Tuesday 7 February 2017
Ben Barker’s 2017 endurance campaign got off to an unfortunate start as the car he was due to pilot in the season-opening Bathurst 12 Hours was sidelined before he could even take the wheel.
Having again wintered in Australia, the World Endurance Championship regular was invited to contest his third Bathurst 12 Hours with the Grove Racing team, and needed no second bidding to return to one his favourite venues. Running a Class B Porsche 991 Cup car familiar to him from previous exploits in his lengthy association with the German marque, Barker was quickly at home on the Mount Panorama circuit, setting the pace in his category from the start of the weekend.
“It is no secret that I love racing at ‘The Mountain’, so there was no doubt about accepting Grove’s offer to return for another outing there,” Barker confirmed, “Bathurst it is not only one of the most spectacular race tracks in the world, it is also one of my absolute favourites – the challenge of its 6km length is immense and a really strong wake up to the new season.
“It was great to be back with the Grove team too, and knowing what to expect from them and the car made it easier to get back into the groove early in the weekend. The #4 machine has already proven its pedigree around Bathurst and it was a simple transition once I was back behind the wheel.”
Barker was partnered by team boss Stephen Grove and Swiss sportscar ace Alex Imperatori for the 2017 edition of the 12 Hours, but deferred to his colleagues for much of the practice sessions in order that they could bring themselves up to speed.
“Despite his experience in both GT and Le Mans Prototype cars, Alex had never raced at Mount Panorama before, so it was important that both he and Stephen got a lot of track time under their belts,” the Cambridge native noted, “That meant I could focus on qualifying runs in a bid to secure the best grid position I could.”
Despite the obvious difficulty of trying to a clear lap with nearly 60 other cars all on track trying to do the same thing, Barker nailed a virtually clear lap in the early part of qualifying and banked a time of 2mins 08.55secs, which ultimately proved good enough to take the Class B pole by two full seconds.
Although he had set the pace in qualifying, Barker wasn’t due in the cockpit until the second hour of the race which, uniquely for sportscar events, gets underway in the dark. Imperatori took the rolling start and kept the Grove car in the class lead until dawn broke but, just as Barker was readying himself to take over driving duties, he was greeted by the sight of the #4 in the wall and out of the race.
“Alex did a good job of keeping us in the class lead but, just as I was getting my gear on, I caught a glimpse of our car in the wall on the exit of The Grate,” the Briton sighed, “Having seen the replays, there was nothing Alex could have done to prevent the incident as he had the Class A Ferrari coming up his inside midway through one of the most committed corners in the country, which forced him to move off line and gave him little chance of saving it.
“The most important thing was that Alex was okay after the incident, but it was gutting for Stephen and the rest of the Grove team, who all work so hard through the year for this event. Obviously, I was particularly disappointed not to get into the race but, despite that, I still had fun and loved the laps I did. The Bathurst 12 Hours is becoming one of the‘can’t miss’ events of the year and I hope, more than ever, to be back next year.”
Barker has yet to confirm his racing plans for the rest of 2017, but expects to be able to make an announcement in the coming weeks.