DRAMA FOR TUCK IN ELMS SEASON OPENER!
Bens 2023 season kicked off in earnest this weekend with the opening round of the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona. As the latest edition to TF Sports line up in their #95 Aston Martin GTE, and a new edition to the Aston Martin Driver Academy, Ben was focused on delivering a solid demonstration of his future potential. And there is no doubt that he achieved that goal, not only in his on-track performance but also in his overall approach in dealing with an incident at the very end of his stint in the car.
As is customary, the opening round of the ELMS is preceded by the official series 2-day test allowing teams and drivers to hone their cars and crews. The test went well for the crew of the #95 Vantage, where Ben joined experienced Bronze rated driver John Hartshorne and Platinum rated Aston Martin factory driver Jonny Adam, to put their red and white liveried GTE car through its paces.
Qualifying was split between the classes and for the LM GTE class, this was restricted to the Bronze rated driver only. Taking to the track, John Hartshorne qualified the #95 car in 12th position in class.
For the race on Sunday, the crew strategy had Hartshorne take the start, followed by Tuck in the middle stint and then Adam to take the chequered flag in the final stint. The race started in dramatic style when a 4-car crash on lap one scattered the field, leaving the sister #72 Aston Martin out of the race. However, Hartshorne carefully avoided the chaos and piloted his way through a solid stint, bringing the car in after 47 laps in 9th position. On schedule, Ben took over driving duties and set about a smooth and consistent drive, balancing pace, tyres and fuel management perfectly. On schedule, Ben was called into the pits on lap 96, which is when events took another dramatic turn.
Coming off the final corner Ben lined up with the pit entry lane and began slowing to the mandatory safety speed. Unfortunately, a competitor in the faster LMP2 class misjudged an overtaking manoeuvre on the wrong side and collided with the back of Bens slowing car. The impact lifted the rear of Ben’s car into the air and sent him spinning to the outside of the final corner directly facing cars approaching at around 120mph. The impact also caused problems in re-selecting a gear to get moving and Ben spent a nervous few minutes in harm’s way, trying to get the car going again.
Eventually he was able to recover to the pits, where the car was checked out and Jonny Adam took over for the final stint, but with the car now in a distant 9th position.
In recovering the car, Ben kept his cool, but was frustrated. After the incident he said “I was minding my own business… it was a pretty decent stint, and everything was going to plan and literally as I’m coming into the pit lane I get hit from behind by a [LM] P2 car. We were told in the briefing that it would be a risky move for P2 cars if they tried to go to the inside…. he followed me and by the time I had to hit the brakes he was already underneath me, just lifted my rear wheels and spun me back across the track”.
The culprit was subsequently reprimanded and punished by the stewards with a stop-go penalty, losing them a podium spot.
Although it did little to dull the frustration, ultimately Ben has plenty to look back on his weekend with satisfaction. Across the 3 days Ben achieved the fastest lap run by either of the teams cars, and he also achieved the teams fastest lap of the race. That should spur Ben on through the unusually long gap to the next race. Round 2 at Imola in May has been cancelled, meaning the next race is on July 16th at Le Castellet in France.