charging Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello in second place. A cautiously defensive drive saw Ollie maintain the race lead despite increasing pressures from behind, and his only respite came as attack turned into defence for Marciello, having to protect his own track position from Charles Weerts in the WRT Audi running third.

With little-over four minutes remaining on the clock, Ollie looked to negotiate his way through further traffic, leading the chasing Mercedes-AMG through an ever-decreasing gap. As the cars went three-wide, contact was made and Ollie was sent off track at high-speed, clearing the crash barriers and coming to rest on the bank beyond. Despite significant damage to the car, Ollie walked away from the accident suffering from only minor bruising, testament to the inherent strength of the McLaren’s carbon fibre safety cell.

Commenting after the race, Ben explained:

“The most important thing is that Ollie wasn’t hurt after that accident. It happened at an extremely fast part of the circuit, and for him to walk away from that really is a huge credit to the strength of the car. The crash structure and safety cell did exactly what it is designed to do, but the car has taken a real pounding.
“We had amazing pace all weekend, and the JOTA team have done a great job with the set up to give us a car which we had the confidence in to really push. It was frustrating to get the penalty after qualifying, but that just fired me up even more for the race and I was more determined than ever to get back to the front. I made a strong start to move up to 2nd, and I knew I had the pace to challenge for the lead, so it was just a case of taking the opportunity. It was great to be able to make the move stick before the end of the first lap, and I was able to then just settle in a rhythm and run my own race during the rest of the stint.
“We have been improving with every race and pushing harder for a podium position, and we had a great run at the Spa 24 hours which showed we have the pace and performance to challenge for the top spot. This weekend underlined that again in every session, and Ollie did a great job during his stint to defend the lead and didn’t put a foot wrong. He was just hugely unlucky to be caught up as he made his way through the traffic. We will now just have to wait and see what happens ahead of next weekend’s Endurance event at the Nürburgring.”