Monday 30th May 2016
Ben Barker overcame treacherous conditions to rack up consecutive fourth-place finishes in the highly-competitive Porsche Mobil1 Supercup, but was denied back-to-back Monaco Grand Prix podiums by a red flag just two laps from home.
The Briton, who took third place in last year’s Supercup race to add to a previous victory on the world’s most famous street circuit in the Grand Prix Historique, arrived in the Principality on the back of a fourth-place finish in round one of the 2016 championship in Barcelona, confident that the #10 MOMO-Megatron entry would be able to challenge at the front once again.
Having reacquainted himself with the sinuous Monaco layout in practice on Thursday afternoon, Barker produced another top four qualifying effort the following morning to mirror his performance from the same session a year ago. Despite being just a matter of tenths off the front row, however, the Cambridge native was disappointed with the result.
“Fourth in itself wasn’t too bad and, on another circuit, I would probably have been quite happy with it, but, having set my sights on another trip to the podium here in Monaco, it was a little frustrating,” Barker explained, aware of the difficulties in passing on the street circuit, “Qualifying was the usual hit-and-miss affair and I didn’t get a really clear lap between the traffic and yellow flags, but I started fourth in 2015 and made the podium, so it was all still to play for.”
The Porsche specialist’s bid took another blow, however, when, having had a day off in the sun on Saturday, he woke to find Monaco shrouded in cloud and under a deluge on Sunday morning. The Supercup was first on track in the build-up to the blue riband F1 grand prix and, although the rain has eased by the time the drivers took to the grid, the track remained wet enough for the race to begin behind the safety car.
The controlled pace continued for two laps and, when the field was released, its single-file nature – on the wet surface - meant that an immediate challenge for position was impossible. Undeterred, and gradually gaining in confidence in the tricky conditions, however, Barker continued to close on, and harry, former F1 driver Michael Ammermuller, pressuring the German at almost every turn as he looked for a way by.
“I was all over the back of Michael, but he defended where he needed to in order to keep me behind,” Barker noted, “I was much faster than him, hustling him everywhere, and could probably have had a go at passing on a number of occasions. I was able to get alongside on the outside into Ste Devote but, given the conditions, it was always a 50:50 chance that a move there – or anywhere else - would have ended up in a pass or a big accident.”
Barker and Ammermuller continued to run nose-to-tail into the closing stages, when the return of heavy rain proved too much for one of the cars ahead of them. As veteran Klaus Bachler slithered into the wall at Ste Devote, Barker was momentarily promoted to his longed-for podium position before the involvement of other cars in the accident prompted race officials to throw the red flag. With only a handful of laps remaining to be run, and the F1 schedule in mind, the race was called there and then – with a sting in the tail for Barker as, in accordance to series rules, the result was rolled back to the running order two laps previously.
“I’ve always thought it a ridiculous rule that you can have an accident and cause the race to be red-flagged, but then retain your position,” the Briton sighed, “With Bachler crashing out, I moved up to third position, but was only there for a minute or so before they decided to abandon the race. It’s disappointing not to be on the podium, but another fourth place means a good haul of points, and the #10 MOMO-Megatron car was strong again, on a very different track to Barcelona, which bodes well for the rest of the year. Thanks to MOMO, CARS, MontaPlast, Sacred and Silverbug for making this possible.”
Barker’s performance sees him sit in a share of second place in the overall Supercup standings after two rounds but, with a couple of races clashing with his World Endurance Championship commitments with Gulf Racing, the Briton knows that he will be limited in terms of a concerted title challenge. Despite that, he hopes to be back on the grid at the Austrian Grand Prix early next month, before taking on the biggest challenge of his season, the Le Mans 24 Hours, in mid-June.