Monday 4th July 2016
The hills were alive to the sound of squealing tyres and splintering bodywork as Ben Barker was cruelly denied another top five finish in the highly-competitive Porsche Mobil1 Supercup at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday.
The Briton went into the third round of the series on the back of consecutive fourth-place finishes in Spain and Monaco, as well as completing his maiden Le Mans 24 Hours, and was beginning to climb through the field when his bid to take sixth position was scuppered by one of the cars he was passing into the turn three with the chequered flag in sight.
Barker was having to make moves in a bid to replicate his earlier Supercup results after a frustrating qualifying session left him down in eighth on the grid. It had looked more promising for the #10 MOMO-Megatron Team Partrax driver after his first run put him third on the timesheets and only a tenth off the pace but, despite knowing that there was more time in both the car and himself, Barker’s opportunity to improve was hampered by a red flag interruption to recover a car stranded out on the track.
With new tyres fitted to his strikingly-liveried Porsche 911 GT3, Barker was forced to wait in his pit stall for fully seven minutes before the session could resume, and the heatsoak effect of the day’s high temperatures meant that the fresh rubber reached its peak before he even returned to the track.
“I reckon there was at least a four-tenth improvement there for the taking,” the Cambridge native explained after the session, “Instead, I was only able to extract a small gain from the car as the rears tyres hit temperature and peaked too early, giving me a lot of oversteer on my flying lap. It’s frustrating because the team had put a nice set-up on the car and I know that I could have been right up the front of the grid, even with a lot of traffic on track after the red flag.”
Despite still feeling positive about his chances of making progress on Sunday, Barker’s race preparation was turned on its head by heavy early morning rain over the Styrian mountains. Although preceding races bore the brunt of the conditions, the track remained wet, but with a drying line, as the Porsche field lined up in the holding area and uncertainty over which tyres to choose was further compounded by confused instructions from race officials.
With little time to make changes, Barker took up his grid position on slicks, but with a wet set-up still on the #10 machine, although that did not appear to hamper him at the start as, holding a tighter inside line, he briefly contested fifth before having to settle for sixth place into turn two. Unfortunately, that became seventh by the end of the lap as the Briton avoided another driver’s mistake in turn seven, before a thwarted attempt to re-pass Philipp Frommenwiler saw veteran Christian Engelhardt push the MOMO car back another spot.
“I will always try to make up places,” Barker insisted, “That’s what racing is all about and, despite having a car that was too soft on the rollbars for the drying conditions, I knew that I could pass the cars in front of me. It was unfortunate that Steven Palette made a mistake at the end of the lap one because that cost me a lot of momentum, but the various safety car periods ensured that the field remained bunched and there were positions there for the taking.”
Unfortunately, Barker’s mantra would prove his undoing, even if the contact that subsequently demoted him to 17th was far from his fault. Attempting to capitalise on Frommenwiler running wide following the final restart, Barker was alongside the German at the turn two hairpin and looked set to make his move exiting turn three, only for Engelhardt - whom he had already accounted for - to lock up on a damp part of the track and clatter into the back of the #10, spinning it through a full 360°.
“Philipp made a mistake at turn one and that gave me the momentum I needed to pass both him and Engelhardt,” Barker noted, “I was already past Engelhardt and going around the outside of Frommenwiler when Christian lost control under braking and had nowhere to go but into the right rear quarter of my car! It’s gutting as I now know I would have been at least fifth in the final result after Matteo Cairoli’s penalty, which would have been good from eighth on the grid, but it was a case of right place, wrong time I suppose….”
With only two more laps to run, Barker eventually crossed the line in 16th place, which became 15th when his assailant picked up a penalty that dropped him behind the #10 car, but results elsewhere mean that the Briton remains a close fifth in the standings heading to his home race at Silverstone this coming weekend.
Round four of the 2016 Porsche Mobil1 Supercup supports the British Grand Prix at Silverstone over 8-10 July.