Monday 16th May 2016
Ben Barker produced a perfect bend of attack and defence to take a creditable fourth place finish on an unexpected return to the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Briton jumped back into the #10 MOMO Megatron entry at short notice ahead of the Barcelona season-opener, hoping that he would not be at too much of a disadvantage against rivals who had enjoyed their usual pre-season preparation while Barker concentrated on his new role in the World Endurance Championship.
The Porsche specialist’s cause was not helped by an early exit from Friday’s practice session, after a wheel nut problem saw the distinctively-liveried black-red-and-yellow 911 GT3 spin into the gravel, leaving Barker to rely on his three previous appearances at the Circuit de Catalunya when it came to deciding on the right set-up for Saturday’s qualifying run. Although not quite hitting the numbers exactly, the 25-year old still managed to annex the eighth-fastest time of the session, and reckoned that only a small improvement would have been enough to gain several places on the grid.
“Having learned nothing on Friday, there was always the risk that qualifying could have gone very wrong, but both the team and myself are experienced enough to arrive at a reasonable set-up, and eighth on the grid wasn’t so bad considering the lack of laps we had in practice,” Barker pointed out, “The set-up wasn’t perfect, and I did the best I could with what I had, but it would only have needed a couple of tenths improvement to move up to fifth – or even fourth.”
Knowing that a good getaway could help him gain places on the long run to turn one, Barker made a decent start to Sunday morning’s race, but had to wait until the exit of turn one before moving up to seventh, capitalising as Michael Ammermuller ran wide. Three corners later, the Briton slipped by Robert Lukas to claim sixth place before setting off after the group ahead of him. After several laps of steadily closing, Barker was then handed a chance to gain further ground, diving to the inside of turn ten as Jeffrey Schmidt and Christian Engelhardt clashed while battling over fourth position.
The opportunistic move – completed before his rivals finished banging bodywork - looked to have landed Barker in a promising situation, with the podium trio in his sights while the recovering Schmidt duelled distantly with Ammermuller in his mirrors. However, any hope the Briton had of running untroubled through the remainder of the race were dashed as the safety car was summoned to protect the recovery of Engelhardt’s stranded machine.
While that allowed Barker onto the tail of third-placed Mathieu Jaminet, it also gave Schmidt and Ammermuller the chance to home in on the #10, and the former Red Bull F1 driver would give the Briton all he could handle for the remaining laps. Barker, however, was up to the task, placing his car perfectly to keep his rival at bay and not offering an opportunity to pass, eventually crossing the line 0.442secs in front to secure an impressive fourth place.
“It was a race of two halves,” the Cambridge native reflected, “Having made a good start, the first few laps were all about picking up places, taking advantage of Ammermuller’s mistake, but then picking off Lukas and making the right move to duck inside Schmidt and Engelhardt when they made contact. The safety car didn’t work to my advantage, however, and the rest of the race was spent with Ammermuller filling my mirrors.
“I didn’t have the same pace as the other leading runners as they had all started on new tyres, but it equalised a little as the race went on and I was able to take the lines I wanted, knowing that he would have to get onto the dirty part of the track if he wanted to overtake. Although a podium finish was only 1.6secs up the road, I’m happy enough with fourth place given what happened at the start of the weekend and especially given the lateness of the call to drive in Barcelona in the first place. Thanks to team manager Andreas Leberle and sponsors MOMO, Sacred and Montaplast for making it happen - I hope that we can do it again!”
Barker’s performance has whetted his appetite for further Supercup action this season and, despite two rounds of the series clashing with his World Endurance Championship commitments with Gulf Racing, he is hoping to return to the #10 car for forthcoming rounds, with immediate attention falling on Monaco, where he finished on the podium a year ago.