Royal Reception As Barker Masters Monaco
DATE ADDED: Wednesday 16 May 2012
Ben Barker defied old age, inexperience, unforgiving walls and barriers and a sudden monsoon to claim an unexpected victory in the Pre-1985 Formula 3 class of the prestigious 8th Grand Prix de Monaco Historique.
The Porsche Carrera Cup GB frontrunner stepped back in time after receiving an invitation from historic racing enthusiast Peter Hiscocks to drive his 1978-spec Lola T670 in the event, which took place on the very same street circuit that will be graced by the F1 circus in two weeks' time.
"It was an offer I couldn't refuse," 20-year old Barker admitted, "You don't get many opportunities to race at Monaco and I'm very grateful to Peter, who had originally intended to do the event himself. After he had secured an entry, Peter approached me for a little bit of driver instruction as preparation, which then turned into an offer to race on his behalf. I don't know why he changed his mind - but I'm so pleased he did!"
Having never been to Monaco previously, Barker's initial laps were spent getting used to the famous layout and, with just ten laps at a soaking wet Donington Park under his belt, to the ageing Lola as well. The pairing clicked quickly, however, and, despite being a true privateer effort - with the car being towed to the Principality on a trailer - Barker was soon lapping close to the pace, posting the fifth best time of the session.
Better was to follow and, despite his car being the oldest in the field and giving away as much as seven years to its youngest rivals, the Briton moved to the top of the timesheets in his group, after the 48-car field was split in two to allow space on the tight course. Qualifying provided a similar result, with Barker now opening a three-tenths gap back to his closest rival to claim pole position for his heat, which also went the way of the Lola as it cruised home 6.5secs clear of the field.
"Although I didn't know the Monaco circuit before I arrived, other than what I had seen on television, I got used to having to learn street circuits quickly while racing in Australia, and that certainly helped me here," he commented, "However, I really didn't expect to be at the front of my group, especially in a car running bog-standard aero and giving away so many years."
With the best of the field brought together for the final, the combination of nerves and ageing technology ensured that it took three attempts to get the race underway, but Barker did not let that affect his concentration, acing the start to lead into Ste Devote. Once in front, he pushed hard and proceeded to extend his lead, albeit by small margins, with every lap, eventually opening out a near three-second advantage over his pursuers.
Typically for Monaco, however, the former Australian F3 champion's hard work was undone by the appearance of the safety car following an accident back in the pack and, to make matters worse, the heavens opened while the field was trundling around in its wake. Conditions eventually became so bad that the red flag was shown, leaving Barker and his rivals waiting to learn if the race would be restarted. With time running out, however, it was finally decided that no restart would be possible, leaving the Briton to take victory in unusual circumstances. "It was quite a bizarre end to the race, not taking the chequered flag in the normal way," Barker smiled, "but I don't think I mind. I was really enjoying both the car and the circuit before the safety car came out, and I think that showed in the gap I had over the rest. While there was a lot of respect between the drivers, this really is an amazing result for this car - Peter is ecstatic!"
If the race finished in abnormal fashion, however, Barker was still afforded the traditional podium celebration, receiving his trophy from Prince Albert on the makeshift dais opposite the pits, before heading for a black tie ball that he had no idea about. "We had about 15 minutes left after packing everything away and nowhere to change or shower," he laughed, "I didn't have the right clothes and must still have smelled of champagne, but they let me in anyway..."
Barker will now return to Porsche action in the UK, but has clearly been bitten by the Monaco bug. "It was an amazing event, and I told Prince Albert that I hoped to be back again soon - perhaps in next year's Porsche Supercup race," he said, "I'm not sure what he can do to help me though..."