Just six races into his GT3 career, Ben Tuck scored his first victory in the VLN Nürburgring Endurance Series (NLS). The young Brit and his teammates Christian Krognes and David Pittard defeated the hard battling Phoenix Racing for the #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3’s first win of 2021.
In the three seasons working his way from the BMW M240i Racing Cup to the BMW M6 GT3, the driver from the English county of Bedforshire had never even scored a class win until last weekend’s 44. RCM DMV Grenzlandrennen overall triumph.
“It’s kind of a weird feeling because I’ve never had even a class win at the Nürburgring, even when I drove that BMW M240i Racing Cup, the M2 CS and M4 GT4,” Ben Tuck says.
“I’ve had a class P2 and P3 and things like that, but I’ve never actually had a class win, so my first win at the Nürburgring is the overall win in GT3. It’s amazing to be honest; awesome.”
Ben arrived on the second morning of the NLS5 and 6 doubleheader after a day where second place was up for grabs and the win possible until a puncture in the final minutes forced the BMW to pit and eventually finish fifth.
All that was forgotten 24 hours later when the Walkenhorst garage exploded in celebration as Krognes took the chequered flag in victory.
“We really, really needed it,” Ben Tuck continues.
“Basically, anything other than, sort of a podium, or even first or second is what we really needed on Sunday because we know we should have been at least P2 on the Saturday.
“The Juniors had a big gap, but David was, even on his last lap I think he was like 8 seconds quicker than the Juniors that won the race on Saturday. If he was in P2 I think he was only maybe 17 seconds behind of a couple of laps to go, so 8 seconds a lap it would’ve been really close right at the end.
“And for the team as well because we’ve had such bad luck this year. Just the way that the year has worked out, even for me like trying to get into GT3 and get into rhythm with the car but we didn’t do NLS1 because of the snow and then NLS2 I was in the M2. So, I’ve only actually had from NLS3 to get used to the car, so yeah, we really needed that result. We really needed that for the confidence of the team, confidence of us drivers as well…
“It’s the first time that me, David and Christian all together have had a really good race without any issues, so yeah, it was really well needed for sure.”
Pressure was on when Ben Tuck joined the race in the second hour. Although running at the pointy end of the field by himself, the early first pitstop – Pittard coming in after just six laps while the rest of the frontrunners went one lap further – meant the #34 BMW would have to come in one lap earlier at the end as well, losing time to the competition with a longer minimum pitstop time.
Using the free track position was crucial in reducing this later disadvantage.
“It was a lot of pressure because even though it looked boring because we came out a little bit ahead, with the [minimum] pit stops times, because we pitted one lap early in the first stint, we knew that we still needed a gap of between 15- and 20-seconds to be ahead or with the leaders by the end of the race after the last pit stop.
“So yeah, there was still a lot of pressure, I knew I had to bring that gap out cause on my first lap I got caught out a little bit with a Code 60 on my out lap from the pits so then they were only four seconds behind me after lap 1. But after a couple of laps I managed to pull out 20 seconds by the end of my stint.
“For me that was good, I’m feeling comfortable in the car now. I’ve had lots of help from Christian and David and the whole team with data and video and everything. They are always helping me and now I feel fine, like [since] NLS4 and now this weekend as well I’m really feeling like I’m up to speed in the car now.
“It looked like a boring stint but really it wasn’t because I knew I had to keep with the times because we needed that gap. And just with traffic anyway, it doesn’t matter if you’re driving on your own or if you’re in a battle. It’s never-ever boring because any slight time lost in traffic you could lose what you think is still a good lap, but you don’t know what the other cars are doing. Maybe I feel like I did a good lap but with traffic it was an 8:20 or something but then even though that felt like a good lap, Kolb or Jefferies that were P2 and P3 at the time, maybe they could’ve done an 8:10 in traffic. Like, for me it feels good but maybe it wasn’t fast enough, you know, that’s always the pressure that you’re trying to deal with so you really need every single tenth of a second that you can get when you’re battling against slower cars in traffic. That’s the real pressure.”
In his switch from GT4 to GT3, navigating traffic has become one of the biggest challenges. The lessons learned in the past races paid dividend on Sunday.
“Yeah definitely, I think at the start of the year that’s what I said to you, right, that the biggest thing for me was going to be being fast in traffic,” Ben refers to our pre-season interview shortly after being announced as the full-pro BMW’s new driver.
“I think that’s the biggest difference between the professionals and a good driver. A good driver could do a similar lap, like close to the lap record, but in traffic maybe they lose five seconds whereas a pro driver only loses one second.
“I think that’s the big difference. That’s something that Christian and David have helped me with after the first couple of races; we’ve watched the videos together of my stints and they told me how I could deal with traffic better, so I’ve had a lot of help from David and Christian about traffic and now I feel like I’m getting there, I feel like I was pretty good in the traffic.
“A big thing is confidence, and it sounds strange but the body language of the car. You can tell the person ahead if they’ve even seen you or not or if they are confident. You have to kind of predict if they are confident with letting you pass whether you need to back off and get a better exit. If you go and you get stuck behind them for two or three corners, could you have got past before or could you have backed off and maybe got them on the exit without having lost too much time.
“There’s a lot of things that go into it but it’s mainly just the feeling and confidence and predicting where they are going to be.”
And how important was that this race?
“On the Sunday especially it was really, really important because like I said I wasn’t battling directly with the Audi, but we knew that we had to keep up the lap times compare to them in the traffic. The first couple of laps is when I made my biggest gap in the traffic, in the Code 60s, and after that it was equal to the other two, but yeah, my first couple of laps I was taking a few risks in traffic but I really made up some time so that was good.”
All in all, the second-ever NLS doubleheader was an enjoyable weekend for the British talent.
“I wish we could do double header weekends every time. It almost makes it seem more worth it. NLS are on Saturdays, it’s different to what I’ve known in the U.K. where pretty much we’re all racing on a Sunday. It’s nice for the travel to get back on a Sunday but it almost feels like you’re only there for two days at a time at the track and it feels a bit nicer when you’re there longer. I wish we could do doubleheaders all the time, that would be cool.
“A massive thank you to the team and Christian and David because there’s pressure, but everyone has made it so easy for me to perform, and to feel like I can perform and build my confidence. The lots of help from the team and my teammates have gotten me to this point.”
Halfway into the season it seems like Ben has already arrived near the top of his game in GT3. With Walkenhorst Motorsport, the BMW M6 GT3, and his co-drivers not holding him back, what else can we expect in the final races of the season?
“Hopefully more wins! That’s honestly what we’re aiming for every time, we know we can do it, we know that we should’ve been able to do it even a couple of races ago but just with bad luck – we had the gearbox issues before and things like that.
“Wins for sure, podiums, every race we’ll be aiming for that. Wins, but I think minimum the podium or at least fighting for podiums, we really should be doing that for the rest of the year.”
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