Round 5 of the GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS saw Ben back in action having missed the previous race. With 30 cars battling across the three classes, it was also the largest grid the series has seen since 2017 and a busy track during each of the sessions. The absence from the last race had not dented his determination and commitment to the championship effort, however, and the weekend’s pre-qualifying session saw the sole McLaren firmly in the top-five with Ben feeling confident at the wheel.
Qualifying for the first 60-minute race of the weekend saw the track evolving throughout the session, and laptimes continued to improve. As the session ended, Oliver secured P12 overall and would start the first 60-minute race of the weekend. The frantic opening laps saw battles up and down the field, and Oliver made an instant impact as he moved the #38 McLaren up the order passing five cars in the first two laps. From here, Oliver ran solidly before the team opted for an early stop as the pit window opened, handing over to Ben for the final 35 minutes. Quick work to refuel and change tyres by the JOTA pitcrew saw Ben back out on track, but was later deemed to have been released unsafely in the busy pitlane.
Ben joined the track as the pitstop strategies played out across the field, and the young Brit immediately lit up the timing screens, posting the quickest sectors seen so far. The pace saw Ben move quickly up to P8 on track, as he was also defending hard to the chasing pack, and as the pitstop window closed and the true order was revealed, Ben was now running in P6 and one of the quickest cars on track.
This charge was briefly reined in as the Safety Car was scrambled to manage an incident on track with 15 minutes remaining but, with the field now brought closely together, Ben grasped the opportunity on the restart. Quick thinking and superior pace enabled Ben to make the move up to P5, and started chasing down the two cars ahead battling for the final podium spot. At the line, Ben was within 1-second of the pair and took P5, before a post-race penalty for the pitstop infringement dropped him out of the top-10.
Undeterred, Ben’s pace was immediately evident for the second qualifying session on Sunday morning, with his opening lap initially going to the top of the timing. The track looked to be improving but with all 30 cars jostling for position, Ben was unable to complete a clean lap due to traffic. With his final flying lap heavily compromised in the closing stages, he could not improve on his earlier time and ended the session in P9.
From the race start, Ben was in the thick of the action and maintained position as he battled to move forward and also defended hard. With strong pace, he held station at the wheel of the McLaren for the first 10 minutes, and worked hard to pressure the field ahead of him. With this pace and some clear track, the team left him out slightly longer than some of the cars around him to capitalise on the opportunity, eventually pitting just before mid-distance, running as high as P7.
With a switch to Oliver, Ben watched on as the green and red McLaren 720S GT3 rejoined the race in P15, with a number of the field still to make a mandatory pitstop. As the strategies played themselves out, Oliver was close to the leading group and moved back up the timing screens, crossing the line in P8 to sign off the weekend.
“We were in the mix in every session of the weekend, and the race results don’t do the performances of everyone in the team justice. Ollie did a great job to secure his best qualifying so far this season and was really impressive in his opening stint to make up so many places. The whole team should be proud of what we achieved during the race, despite the penalty.
“It was a tougher day for the second race and wasn’t my best qualifying of the season for race 2 due to traffic. However, again, the pace was there, but it was extremely frustrating to have my quickest run compromised. The race itself was relatively straightforward, and less chaotic than the first one, but the team did a great job in the pitstop and we worked hard to get the result.
“There are a lot of positives to take from the weekend, as we head to Spa 24 Hours next. The car felt great, the team are doing a great job and the vibe within the team is really strong. We were firmly in the top 10 all weekend, and we will take the lessons from this weekend and push for a result in Belgium in a few weeks.”
Next up in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS calendar is Round 6, the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa, 29 July-1 August.