Monday 25th July 2016
The result may not have been what Ben Barker and the Gulf Racing team desired, but the British driver continued to shine as the FIA World Endurance Championship moved on to the Nurburgring 6 Hours at the weekend.
Looking to build on an impressive debut in last month’s Le Mans 24 Hours, both Barker and the Gulf team headed to Germany in good spirits, but very much aware that their rivals in the close-fought GT-Am class would start the weekend with the advantage of having tested at the historic venue ahead of the race.
Having enjoyed the honour of bringing the iconically-liveried #86 Porsche to the chequered flag at Le Mans, Barker was entrusted with the team’s qualifying effort at round four, with his time being combined with that of owner-driver Mike Wainwright to determine the car’s starting position in Sunday’s race. What began as a wet session threw a curve ball at the Gulf team, with Barker taking on the worst of the conditions in the opening part before handing over to Wainwright with the rain expected to continue. Sadly for the Gulf crew, however, the weather improved, allowing the track to dry as the session went on, leaving Wainwright to pit his limited experience against the professional drivers from other teams.
“In hindsight, we misread the forecast and got our strategy back-to-front,” Barker admitted, “Perhaps I should have shouted louder about running in the improving conditions, but it is what it is. Unfortunately, Mike was on track at the same time as the quickest drivers from the other teams and the pace difference between them was a major factor in our eventual grid position, which was definitely not representative of the car’s potential. Despite that, it was nice to be given the job of helping to qualify the Gulf car and I’m happy with the times I put in on a damp track, especially considering the other 'pro' drivers all ran on slicks at the drier end of the session.”
After a Le Mans 24 Hours in which it barely put a wheel wrong, the qualifying hiccup was to be a rarity for the Gulf team, which again proved largely flawless on race day. The #86 car did not miss a beat through the six-hour race duration, and the team again executed well-rehearsed pit-stops, but ultimately lacked the pace to overcome its grid position. Despite the best efforts of Barker, Wainwright and third driver Adam Carroll, progress was hampered by having to keep one eye on the mirrors for cars from the faster prototype classes while attempting to catch and pass its GT-Am rivals.
Barker climbed aboard for the third stint, but found that his tyre pressures were a little too high for the warmer raceday conditions, leading to a car that exhibited more oversteer than he would have liked. That issue was addressed by the time he got back behind the wheel for a double stint later in the race, however, allowing him to enjoy more consistent handling and again demonstrate his pace as he helped bring the Gulf Porsche home sixth in class.
“Once the team corrected the set-up for my second stint, the car was much more to my liking,” the 25-year old Cambridge native confirmed, “It was a lot more comfortable and consistent to drive and I really got the most out of it. Unfortunately, by that stage, we were playing catch-up and, even though we were passing other cars, it was generally to unlap ourselves rather than making any great progress in class.
“It was a little frustrating not being able to find the ultimate pace in the car, but we know where the speed is and, hopefully, we can unlock it in time for the next race, in Mexico, in September. Personally, I was able to get as much out of the car as possible in the conditions. I was the quickest driver in the car this weekend and the team was happy with the job I did.. We all acknowledge that our struggles with straight-line speed and braking were probably exacerbated by the fact that other teams tested ahead of the race, which won’t be the case for Mexico, and I fully expect to be more competitive next time.”
Round five of the FIA World Endurance Championship takes place at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City over the weekend of 1-3 September.