In Race Reports

No one was expecting the 2023 ELMS Grand Finale double header to be run in conditions more akin to autumnal England rather than the late winter sun more usually associated with the Algarve in October. However, that’s exactly what the ELMS circus was served up for the final race weekend of the season, which also acted as the last goodbye for the LMGTE class, before being replaced by GT3 for next season. TF Sport and the crew of Ben Tucks #95 Aston Martin Vantage persisted in the face of 3 rain-soaked days, achieving creditable finishes of 10th and 6th positions in the pair of 4-hour races.

Image: Andrew Lofthouse

Even as preparations were underway during midweek testing and practice, the weather forecast was deteriorating. But with a successful set of practice runs under their belt, the first race, the 4Hrs of Algarve, set off under bright skies on Friday afternoon, but with the hills to the north of the circuit shrouded in dark clouds.  The crews Bronze rated driver, John Hartshorne, at the wheel for the first stint, started the #95 Vantage from 10th position on the grid and put in a strong few laps during the initial 30 minutes until the rain predictably spilled off the mountains.

With all indications that the rain would continue and that a Safety Car was inevitable, the decision was made to pit for treaded rain tyres and replace Hartshorne with Ben Tuck in the hope that, being particularly expert in the wet, Tuck could make up some places before Hartshorne would again take the wheel in drier conditions for the remainder of his 90-minute minimum drive time.

Tuck emerged in 10th position behind the Safety Car, which was kept busy almost constantly for another 40 minutes.  Once released, Ben carved his way through the field in a superb display of wet weather driving, taking just 6 laps to take the class lead of the race. From there he extended his lead whilst attempting to preserve his treaded tyres on the drying track to reach the next pit stop window in 15 laps time. With huge determination, he held the lead until just before the next stop, where Hartshorne was to resume driving duties.

Image: Andrew Lofthouse

But incredibly, as Ben nursed the #95 car along the pitlane, the heavens opened, and the team deftly switched strategy to send the car back out on rain tyres, with John Harshorne at the wheel once again. John went on to complete his remaining drive time without incident, bringing the car back home to the pits in 10th position. The crews Aston Martin pro driver, Jonny Adam then took the car to the flag, maintaining 10th place.

The team were able to reflect on the race the following day before the final race of the season, the 4Hrs of Portimao was run on Sunday. Hartshorne once again placed the car 10th on the grid for the start. However, with torrential rain falling, the race start was delayed by over an hour, before running for just 5 minutes before being stopped for another 45 minutes.

Image: Andrew Lofthouse

Eventually the race was resumed, with Hartshorne driving the #95 TF Sport machine in treacherous conditions as the track surface gradually dried. Tuck was the next to take the wheel, with the team opting to send him out on intermediate tyres, gambling that they would provide enough grip on the still very damp track. Ben once again showed his expertise in the low grip conditions, embarking on another mesmerising climb through the field from last position all the way up to 4th place in the ensuing 30 laps, engaging in ever more fierce battles as he climbed higher.

Again, Jonny Adam took over for the final stint. After encountering a problem on his out lap, he pushed the #95 car to it’s fastest lap of the race on the way to 6th position.

It was a very wet and very challenging end to the season, but one to be proud of. “This weekend the team have worked so hard, with all the changing conditions, and the car has just been mega!” said Ben. “I’m really pleased with my stints in both races, I really had the confidence to battle hard and push the car as far forward as I could. It was fun to lead the race on Friday, I enjoyed that!”

Ben reflected on his 2023 season: “It’s been a fantastic year with TF Sport, I gelled with them straight away and it’s been brilliant working with John and Jonny this year. Let’s see where we go from here, they are a brilliant team!”

Ben is yet to announce plans for his 2024 campaign.

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