Monday 29th August 2016
Ben Barker rediscovered his taste for champagne after a late call-up to debut in the Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup resulted in a second-place finish with the Mentos Racing team.
Porsche specialist Barker, who has raced regularly in both the World Endurance Championship and Mobil1 Supercup this season, was called on to fill in for the absent Klaus Bachler as the nominated ‘pro driver’ alongside team owner Egidio Perfetti for round four of the Le Mans Cup campaign and put his experience to good use as he helped guide the #88 Mentos 911 GT3-R to a podium finish.
With high temperatures a dominant feature of the Mediterranean weekend, a lot of practice time was spent trying to find a set-up that would both allow the distinctive white-and-blue Porsche to keep up with the more powerful Ferraris and Aston Martins while also looking after its tyres through the two-hour race. The preparation clearly worked as Perfetti, the team’s designated ‘amateur’ driver, proved quick enough to take fourth on the grid, setting the Mentos pairing up for a promising race result.
Perfetti also took the start on Sunday and, despite the Porsche still not being able to match its rivals for pace, was able to keep sight of the leaders in the early stages before handing over to Barker with the #88 in second position. The Briton, who used the unexpected outing to keep his hand in before returning to WEC action in Mexico next month, rejoined the race with a five-second deficit to the leading Ferrari, but used his proven pace and prior experience of the Paul Ricard circuit to gradually reel in the Russian-crewed car.
Having got the Mentos machine onto the tail of the Ferrari, however, the leaders found a late turn of pace and were just able to keep Barker at bay, eventually opening up a 1.5secs cushion to carry them to the chequered flag. Nevertheless, second place not only represented a welcome return to the podium for the 25-year old Cambridge native, but also maintained Mentos Racing’s championship challenge despite having to make changes to its driver line-up.
“It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on the podium, so it was very nice to be back up there spraying the champagne,” Barker grinned, “I’ve been close on a couple of occasions in the Supercup this year, but finishing fourth can be a little frustrating!
“It has been a good weekend for myself and the Mentos team, and the hard work we put in to get the car right for the race paid off with second place. Egidio did a great job in both qualifying and the first half of the race, and that put me in a position to challenge for the win. We knew that the Ferraris and Aston Martins would have a performance edge on our Porsche here, so it was good to be able to mix it with them, even if the #72 held on for the win at the end.
“Thanks to Egidio and Mentos Racing for considering me as a suitable replacement for Klaus – I think I did enough to justify their choice. The Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup is a great little championship and certainly provided me with a useful work-out before the next round of the World Endurance Championship. I hope I can return in the future.”
Barker returns to World Endurance Championship action this coming weekend, as round five takes place at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City over 1-3 September.