Monday 21 November 2016
Ben Barker brought the curtain down on his maiden FIA World Endurance Championship campaign as he took the chequered flag in round nine at the Bahrain International Circuit on Saturday evening.
The Briton started and finished the six-hour race at the desert circuit to complete another solid weekend for the Gulf Racing team as it again showed its mettle against vastly more experienced opposition, but once more suffered a stroke of bad luck that kept it from the podium.
Bahrain was another new venue for both Barker and the Gulf team but solid work through practice produced a positive set-up for the #86 Porsche 911 RSR, and allowed the 25-year old Cambridge native to lap competitively in qualifying.
“We had good pace and were a lot closer to the Aston that we thought would be,” Barker commented, “Although we were P4 on the timesheet, we were the first of the Porsche entries and only 0.35secs away from P1 in the GTE-Am class, which gave us optimism for raceday.”
Barker was back behind the wheel for the start of Saturday’s race, which would start under the hot desert sun and end under the cover of night, with a mix of headlights and floodlights illuminating the end of the sportscar season. Not willing to risk a promising evening, there was no repeat of the immediate gains made earlier in the season by the Briton, but the #86 was soon on the move as Barker again showed how comfortably he has slotted into the WEC scene.
With two race stints split by seat time for team-mates Adam Carroll and Mike Wainwright, the former F3 champion quickly dispensed with former grand prix drivers to move the Gulf car into contention for the podium, only to see his hard work undone by Lady Luck while he watched helplessly from the pit-lane.
“I had a safe rather than spectacular start this time, holding position on the first lap before overtaking [Emmanuel] Collard’s Ferrari for P3 and hunting down [Pedro] Lamy in the Aston Martin,” Barker revealed, “We had a nice battle for a few laps, which ultimately allowed Ricky Taylor to create a gap of around 6.5secs before I got into P2. After that, I was able to pull the gap back around 4.5secs before the end of my hour stint. Unfortunately, Mike suffered a blow-out during his run which cost us a lot of time and, once again, we finished in fourth place. As we have seen throughout this season, however, that is not a bad result in this class and, although we missed the podium, was still a great way to end the season.”
Barker was equally praising of the Gulf team’s year as a whole, as the WEC newcomer made an impact on the GTE-Am class with its level of preparation and reliability across the nine globe-trotting rounds.
“It is remarkable to think that, despite completing around 19,000km of running, the #86 suffered no mechanical issues, which is a testament to the professionalism of the whole team,” he noted, “Our only retirement came as the result of someone else’s mistake, which led to a crash at Silverstone, but we have proved ourselves to be both resilient and capable, not just in bouncing back from that moment but over the course of the season as a whole. This small British privateer team has come a long way during the year and I’m proud of everyone.”
While his racing commitments have ended for 2016, there is no doubt that Barker enjoyed his graduation to the world stage and would welcome the chance to build on the experience gained this season.
“I am extremely grateful for my first season in WEC and I really wish for the opportunity to come back,” he concluded, “Thanks to Gulf Racing and the support of my personal sponsors Montaplast, CARS, Sacred, Pellys RJP and Joe Macari, I have learned a lot and gained confidence in both my driving and car set-up, and I’m looking forward to the future.”
The 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship opens with the 6 Hours of Silverstone over the weekend of 14-16 April.