Porsche, podiums and pre-season possibilities
Ben reflects on his 2017 motorsport season and looks ahead to 2018
All too quickly, it’s December. The time of year where we catch ourselves looking backward as much as forward, reflecting on what we’ve done with the past 12 months as much as looking to what lies ahead in the next dozen.
I think it would be fair to say that my year has had its share of talking points on the track, both high and low: from the struggles early in the season, through a very trying Le Mans, to two podium finishes in the final four rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The Gulf Racing team will admit that it took some time to get used to a switch of tyre supplier last winter and, without the freedom to test at will, the opening rounds were always going to be tough. We were hoping to get more from Le Mans, but a controversial application of the Balance of Performance regulations meant that we were on the back foot, even before we arrived in France, leading to possibly the hardest race of my career.
From that point on, however, things started looking up. There were never any doubts about the potential within the team. Gulf consistently had some of the best execution on pit stops in the entire WEC field, the car was exceptionally well put together and the driving strength improved with every outing, but results didn’t start going our way until we left Europe. The Nürburgring had been a positive swing after Le Mans, and third place in Mexico was vindication of the effort that had gone into the programme over the first half of the season.
We could have had another top three next time out in Austin but for a brake issue and rising cockpit temperatures. We showed promise at Fuji before the weather made a lottery of raceday, but were eventually rewarded a second time in China, where we finished second at the 6 Hours of Shanghai after some good tyre strategy right from the start of the weekend. Unfortunately, the season ended on a low in Bahrain, but two podium visits will be a good place to start from in 2018.
I’ve not got anything signed and sealed for next year, but talks are progressing with Gulf and a return there would be high on my Christmas list. I want to be back in the WEC, and I think we’ve established a good rapport over the past couple of seasons. Porsche should be even more competitive in the GT-AM class with the introduction of the new mid-engined RSR that has already proven itself in the Pro category, and the class looks set to grow as a whole, so there’s added incentive right there.
Next year’s WEC will be something special too, as the series’ desire to reposition itself on the calendar has resulted in what they’re calling a ‘superseason’, with two scoring trips to Le Mans at either end of the campaign, and the addition of a 12-hour race at Sebring in the USA. I think the WEC needed to introduce a ‘mid-distance’ event to bridge the usual six-hour races and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and where better to do it than Sebring, which has a racing history all of its own.
Racing in the US is also something I’d consider asking Santa for. I’ve done it before, but not on a regular basis for a few years now. I really think it’s possible to make a career out of racing Stateside, and I’d love to get a shot at the Daytona 24 Hours. However, I think 2018 might come a bit too soon, despite having some irons in the fire on that side of the Atlantic.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not looking to turn my back on Europe. The racing here is great and I’m in a good situation, but I need to look at the big picture and work out where my career is going and where it’s going to be most sustainable. Although the WEC will remain my priority, I’d just love to add a few more races to my schedule. There are only five WEC events slated for 2018, so it’s not that I don’t have time. I’d also like the opportunity to go for overall wins, rather than just in class. There are a number of options in GT3, and winning in the Le Mans GT3 Cup this season has only whetted my appetite for more. I’ll keep you all posted, of course.