DATE ADDED: Monday 24th August 2015
Ben Barker scored solid points in both races of the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup double-header at Spa-Francorchamps over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.
With an extra race added to the weekend’s schedule to replace the cancelled event planned in support of the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Barker was handed two outings on one of his favourite circuits, and headed for the Ardennes in confident mood, knowing that the #10 Momo-Megatron Porsche would allow him to build on previous strong Spa showings.
After re-establishing his bearings in practice, both with the long 4.352-mile layout and the cockpit of his car, having not had a Supercup engagement for almost a month, Barker was disappointed not to make the most of his first set of tyres in qualifying, forcing him to use a second set for longer than he would have liked in search of a lap-time for both grids.
“I thought we had quite an aggressive set-up on the car, but I never found the peak of the tyres, which was very unusual,” he reported, “The times were nowhere, so we made a few little changes to the car before bolting on the second set of tyres, and it was very different. I wasn’t expecting too much, and thought I’d still have understeer, but the car was suddenly 1.1secs quicker, which was good enough for eighth on the grid for race one.
“The tyres would have had more in them for a second flying lap but I caught traffic and, even though I tried to back off and cool them for another effort, it was too late. The lap was 0.6secs slower, so I had to settle for 14th on the grid for race two, which was the penalty for relying on just one set of tyres for both times. The difference between the two sets was pronounced, which is a little puzzling - and very frustrating as I obviously had the pace in me to qualifying towards the front.”
Race one followed F1 qualifying on Saturday afternoon, and Barker was quick to make up a position on the opening lap, passing one car around the outside of La Source. He was handed another shortly afterwards when polesitter Michael Ammermuller crashed out at Pouhon, and quickly latched onto the rear wing of Christian Engelhardt as second to sixth ran as a train.
“The battle with Engelhardt was fantastic,” Barker enthused, “We were side-by-side through Eau Rouge on three occasions but, although I managed to get ahead, he was able to draft back past me on the long straight that followed. I was a lot quicker than him, but there was no other place that I had a chance to pass – if I had, I think I could have been in the hunt for a podium as the front of the group was holding us up.”
Spurred on by his performance, Barker went into Sunday morning’s second race confident that he could improve on his row seven start and, again, made up places as the 33-strong field funnelled into the La Source hairpin. With contact in the pack helping the Briton to improve further, he soon found himself homing in on a four-car battle for places inside the top ten. When the two cars at the front of the group both had moments through the infamous Eau Rouge, Barker pounced, pulling out from behind Carrera Cup Germany team-mate Connor de Phillippi at the start of the Kemmel Straight and managing to pass the other three cars under braking for Les Combes.
“It was a pretty exciting race considering I was starting 14th,” Barker grinned, “I got an okay start and benefited from a couple of accidents ahead of me, but it was catching and passing four cars in one move that really got me buzzing! I was glad that Connor saw me coming as, with that big a tow, I was doing at least 10kph more than him, and I had to judge my approach just right, but I got ahead of [Kuba] Giermaziak right in the braking zone.”
Once into seventh position, however, Barker found himself having to defend from de Phillippi over the second half of the race, with the American occasionally pulling alongside the Briton’s red-and-black machine as it struggled on an increasingly-worn set of tyres.
“The tyres were the ones I had to use to set my best laps in qualifying, so they were well-used even before the race,” Barker explained, “I had no pace and a lot of understeer, so it was a major task to keep Connor behind me. Fortunately, he kept the battle clean and we both made it to the finish.”
With two weeks to go before the next Supercup round, another double-header at Monza, Barker is keen to get on top of his qualifying concerns.
“We clearly have good race pace, so we need to find the sweet spot for qualifying in order to be better placed to use it,” he said, “There are improvements that can be made in all areas – including me!"
Round seven of the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup takes place at the Autodromo Nazionale in Monza over the weekend of 4-6 September.