A promising first session of the weekend saw Ben as one of the quickest on track as the McLaren Factory Driver looked to add to his strong start to the 2021 season. The following pre-qualifying and qualifying sessions would then be more affected by traffic, with laptimes compromised as Ben and teammates Rob Bell and Oliver Wilkinson battled for clear air among the grid of 47 cars. Qualifying saw each driver working to avoid traffic, and the combined laptimes would see the #38 JOTA-run entry qualify in P19 overall, and the quickest McLaren.
A chaotic start to the race saw positions changing throughout the field, with Rob gaining places over the opening laps and up to P15 as the first pitstop window approached. As the stops played out, Rob pitted from P9 and Oliver took over for his debut event at the French circuit. The pair then switched for two further stints as they completed the first four hours, progressing up as high as P10 as Oliver came into the pits to hand over to Ben for the final third of the race.
Ben joined the track for his first race laps with the sun now set and the track in total darkness, running in P13. Shortly after he emerged from the pitlane, a stranded car caused a Full Course Yellow which then followed with a Safety Car period. This interruption meant the team lost the advantage of stopping early, as well as all the previous time built up by Rob and Ollie. As the remaining pitstops played out, Ben ran in P15. From here, as the race went green again, the young Brit maintained position as he settled into a rhythm and improving his sector times with each passing lap.
Running in clear air and with no immediate pressure from behind, Ben was one of the quickest cars on track as he pitted for fuel and tyres with 60 minutes remaining. Efficient work at the stop by the JOTA team returned Ben to the track still running in P15, while an issue for one of the top-10 runners with just over 30 minutes remaining promoted the #38 McLaren up to P14.
With the final half an hour looking to be a relative formality, a final twist would see Ben make a further brief unscheduled visit to the pitlane dropping him down to P18. Undeterred, Ben continued to fight and push all the way to the flag, and his efforts were rewarded. With less than five minutes remaining, Ben closed in and made the pass for P17, before a final lap move secured P16 at the flag, by just 0.056s.
“It was an action-packed race from beginning to end, and traffic played a big part throughout the whole weekend. The car had good pace, and a big thank you to the whole JOTA team and McLaren for their efforts and giving us such a strong package in each session. My qualifying lap was compromised and I never managed to get a clean lap, but it was the same for everyone and it was great to qualify as the quickest McLaren and be challenging for the top 10 positions during the race.
We were unlucky with the timing of the Full Course Yellow and the Safety Car which undid a lot of the work by Rob and Ollie in the opening stints, but it also helped bring the pack back together so we could keep pushing and challenge up until the final lap. In my first stint, I had the pace and was battling with the cars which went on to finish in the top-5, so it is encouraging to know we had the speed in the car. The late pitstop put us on the back foot, but it was great to be able to recover the positions in the closing laps. Overall, there were a lot of positives to take from the weekend, and we are getting stronger as a team with each race. We have a few weeks to regroup and now the focus is on the next Sprint race at Zandvoort, so hopefully we can keep improving and fight for a podium.”
Round 4 of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS travels to Zandvoort, Netherlands over the weekend 18-20 June.