The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the premier events in auto racing. With a new hypercar class, the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans had its fair share of excitement. One of the most memorable moments of the race was when the #71 Ferrari lost a wheel at Le Mans. Just as incredible as the accident was the team’s drive to finish the race.
Inception Racing’s #71 Ferrari
Ben Barnicoat (born 1996) made his Le Mans debut in 2021. British-born Barnicoat is a McLaren factory racing driver who took up endurance racing in 2019. After a successful showing at the Bathhurst 12 Hours, Gulf 12 Hours, and a fourth-place finish at the Asian Le Mans, Inception racing chose him for their 24 Hours of Le Mans team.
Barnicoat and co-drivers Brendan Iribe and Olli Millroy made a name for themselves during the ACO Asian endurance racing series. Fans had high hopes for the trio entering Le Mans.
The Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance (LMGTE) class features street-legal cars from major manufactures with two doors and at least two seats. The LMGTE Pro class features factory teams and factory drivers, while the LMGTE Am cars must be one year older, and the drivers can be amateurs. Inception racing entered a Ferrari 488 GTE painted red and carrying the number #71 in the LMGTE Am class.
Despite a race plagued by rain, the Inception team did well for the first half of the 24-Hours. The Toyota hypercars leading the pack fought one another for position. A dramatic double-crash forced promising young driver Sophia Floersch out of the race. Meanwhile, the Inception team settled into a rhythm for the 24 hour endurance race. Then Barnicoat took the wheel to drive through the night.
Ferrari Lost A Wheel At The 24 Hours of Le Mans
By 4 AM local time, the Inception crew had completed at least a dozen successful pit stops. Unfortunately, Barnicoat was running low on fuel, and his tires were wearing thin: despite having a competitive position in his LMGTE class, he had to pit without waiting for a yellow flag.
The crew swapped his tires, fueled up his car, and gave him the go signal. Barnicoat drove down pit lane and out onto the track.
At 4:12 AM, the motorsport reporting team noticed the #71 car slowing down. The race announcers replayed the recent Inception Racing pitstop. The commentators realized the Ferrari’s front-left wheel had been wobbling as Barnicoat accelerated off of pit lane. The pit crew manager apparently realized the problem and waved at the #71 car. But the #71 car’s garage was near the end of pit road, and by the time Barnicoat or anyone else had noticed the problem, race traffic had already trapped him on the one-way track.
Barnicoat had no way home except to continue forward. His new front-left wheel had not been fully tightened onto the car’s spline-shafts; it was spinning freely, doing nothing to help brake and wobbling when he steered. He slowed down and appeared to try to ease the car through righthand corners. But the Circuit de la Sarthe is 8.4 miles long, and Barnicoat could not drive far before his front-left wheel broke away altogether. The announcers watched in shock as the #71 Ferrari lost a wheel at Le Mans.
Bill Barnicoat Battles On
In endurance racing, the emergency crew only slows the race for medical issues. Drivers with a mechanical problem succeed or fail on their own. The motorsports reporters watched Barnicoat in amazement. They announced that he was, “still trying to get the Inception machine back to the pits.”
With the front-left corner of his car on the ground, Barnicoat shifted into gear and pushed on. Spectators watched as the bottom of his Ferrari threw sparks into the night, and he relied on a single front wheel to steer and brake. As Barnicoat ground forward, race-leaders flew by him, often passing on both sides, at nearly two hundred miles an hour. He slowly circled one of the most dangerous race tracks in the world–on just three wheels.
The breathless commentators watched the incredible lap. At 4:20 AM they announced, “He’s just made it as far as Maison Blance.” And then, as the #71 scraped into pit lane, motorsports reporting announced, “Barnicoat’s made it back.”
They added, “The #71 Ferrari is straight in the garage after an excruciating 16-minute lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe.”
Barnicoat Makes A Comeback
Barnicoat’s daredevil three-wheeled lap back to pit lanes gave his team a fighting chance. But now the Inception pit crew had to do the impossible, get the wrecked car road-ready. Endurance teams train to replace brakes, clutches, and entire sections of body panels–nearly as fast as the racers circling the track.
At 4:42 AM, after the #71 Ferrari lost a wheel at Le Mans and lost nine laps of position, Ben Barnicoat leaped back into the car and raced onto the track. At 6:41 AM, the sun rose over Le Mans France, and the #71 Ferrari was still very much in the fight. By 3:00 PM, when the 24 Hours of Le Mans ended, Barnicoat and his co-drivers had completed 327 laps. Unfortunately, they did not win the race or their class. But after some crashes, finishing at all is winning.