GT3 rookie Ben Tuck took a short break from racing his usual Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 in the VLN Nürburgring Endurance Series last weekend to step into the team’s BMW M2 CS Racing. His return to the Cup 5 did not go unnoticed.
With BMW M6 GT3 co-drivers David Pittard in Monza and Christian Krognes stuck in Norway due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 was left in the team’s hometown of Melle. Without his GT3, Tuck had to wait another few weeks to make his race debut in the M6 following NLS1’s snow-out.
Instead, Ben Tuck got a ride in the new-for-2021 BMW M2 CS Racing, the successor to the former Cup 5 class’ BMW M250i Racing Cup in which the young Brit shortly competed before moving up to the BMW M4 GT4.
“At first, I was a little bit unsure about having to step back but unfortunately there wasn’t much choice,” Ben Tuck says. “David was in Monza and Christian, the travel restrictions in Norway are much, much stricter so he definitely couldn’t be there but will be back for NLS3.
“Understandable, it’s not really anyone’s fault, it’s just unfortunate – so back into the M2!
“Obviously, I’m not unhappy about it, but it would have been nice to get that first race in GT3 under my belt. But yeah, nothing really anyone could have done about it in the end.”
The weekend began with practice and a short session in Walkenhorst’s junior BMW M6 GT3 and then it was game-on for two days of M2 action.
“On Friday I got to do a couple of laps in the Alpecin car, the #35 GT3, and then straight after I did two laps in the M2.
“From what I’d heard from other people, it’s similar to the M240i in the way it drives, but better and way more power. So I just went into it open-minded, not really knowing what to expect. I went in kind of thinking of it as a 240 and then seeing how it compared. I feel like in 2019 I ended up getting in a good rhythm in the M240i. I quite liked the way it drove; it was quite bouncy and you have to use a bit of a different braking technique but I kind of liked that actually and then I went into the M2 just like that.
“The first lap I did was below 8 minute 50 – the very first lap in the car. I was really chuffed with that, I was really, really happy, I knew straight away that it just clicked. I was quite lucky, actually, because I’ve got into other cars before and it takes laps and laps and laps to actually click and work out the car, but for some reason – I don’t really know why to be honest – I just got into the M2 and it worked, I really enjoyed it.”
Comparing the car to the BMW M4 GT4 he raced last year, Tuck is seriously impressed by the performance of what is still a relatively close-to-production race car.
“The car is a ballistic missile in a straight-line! Once it gets going… You know, it’s not unreal out of the corners – it’s a little bit slower than GT4 in initial acceleration – but in top-end speed it is exactly the same – maybe even a little bit faster. I didn’t actually follow a GT4 down the Döttinger Höhe, but round some other sections of the track when I was near GT4 cars and on initial acceleration we had a tiny bit less but actually it was really similar.
“In lap times, too, I think my best lap in the GT4 was an 8:41 or an 8:40 dead and [with the M2] I did an 8:47, which obviously is a race lap record in the M2.
“But in qualifying, the FK Performance car did a 8:43, and annoyingly – looking at my data – I could have done an 8:42, but on all of my quali laps there was always traffic – as we know at the Nürburgring, so I can’t really use that as an excuse because it’s the same for everyone.
“Given a clear lap, I could have done an 8:42, which is only a couple of seconds off what I did in the M4 GT4 last year. Obviously, that was on slightly different tyres, but it is crazy fast, way faster than I thought it was going to be. But also super, super bouncy over the kerbs: you have to be really careful when you’re taking kerbs and certain bumps on the road.
“It kind of suited my driving style, actually. Coming from club racing in the UK, I maybe have a slightly different driving style to some of the other GT3 drivers who have come from single-seaters or been in GT3 for years. I might have to adapt a little bit for GT3, but when I step down to cars like the M2 and the GT4 as well, it actually suits me a little bit better.”
Although the team’s full potential wasn’t reach, finishing only ninth after a necessary repair of the fuel pump system, Tuck performed at the top of his game setting the fastest lap of the race – and therefor by default establishing an official BMW M2 CS Racing race lap record – and leading the race.
As was the case when BMW M240i Racing Cups were wielded in the Cup 5, the strength of competition continues to be one of the class’ main attractions.
“Whether it was the 240s or the M2s, we know how experienced those guys are and how tough that competition is. So, to qualify on the front-row on my first race back again, I was really happy about that. To even take the lead from Nico Otto – he’s a great driver in the Cup 5 class and I think he also drives GT4 sometimes as well – yeah, I was really happy to take the lead in my stint because it’s not easy to beat those guys.”
Next weekend it’s back to the BMW M6 GT3 again – and hoping to finally get that first race in to go into the Nürburgring 24 Hours for a shot at the victory.
“I had a good season last year with Walkenhorst and I’m really happy to stay with them. I’ve got a closer relationship with them this year as well, and now stepping up to the GT3 Pro car, that obviously brings lots and lots of pressure.
“There were some discussions at the beginning, could I have done maybe a different championship with them, or could I have driven in the Pro-Am car, or even the Am car – because I’m only Silver still. But in the end, the decision was taken to drive in the Pro car with David Pittard, who I know quite well and get on with really well. And Christian Krognes, I know him from when he’s been in the team the last couple of years and he’s a super, super nice guy, I chatted with him even when we weren’t in the same car, so I’m really, really happy to be sharing with both of those guys. Obviously, when they can make it, if they’re not racing in other things or if they’re not stuck at home unfortunately.
“There is lots of pressure, but the team are really helpful. They said at first just build up to the car, no pressure to go and set lap records straight away. The main thing, the main focus for us, this year is the 24 Hours, that is the biggest event obviously, but it is the one we want to do well in. The team last year were NLS [Speed Trophäe] champions, they won the 6-hour [Nürburgring 24 Hours] quali race two years ago, they’ve won Spa 24 before and they won Kyalami last year. They’ve won quite a lot of big races but obviously still the Nürburgring 24 Hours is not one of those.
“That is the main focus, the team said: You know in the first couple of VLNs, we don’t mind if you’re a couple of seconds off the others, we just need you there for the 24 Hours. For me, that’s really, really nice, it’s nice to hear that support from them and the pressure as well to help me build up to it.”
As far as the learning process itself, Tuck points to the aerodynamics of a GT3 car to be biggest hurdle to take.
“Coming from lower category cars, this is the first time I’ve driven something that you can actually really feel, properly feel the aero. I mean, a couple of years ago, or three or four years ago now, I drove the Ginetta G57 – which is kind of like halfway between a P3 and an LMP2 car – that was at Spa, but it was in the wet. I think I only got two laps on slicks in the end, but on a damp track. So I never really felt the aero – I was never really pushing.
“This is now the first time that I’ve really felt aero. I mean, Flugplatz and Schwedenkreuz, those two corners specifically, stand out in my mind and Tiergarten as well right at the end of the lap. Every time I get to them I’m like, ‘Ah damn, I know I could have been quicker, I know it could have been faster, less of a lift’. In the M6 especially, the high-speed aero is really, really good – that’s a real strong point of the car.
“That’s what I need to make sure I’m utilising, that’s going to be my biggest learning process, to actually fully understanding aero versus the mechanical grip and what you can get away with at what speed and things like that.”
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