The VLN Nürburgring Endurance Series is proving to be a draw for young drivers looking to make a name for themselves in sportscar racing. To the outsider it might seem a strange choice to go from a GT4 on relatively safe circuits to a GT3 on the Green Hell, but in recent years it’s been shown that this unusual path could soon become the beaten path to a successful career in endurance racing.
Ben Tuck is the latest British driver to step away from the British GT Championship with a plan to prove himself on the Nordschleife having been inspired by the lead fellow Brit David Pittard took in 2018. The result is that after two years in the lower classes of the Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie, Tuck is now about to step into the Walkenhorst GT3 squad partnering Pittard and Spa 24 Hours winner Christian Krognes.
For Tuck, this is the successful end game of a long-term strategy.
“When I first started coming to the ring two years ago it was all part of the plan”, says Tuck. “I did British GT in 2018 and then in the UK to move up to GT3 was quite expensive. I’d heard a few things from some people that VLN at the Nürburgring was a good way to get more involved with the manufacturers and maybe end up doing GT3 for a bit cheaper than it would be in the UK.
“Now, finally and luckily, I’m very thankful to Walkenhorst for giving me this opportunity to be in GT3.”
Key to that success has been the relationship he has built with Walkenhorst Motorsport.
“It’s been a great relationship with Walkenhorst. Every year I’ve always hoped that they could find something else for me to do and give me a nice offer and I get that confidence from them. I understand there is a lot of pressure with them, they are one of the best customer teams for BMW and they have their own development with Yokohama Tyres with the GT3 so that’s a big part of the team, working with Yokohama.
“I understand the pressure [that brings] but I always feel that they give me the confidence to go with the pressure, so it’s a nice balance.
Tuck arrived at the Nordschleife in 2019 driving the Purple Dot BMW M240i Racing Cup on behalf of the Walkenhorst team and put together a string of impressive results taking second place in the 6-hour preliminary Qualifying Race for the world famous 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and third in the ‘N24’ which saw the young Brit promoted to the Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 squad for the remainder of the 2019 season.
He continued picking up podiums in the second half of the season and rounded off the year by being named the BRDC Rising Star of the Year.
Despite the global problems of 2020, Tuck was able to again show off his abilities in a full season in the DTM Trophy finishing the year in third and he is in no doubt that this has helped to propel him into the GT3 seat at Walkenhorst.
The lessons of driving a slower car around the Nordschleife will prove invaluable as will picking the brains of his more experienced team mates, he believes.
“We finished the best BMW that year . We finished third, so it would have been nice to finish second or first, but the way the championship played out, you have to do the best you can with what you’ve got and we were the best BMW and that helped me definitely.
“I’ve done one test day in the GT3 back in 2019, so it’ll be a fresh start again because I basically don’t remember what it was like, it was too long ago since I drove the car. I think based on performance and our relationship together is why I got the opportunity.
“I think one thing that will translate is patience, for sure. When I first started in VLN, I was in the Cup 5 [BMW M240i Racing Cup] class and there was only two or three other classes that that car was faster than, so normally as soon as you see another car you want to overtake it straight away, and then you’re looking in your mirrors for the GT3 and GT4s most of the time. Moving up to GT4 in VLN there is a lot more traffic to deal with going forwards as well, so it’s being a bit more patient and picking your time. And even with the GT4 you get them as quickly as possible but that’s something I’ve spoken to David and Christian — my new teammates — and especially the team as well: traffic management is always the biggest thing to learn and I’m always going to be asking questions to the teammates. Traffic management is always going to be the biggest thing for GT3 around the Nürburgring.
Teaming up with his old mate David Pittard will prove helpful as will having the experience of Christian Krognes
“David did British GT the year before me, in 2017, so when I went to British GT I saw that he moved to VLN and after my year in British GT I knew he was doing really well there and that’s something I wanted too.
“At the moment I’m at university in Bournmouth, but my home town is only 20 minutes away from David so we’ve known each other for a long time and we’ve both worked together as instructors at the same track so it’s a big advantage that we have that relationship already. But David is such a nice guy and I’ve seen how he talks to anyone and he’s always really nice, so it’s not the end of the world if I didn’t know him but for sure it’s an advantage that I already do.
“With Christian Krognes it’s difficult to know where to start. He’s blindingly fast and I think I’m right in saying that he has the qualifying record for VLN in GT3, Spa 24 Hour winner — I’m sure he wouldn’t want me to blow him up too much but obviously he’s a very good and fast driver so if I don’t ask enough questions then that’s on me.”
With his overall success over the last few years, Tuck sees his role now as helping to bring the much-coveted Nürburgring 24 Hours victory home to Walkenhorst and the first few races will be preparation for that. With limited testing time due to the ongoing pandemic, Tuck is up for the challenge.
“The team and those two drivers have already proved that they are a winning team, they’ve won races in VLN and pole positions, they won the SP9 Pro class last year in a shorter year so I’m pretty sure if it was longer they would have done it by even more. I’m sure they had even more race wins in there so they were actually held back a little bit.
“The one thing they haven’t done is win the N24 so hopefully I can help them achieve that this year. For me the first couple of races are about asking as many questions as possible, take all the advice and make sure I’m fully up to speed with them before I really start pushing for those lap times. I need to be sure I’m confident first, that I trust the car, the team trust me and make sure we are really gelled together as a team by the time we get to the 24 Hours. For the team in total, that’s the main goal.
“Unfortunately, we did have a testing programme but obviously now with the ongoing pandemic it’s very hard to do at the moment. I’m still in the UK and it’s very hard to travel at the moment anyway, but hopefully in the next month or two we can get some testing before the first round. Hopefully at least one at the Nordschleife and maybe once at another track to get used to the car first before the Nordschleife.
Interview by Miguel Bosch.
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