Monday 7 November 2016
Ben Barker continued to rack up the miles as round eight of the FIA World Endurance Championship took the Gulf Racing team to Shanghai International Circuit in China, but went unrewarded despite another impressive performance behind the wheel.
Once again, the series rookies had to learn a new circuit during the early weekend practice sessions, and found that its abrasive surface and tendency to provoke understeer in the #86 Porsche 911 RSR meant that they were always likely to be on the back foot against better-suited opposition. In spite of that, Barker and co-drivers Adam Carroll and Mike Wainwright worked hard to keep the Gulf team in the mix throughout the three sessions, before the serious business of qualifying was again entrusted to the 25-year old Cambridge native.
Barker duly set a time good enough for fourth overall in the hotly-contested GTE-Am, which became fifth when Wainwright’s efforts were added and averaged, but it was clear that the Porsche contingent were playing catch-up to the faster Aston Martin and Ferrari entries.
“It was frustrating weekend, not really having the pace to compete with fastest cars, and the challenge was therefore to try and out-perform the other Porsche teams,” Barker admitted, “In the circumstances, I was happy enough to set a time good enough for P4, but we were missing a full eight-tenths to the class-leading Aston Martin, and the Balance of Performance isn’t serving us well at the moment.”
Barker was not letting the supposed performance difference affect his start on raceday, however, and once again got the #86 off the line well enough to surpass the faster cars ahead of him. Avoiding an accident further up the field, the Briton held onto top spot in GTE-Am through the ensuing safety car period and continued to run at the front until the stewards decided that his getaway had been a little too good...
“I had great momentum at the start and was able to make my way around the outside of turn one to take the lead,” he confirmed, “After the safety car came in, I got my head down in an effort to keep the Gulf car at the head of the class but, two laps later, I received a drive-through penalty for a jump start. That possibility had been in my mind from the opening lap but I thought I was okay - it was close to the limit, and I guess a little too close.”
Having served his penalty, Barker put his head down as he attempted to reclaim lost ground, homing in on the Corvette of IMSA star Ricky Taylor before handing the baton on to his team-mates.
“The penalty was obviously disappointing, but I showed what I - and the Gulf Porsche - was capable of by closing Taylor down towards the end of my stint,” Barker concluded, “We continued to battle with the Corvette to the end of the race, but eventually finished sixth in class, which wasn’t much of a reward for the effort shown by the entire team all weekend. Ultimately, we were not quite there on pace, but the boys in the pits did their usual amazing job and we have learned a lot for future races back here in China.”
The ninth and final round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the 6 Hours of Bahrain, takes place at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir over the weekend of 17-19 November.