A memorable class win on his Le Mans debut has justified an early switch to endurance racing, as this F3 race winner from Devon tells Damien Smith
How many GP2 or GP3 drivers have stood on a podium with 60,000 people below them?” asks Allan McNish. Yet his 22-year-old protégé already has that in the bank, having anchored a great British class victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours at his first attempt. Harry Tincknell should perhaps be standing on Grand Prix support race podiums this year, but like many of his generation he’s had an enforced change of plan.
“There are definitely more opportunities in sports cars,” says Harry. Just a few weeks after Le Mans, he’s upbeat about the future and leaves no hint of regret that F1 is no longer the target.
“F1 was the dream, but this was the right decision,” he says. “In single-seaters you learn so much and I wouldn’t be the driver I am without that foundation. But it’s tough to get by on talent alone.”
At the end of last season, mentor McNish knew Tincknell was at a crossroads. Promise was evident in a European F3 campaign that had garnered a race win, but now it was decision time.
“He didn’t have the funding to go forward in single-seaters, so what was the best move?” says McNish. “He’s young, but LMP2 made sense – although he had to drive the car before he bought the idea. So in October he tested for Jota Sport at Aragon – and stepped out with a smile on his face.” Team owner and colourful entrepreneur Simon Dolan liked what he saw and signed Harry to join him in the European Le Mans Series for 2014.
“‘Driver management’ is a term I don’t particularly like – and wasn’t on my radar,” McNish says. “But over time I’ve become more involved. Now, what I advise isn’t necessarily about driving because he knows a lot of that himself. It’s about the next step and what he can do.”
The move has turned out pretty well so far. Pole position on his European Le Mans Series debut at Silverstone – “by 1.1sec”, points out McNish – gave notice of intent. A strong showing at the Spa Six Hours, followed by a first ELMS win at Imola, were further preludes to the ‘Big One’ and the most significant race of his career so far.
“It’s only just sinking in,” Harry says. “To win straight away at Le Mans… there are guys in the team who have been there 12 times and hadn’t made a podium. It’s crazy.”
The circumstances make it all the sweeter. Just two days before the race, Jota lost Marc Gené when the experienced Spaniard was drafted in to the Audi LMP1 team after Loïc Duval’s frightening practice accident. Up stepped Oliver Turvey, another promising young Brit who’d lost his own drive at the beginning of the week.
In the race, Tincknell led early on only for niggling delays to drop the Zytek down the order. “We were 40th at one point,” Harry says. “At the time I was just driving corner to corner, but during Sunday the team told me we were contenders and I knew if I could get Olly where we needed to be he could finish the job.”
Tincknell’s heroic, Tom Kristensen-style effort set Turvey up to take the lead at the final pitstop and ensured landmark wins for the young drivers, their enthusiastic team boss and a first Le Mans success for Zytek, too.
So for Harry, what next? A career that mirrors his mentor’s wouldn’t be a bad ambition… “He’s taken to it even better than I thought he would,” McNish says. “He’s always been analytical, a thinking driver, but I didn’t expect the pure pace he’s already showing. Having known him since he was a lad coming out of karting, it was quite a moment to see him on the podium at Le Mans. It was like he’d gone from a young boy to a man in 24 hours.”
Career in brief
Born: 29/10/1991, Exeter, UK
2001-04 junior British karting
2005-07 European and world-level karting
2008 FRenault winter series
2009 FRenault UK, Graduate Cup winner
2010 FRenault UK, 5th
2011 British Formula 3, 11th
2012 British F3, four wins
2013 European F3, one win
2014 ELMS LMP2 with Jota Sport, plus WEC rounds, 1st at Le Mans 24 Hours