2021 End of Year Report

 In Race Reports

Taking a maiden win in the top GT3 Pro class of GT Endurance racing at the worlds most challenging circuit, claiming a lap record for a brand-new BMW race car, matching the pace of his two experienced and ultra-fast GT3 Pro teammates, and closing to within a second of the GT3 lap record after just 3 races is an impressive scoresheet for a debut season in international GT3 racing. But the overarching story of 2021 for 24-year-old BRDC SuperStar Pro GT driver Ben Tuck, is one of ‘what might have been’.

With the news of the premature end to his debut GT3 season, Ben Tuck will not be racing this weekend at the final race of the Nurburgring Langstrecken Serie (NLS) as his team, Walkenhorst Motorsport, grapple with logistics issues. But the former MSA Young Driver of the Year can take some comfort in looking back at his achievements over a year that could have easily yielded so much more.

Out of 11 planned GT3 races in 2021, he was only able to compete in 8 races at the challenging Nurburgring Nordschleife. Of those races, 4 resulted in DNF’s due to technical difficulties, 3 of them from the lead or second position. Of the 4 GT3 finishes, 2 were affected by technical issues and 1 by adverse weather. The remaining GT3 race, unaffected by incident, weather or technical problems resulted his emphatic maiden win.

Along the way Ben showed a remarkable ability, not only to step up to the level of his experienced teammates, but also to lap consistently at that pace and to carve his way through the traffic safety and without incident – vital qualities for a professional racing driver.

Image: Swoosh Motorsport

Working first with Ben as his race engineer in 2020, legendary BMW works driver, Jörg Müller was his teammate in the sister Walkenhorst BMW M6 GT3 for the 2021 season. He developed a high opinion of Tuck. “Ben is not only lightning fast, he always stays cool, focused and concentrated, has a great technical knowledge and he is working really well with data and video analysis. Besides this great racer is a well-educated, happy and friendly person…the perfect racing driver package”. 

The move to Walkenhorst Motorsport’s top GT3 Pro crew was a huge step up for Tuck at the beginning of 2021, bringing with it the enormous task to quickly get on the pace of his two super fast team mates, fellow Brit David Pittard and Norwegian Christian Krognes in the team’s flagship #34 BMW M6 GT3.  After proving himself by claiming 3rd position in the massively competitive 2020 DTM Trophy at the wheel of the team’s BMW M4 GT4, Tuck came with true credentials and was ready to prove himself worthy of the big time.

With the objective of gaining as much time in the new car as possible, the season did not get off to the planned start with round 1 at the famous circuit, high in the Eiffel region of Germany, cancelled due to heavy snow. Ben’s opportunity to race the teams big GT3 car had to wait again in round 2 as his teammates were unavailable to race. Instead, Ben took to the BMW M2 CS in its inaugural outing, leading the race in his stint and posting the NLS race lap record which still stands.

Image: Swoosh Motorsport

Tucks debut in a GT3 car eventually came in Round 3, where he met his objective of lapping consistently at a pace comparable to his established teammates. Despite a strong performance from all three drivers, a result was put out of reach by a puncture in qualifying which consigned them to the back of the grid, producing an epic comeback as they fought from 32nd to 17th.

After such a positive performance in his GT3 debut, the next opportunity was the 6H ‘Qualification Race’ the rehearsal for the legendary 24Hrs of Nurburgring. After taking 6th position in the first part of qualifying, the car suffered a technical issue with Ben at the wheel, compromising the team’s opportunity to fight for a top spot on the grid. Despite this, they still managed an impressive 22nd position in qualifying. However, it was to no avail as the car was retired in the race due to a technical problem before Ben was able to drive his stint.

The seasons big race was the 24Hrs of Nurburgring and was the target by which Ben, at the start of the year, was aiming to be on par with his ultra-quick crew. But having only ever driven one race stint in the car, the challenge was mighty. However, the team managed to minimise effect of the compromised finish at the ‘Qualification Race’ when they claimed 22nd spot on the grid out of a field of 122. An incident in the opening stint with team mate Pittard at the wheel compromised their start to the epic race dropping them to the back of the field, but another superb fight back was launched. Tuck tripled his total time in the car by driving a double stint when the team gambled on slick tyres in the drying conditions, lapping as fast as the leaders and clawing back a number of places in the tricky conditions, returning the car safety back in 26th position. Unfortunately, the fight back was halted as fog rolled in and stopped the race for 15 hours. Despite lightning pace, the remaining time after the restart the following morning was not enough to catch the leaders. However, Ben had met his next objective by matching the pace of his fellow drivers, when he drove a superb final stint to the flag, taking 15th place.

Image: Swoosh Motorsport

The team were now confident that they had one of the fastest crews in the field and one of the fastest cars. Round 4 of the NLS promised a result worthy of their performance. Ben proved beyond doubt that he had arrived on the GT3 scene by qualifying the car in 3rd position, posting his personal best lap time less than a second shy of the lap record in just his fourth ever race in the car. Unfortunately, the race failed to live up to its promise when a technical issue caused the car to be retired after 2 hours from 2nd position.

It was clear by now that the combination of the Walkenhorst BMW M6 GT3 and the trio of Tuck, Pittard and Krognes was one of the quickest in field and a result was long overdue. Rounds 5 and 6 were staged back-to-back on consecutive days just before the long summer break and offered the next chance. As was inevitable, the crew qualified and started well and after the first race stint, Tuck met his next objective – leading a race. In superb form, he stretched the lead to over 20 seconds as clever strategy set up an epic battle for the win at the end of the race. Pittard was tasked with the final stint from 2nd position steadily reeling in leader on schedule to pounce with 1 lap to go. However, a puncture cruelly took away the chance and allowed the leader to escape, dropping the disappointed crew down to 5th position.

Just a few hours later the team made another attempt at a win in Round 6. This time it was Krognes that unleashed the pace of the big BMW taking the qualifying lap record and putting the team on Pole Position. As the race played out all three drivers posted top lap times, and Ben was able to tick off the next goal – a win. In emphatic style the crew took the chequered flag for a maiden win, but which could have quite easily been their third.

Image: Swoosh Motorsport

With high hopes for the second half of the season, Ben was fast maturing in to the GT3 car. Round 7 got racing underway again after a 2-month summer break where the team qualified in 6th position ready to fight for another podium. After an epic start by Pittard, where he reached 3rd place, a puncture halted any further progress on Lap 2, and the car was retired.

Knowing that another win was on the cards and, again not being able to race the car was another disappointment, but the promise of a result beckoned in the penultimate race of the season, round 8. In perfect conditions the Walkenhorst BMW M6 GT3 was the fastest on track and headed for pole position when an incident resulted in a slow zone. Despite this, Krognes placed the car in 5th position, well in range to fight for the win. As the race got underway, Pittard drove into the lead and posted the NLS race lap record in clear air and another result was looking likely. But in an uncanny repeat of the previous race, a puncture on Lap 3 took the car out of the race.

In a year featuring such misfortune it’s perhaps unsurprising that the final chance to take another well-deserved win was taken away when fixture clashes resulted in the team’s reluctant withdrawal from the final round.

2021 has undoubtedly been Ben Tucks most challenging year, not only from a driving perspective but also for mindset. Dealing with adversity and still putting in top level performances, keeping a calm head and not being distracted is a key skill for a racing driver. Doing all of that whilst competing in the world’s premier class of GT endurance racing brings out the very best. As such 2021 could just be Ben Tuck’s most impressive season so far.

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