Monday 17th October 2016
Ben Barker again showed himself to be the class of the Porsche GT contingent as he set the pace for the marque in its ongoing battle for FIA World Endurance Championship honours at Fuji Speedway in Japan.
At a circuit new to both him and the Gulf Motorsport team, Barker played himself in slowly through the opening practice session, but was able to pick up the pace and elevate the #86 car higher in the order over the two subsequent sessions. While qualifying was always likely to see the Gulf 911 RSR sink a little due to the need to aggregate times from two of its three drivers, Barker and colleagues Adam Carroll and Mike Wainwright remained confident that the blue-and-orange machine would be able to punch above its weight come race day.
“The way qualifying is structured in the WEC always mitigates against a team with as wide a range of experience as we do,” Barker explained, “The Gulf car was working well compared to the other Porsches and I was delighted to post the fourth-best time behind the quicker Aston Martin-Corvette-Ferrari entries and be the fastest Porsche driver by two-tenths of a second. All three of us showed good progress through practice and, while we would line up on the back row of the grid, we knew that it would be possible to improve our position early in Sunday’s race.”
Barker proved true to his word as, taking the start for the third time in as many races, he quickly gained positions, moving up to fourth in the GTE-Am class by passing both the KCMG and Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsches. Further progress was limited by the fact that the other marques in the category found Fuji more to their liking than recent venues, leaving the Porsches to battle amongst themselves, but Barker handed the #86 machine over at the head of the ‘class within a class’.
Unfortunately for the Gulf team, its fortunes took a turn for the worse when Wainwright, having taken over behind the wheel, was hit by the #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton entry, spinning the owner-driver around and costing him a substantial time loss while the car was recovered. Despite the moment, the Gulf machine continued to run fifth in class and, when the Larbre Corvette ran into mechanical problems, was returned to fourth position, where it continued to the chequered flag at the end of six hours of racing.
“After Mike was spun around, there was just too much ground for us to catch up and fourth was the best we could manage on the day,” Barker lamented, “It’s frustrating to have our race spoiled by someone else's mistake but, all in all, it was another good showing by the Gulf team, both on track and in the pits.
“There was no way to keep with the other marques in the class as they looked after their tyres better than any of the Porsches and were a lot better than us in the high-speed corners, but I was happy to post the fastest Porsche lap in the race and manage to put up some great average times across my stint. Hopefully Shanghai will be a different story and we can have some outright speed.”
Round eight of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the 6 Hours of Shanghai, takes place in China over the weekend of 4-6 November.