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The 24 hours of Le Mans is THE race. It’s the benchmark against which all the worlds’ drivers across all types of racing are measured. It’s the arena in which manufacturers and teams push to prove that they and their vehicles can last the distance, an aspiration that has not changed since the first ever 24Hrs of Le Mans in 1923. To just compete is a dream come true for most drivers, to finish is to show that you have the determination and stamina to fight with the world’s best, and to mix it with the absolute pinnacle of the worlds very best drivers is to prove yourself worthy to be among the them….. And to do it as a Silver rated driver on your debut in this motorsport mega-event is nothing short of stunning.

Tuck, driving alongside regular Bronze rated partner, John Hartshorne and Ford Performance Pro driver Christopher Mies, were entrusted with one of three Ford Mustang GT3’s run by legendary GT team Proton Motorsport as part of a big new reboot of the Mustang brand, carrying high hopes for the iconic American muscle car. From a class qualifying position of 14th, the trio handled everything the race could throw at them and climbed their striking yellow and black #44 Mustang through the order with almost perfect reliability, chasing down their sister car in an exciting dash for the podium. Two cars in the top 4 represented a huge result for Ford, who aimed to show that this new evolution of the Mustang has what it takes to be a serious competitor on the European scene.

Image: Drew Gibson

And so, now that the crowds have left, the tents are packed away, the funfairs and concert stages are dismantled, and the last of the fireworks have burnt out, Ben Tuck can look back on his first Le Mans with a sense of satisfaction. There was a clear aim, which was to prove to the world that he is ready to be a world class driver, and that objective was well and truly delivered. All the way through the lead-in sessions, through to the race itself, Ben showed himself to be more than capable of posting top 5 lap times at any given time. But, for Ben, this is by no means job done, it is just the beginning.

When questioned by Bruno Vandestick, official spokesperson for the organisers, about his objective to become a world class racing driver, who asked, “Is this target reached, or not”, Ben replied “Not yet! This is definitely one of the goals, to race at Le Mans, but hopefully I’ll be back many more times, in the top class, and to win Le Mans overall”. Tuck clearly has his feet firmly on the ground and his sights set high.

But the challenge of Le Mans is not just about pace in the car, it’s about stamina and focus, whilst all the time representing the team and the brand at dozens of off-track events. To debut at Le Mans is to be thrown into a daunting whirlwind of media, marketing and outreach obligations on top of having to prepare and focus on the world’s biggest and most important motor race. The sheer magnitude of the event is always in sharp focus, from the autograph sessions to the press conferences, interviews, official photographs, drivers parade, and of course the elaborate starting ceremony featuring an air display, delivery of the French Tricolour flag by military helicopter, and hundreds of thousands of fans singing ‘La Marseillaise’. Ben evidently coped with ease.

Image: Paola DePalmas

Ford set out to show that this latest evolution of the Mustang GT3 is a force to be reckoned with on the world stage. Backed by Proton’s expertise, the car was carefully honed during the various practice sessions, leading up to qualifying. Ford driver, Christopher Mies, fresh from his Nurburgring 24Hr win 2 weeks earlier, took to the wheel for official qualifying deftly slotting the car into a creditable 14th position for the start of the epic race.

At Le Mans, race day builds to a crescendo as the clock counts down to the 4pm start time. With an initial strategy dialled in, Mies again was in the car for the start of the race under changeable skies. After navigating the first few chaotic laps, he settled into a rhythm until, 60 minutes in, rain began to fall. This was the first opportunity to enact the bold aspirations of Ford and Proton, and Mies continued on slick tyres whilst many others pitted for wet weather rubber. As a master in the wet, Mies rapidly climbed up the order and finished his stint in the top 5.

Next was Bronze rated John Hartshorne’s first stint lasting for 80 minutes until he brought the car safely home with 4 ½ hours of the race run in 21st position, handing over to Ben. In the gathering twilight, Ben lit up the timing screens as one of the fastest GT3 drivers during his first ever Le Mans stint, rapidly closing the gap to the cars ahead. Shortly after 11pm, Hartshorne took over for his night duty, eventually handing the car back to Mies as the clock ticked over into Sunday, who took the #44 car to 18th position. Tuck had been tasked with the following, early hours ‘graveyard’ shift and he set about it with determination, again setting top lap times in what was planned to be a 3 hour duty.

Image: Paola DePalmas

However, after less than half of his planned stint time, rain began to fall with ever increasing intensity until, at around 3am, the safety car was brought out. The team saw an opportunity to allow Hartshorne to complete his allotted time in the car and he was roused from sleep to jump in the car. After around 4 hours of driving behind the safety car in the early pre-dawn darkness, Hartshorne was relieved to see the safety car dive back into the pits as the light began to wake the 300,000 fans from their damp night.

Image: Paola DePalmas

With the field closed up and the car running with clockwork reliability on the lead lap once again, the stage was set for Tuck and Mies to mount a full-on attack. First up was Mies who climbed up the order to 9th place over the next 3 hours. Tuck continued the momentum in the next driver rotation with ultimate commitment, running as one of the fastest GT3 drivers again. In an astonishing 3 hour stint, Ben posted metronomic lap times, relentlessly chasing down the front runners as one of the very fastest GT3 cars outright, eventually reaching in 2nd position and closing on the leader.

Ben finally returned the car to the pits after his stellar stint in 4th position, ready for Mies to make the final assault on the podium. The fact that the car they were chasing was the sister #88 Mustang made things even more tense in the Proton garage. As the final few hours played out, Mies began to whittle down the gap, but it was just too far, and their #44 Mustang crossed the line to take a sensational 4th place after an epic debut. After the sheer effort, drama and tension of the race, the jubilation of the team and the podium ceremony, it naturally took some time for Ben’s Le Mans debut to sink in.

Image: Paola DePalmas

Reflecting after the race, Ben commented, “What an experience! And what a result, P4 in an LMGT3 class filled with big names and huge talent! After being a lap down in the early stages of the race, we kept on chipping away and got ourselves back on the lead lap and from there we had some great stints, at one point I was as high as P2!”
He went on, “What a brilliant team performance from everyone at Ford Performance, Multimatic, Proton Competition and my teammates. It’s a dream come true to even be on the grid, let alone complete the full 24 hours with no time spent in the garage, no major issues and we got a top 5 result! Next time I want to be on that podium!”

“I have to say a massive thank you to everyone involved in getting me here. There’s really too many to name, but a special thank you has to go out to John Hartshorne. He’s pretty much the main reason why I’m still racing at the moment, and how I got the opportunity to race at Le Mans. I’m forever grateful for the opportunities John gives me.”

Image: Paola DePalmas

The busy summer continues for Ben, as he’s set to tackle another of the world’s most prestigious races, the 24Hrs of Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, and then the next round of the European Le Mans Series at Imola next weekend.

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