Monday 20th June 2016
Ben Barker and the Gulf Racing team enjoyed a rare trouble-free run to see the chequered flag at the end of their first encounter with the world famous Le Mans 24 Hours race.
In a typically tough event, which saw the long-time overall leader denied victory by a technical failure just six minutes from the end, the #86 Porsche 991 RSR shared by Barker, Adam Carroll and owner-driver Mike Wainwright completed 328 laps of the Circuit de la Sarthe to finish fifth in the hard-fought LMGT-Am class.
Although the trio finished a couple of laps shy of making the podium, they enjoyed a clean run throughout the 24 hours, leaving them to concentrate on their task behind the wheel, with Barker logging nine hours of track time, divided across four spells in the cockpit and including a brace of triple stints in the middle of the race. The Briton was also given the honour of bringing the iconically-liveried Porsche home, completing a final hour in the cockpit and taking the chequered flag 32nd overall at 3pm local time.
“Racing in the Le Mans 24 Hours has been a lifelong ambition of mine and, apart from missing the podium, I probably could not have wished for a better debut,” Barker reflected, “The #86 car might not have had the pace of the class-winning Ferrari, but it didn’t miss a beat through the entire race, which is a testament to the work done by the Gulf Racing team in the build-up to the event – and perfect for three newcomers behind the wheel. Mike, Adam and I were able to get into a rhythm and pound out the laps, steer clear of trouble and bring the car to the chequered flag, which a lot of others didn’t.
“Completing the final stint and taking the car across the line for the last time was an unreal experience at the end of an unreal race, with the crowd and the marshals making it a moment I won’t forget in a hurry.”
Qualifying had left the Gulf car an unrepresentative eleventh in class, with Barker’s own new tyre run – and any hope of an improvement in the third and final session – denied by heavy rain, which swept over the region at just the wrong time on Thursday night. The entry’s true pace was therefore masked until the race which, despite starting in the wet, ran dry for the majority of its twice-round-the-clock distance.
Barker’s best lap time during the 24 hours would have qualified the #86 machine a lot further up the LMGT-Am grid, and was part of a consistently quick event that saw the Cambridge native lapping on a par with more experienced rivals in both GT classes.
“It was one of the best performances of my career,” the 25-year old insisted, “I was consistent in all of my stints, made no errors and lapped as quick as any pro, which I think proves that I belong at this level. It was a shame not to get a crack at qualifying on new tyres on Thursday night, but I was happy with my pace and comfortable in the car, day or night, in both qualifying and the race. Le Mans has shown itself to be everything I imagined it to be and this weekend will take some beating.”
With double points on offer for Le Mans, the jewel in the World Endurance Championship crown, Barker and his Gulf Racing team-mates moved up the GT-Am classification ahead of next month’s Nurburgring 6 Hours. Barker, however, will switch his attention from endurance to sprint racing as his next competitive appearance takes him to Austria’s Red Bull Ring for round three of the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup, where he will look to improve on the fourth place finishes he took in Spain and Monaco.
Round three of the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup supports the Austrian Grand Prix over the weekend of 1-3 July.