For most racing drivers, their main concerns during a race are dealing with chicanes and accelerating out of corners. For Ben Wallace, it’s a little more complex.
The 20-year-old Liverpudlian suffers from Type 1 diabetes, meaning that he must use insulin to control his blood sugar levels. It’s a potentially fatal balancing act, but it doesn’t deter him.
Forge Press spoke to Ben about his story and his aim of inspiring the next generation of diabetic sports stars.
What ignited your passion for motorsport and how did you get into it?
My dad is a big motorsport fan and I’ve always watched races with him since the age of four. I had my first drive in a kart when I was five, when we lived in Spain, and started racing before I was six. After that I was karting all over Europe, mainly in Germany where I won cadet and junior championships. At 13 I had my first real test in a Ginetta Junior and in races after.
As someone with Type 1 diabetes, how does your condition affect you when racing?
I started in motorsport when I was five years old in cadet karting. It was a challenge, especially for my dad to work out the routine during a karting weekend. I quickly learnt the signs of when I was going ‘low’ and my dad worked out the blood sugar level I needed before a race.
Sometimes this was dependent on the weather – I started karting in Spain and the heat made a massive difference to my blood sugar levels. Over the year we built up a pretty good routine. Sprint races were never a problem, but endurance racing was a massive challenge – driving up to 2 hours in an extremely hot car was something else.
I started to use the Abbott Freestyle Libre sensor as soon as it came on the market. It made a massive difference; it gave us the ability to check my blood sugar quickly at a pit stop and we installed a drink bottle system into the car with 1 litre of full sugar Lucozade.
In August 2018 I did a two-hour race at Brands Hatch GP, which involved a one hour stint for me and my co-driver. When I took over the car for the second stint the temperature inside the car was approximately 55-65℃. After 15 minutes I lost ABS, then traction control and finally power steering. Normally you can race without, but the GT4 cars are designed to use these aids and steering the car without power steering is nearly impossible.
I started the race on a blood sugar reading of 12-14, but after 50 minutes I needed to retire the car in the box and drink the litre of Lucozade. Endurance racing in the summer has real physical demands.
You’ve driven a fair few races throughout your career so far. What is your best race memory?
Every time the adrenaline rushes when I get into the car to be honest! But best of all was the time I went flat out in a GT4 Ginetta through Eau Rouge. The first race I did in Spain in the VW Racing Cup was great too.
What are your future plans?
In 2020 I’m forming a race team with John Paul, in cooperation with Student Motorsport. We decided we’d build a perfect platform for a young team in the newly formed Renault Clio Cup 2020. We plan to run a two car team, one for me and the second car for a young talent.
As a fan, what’s your favourite category of racing and why?
I like the complexity of endurance racing – the tactics, intelligent driving and the physical aspect of the drive. Endurance Racing would be my dream category to race in the future.
What advice can you give diabetic young people that want to get into sport?
It’s all about knowing your body and diabetes and even more importantly learning the amount of carbohydrates you burn during your activities. In a way it’s ‘trial and error’ but you will learn to balance it. Ignoring this causes serious health problems and your performance will suffer.