In Race Reports

The euphoria of Ben Tucks debut at Le Mans had barely subsided when, almost 2 weeks after the legendary race at La Sarthe, he made his debut last weekend at the world’s biggest GT3 endurance race – the 24Hrs of Spa-Francorchamps. Tuck is no stranger to Spa, it being his favourite circuit after having made spectacular winning debut’s there in the 24Hr Prototype Series and the inaugural DTM Trophy race. Ben returned to his GT World Challenge seat with Kessel Racing in the #74 Ferrari 296 GT3 and, continuing the momentum already built up during the season with Kessel and from his Le Mans 4th place finish, Ben did not disappoint. In his individual qualifying session, he took P4, good enough to place him in the top 20 of an elite class field of 236 drivers. Although the race ultimately finished in a DNF after an incident in which the car sustained race ending damage, Ben’s performance again demonstrated that he is among the world’s best GT3 endurance race drivers.

Ben started his 2024 season in the Kessel Ferrari when he competed in Round 1 of the GT World Challenge Europe at Paul Ricard in France. On that occasion, he quickly showed that he and the Ferrari 296 GT3 are a potent mix. In his first ever racing stint, Ben overcame a huge deficit to rise from 19th position to fifth place having taken the fastest lap in class as the fastest Ferrari driver of all. Therefore, hopes were high that Tuck could reach a similar pace in the Spa 24Hrs, alongside his crewmates for this race, regular GT World Challenge drivers John Hartshorne and Matt Bell and also Chandler Hull.

2024 is the centenary year for this historic race, just one year younger than its older and more prestigious cousin at Le Mans. But, just like Le Mans, Spa 24 comes with a festival atmosphere and a whole weeks’ worth of events leading up to the big day, including a parade along the old Spa-Francorchamps circuit and through the streets of the beautiful old town, in which Ben got his first ever experience of driving his Ferrari race car along narrow city streets crowded with cheering fans.

However, the business of the weekend was soon at hand and, after Kessel honed the car to perfection during the practice sessions, each of the four drivers took to the track to contribute their personal qualifying times to a combined average. Ben was allocated to qualifying session 2 where in just 10 minutes he fired his Ferrari to 4th on the timesheets, less than a tenth of a second behind first place with an individual time that saw him at the end of qualifying in the top 20 of all 236 drivers in the race. This was all the more remarkable when fuel load is considered, since the cars had to be fuelled for the entire qualifying period, Ben’s car was considerably heavier than those that took part in the later sessions.

The combined qualifying average placed the car in 17th place in class, and Ben was allocated to the opening stint, entrusted with taking the start. As precisely 3:30pm UK time under threatening skies, sixty-six GT3 cars blasted across the line at the start of an epic 24hrs battle. Within a handful of laps, Ben had risen 5 places and was holding the fastest lap in class, a lap that was to remain so for most of the next 24 hours, ending as 3rd fastest lap in class, fastest lap for his car and 2nd fastest Ferrari lap of the race. Ben went on to hand the car back in 6th position.

Following Bens stellar opening stint, the car began to suffer with a mechanical issue, which led to two trips to the pits for repairs. However, the Kessel team worked hard to recover reliability and the car went back out on track 3 laps down. As changeable weather swept in, the race descended into an incident strewn series of mini sprints between lengthy Full Course Yellow flag and Safety Car periods. Some of these incidents proved to be particularly serious. As the race entered the night phase, predicted heavy rain and storms hit and, just like Le Mans, the race was neutralised behind a safety car for several hours during which Hartshorne drove in incredibly difficult conditions. The safety car was eventually brought in reactivating the race in still treacherous conditions of very heavy spray and zero visibility in the darkness. Ben was chosen to take the wheel in what was probably the most challenging and scary stint of his career. However, despite the conditions, Ben still consistently logged top 10 lap times.

By morning, the crew of the #74 Ferrari found themselves holding a solid 12th position on a drying track, with Ben, again at the wheel in tricky conditions. Soon after pitting for dry weather tyres on a damp but drying track, Ben handed the car back in 11th place, ready to take a well-earned rest, ready for a final stint before the afternoon finish.

However, during the morning, the car was involved in an incident and sustained race ending damage. Although disappointing, Ben had plenty to be happy about and was certainly looking towards the future:
“Well… that was brutal! Thanks so much to Kessel, we really got the car in a great window and, especially in qualifying, it felt mega. Unfortunately, we finished with a DNF with 5 hours to go, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be! Hugely grateful to make another debut at one of the big 24h races. That means I have now competed in 3 out of the ‘Big 4’ 24h races, with just Daytona left…”.

Despite the ending, Spa again demonstrated that Ben is at the top of his game and is looking forward to the next round of the GT World Challenge at Imola this weekend.

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