Monday 17 July 2017
The Gulf Racing team produced its most competitive showing of 2017 in round four of the FIA World Endurance Championship at the Nurburgring, giving lead driver Ben Barker confidence that the second half of the campaign will see an upturn in fortune for the privateer British outfit.
Porsche specialist Barker left the historic German venue buoyed by further progress in the team’s understanding of its Dunlop tyres, which he feels will stand the entire Gulf operation in good stead for the ‘flyaway’ races that frame the second half of the FIA WEC campaign.
After a second successive finish at the Le Mans 24 Hours, Barker and the team worked hard to refettle the #86 Porsche 911 RSR for the very different challenge posed by the Nurburgring, and were encouraged with early results that left the Briton only four-tenths off the pace in the opening hour of practice. Although the deficit fluctuated as teams worked on different programmes through the build-up to qualifying, Barker and owner-driver Mike Wainwright then combined to secure fourth place on the competitive GT-Am grid ahead of Sunday’s six-hour race.
“Coming here after Le Mans, and without the benefit of testing, meant that practice was devoted to honing the set-up of the #86 with an eye on both qualifying and the race,” Barker confirmed, “It was encouraging to be within touching distance of fastest time in qualifying and, with Mike also doing a good job on his timed lap, we were able to secure P4 in the GT-Am line-up, underlining the progress Gulf Racing is making in all aspects of the race weekend.”
Wainwright took the wheel for the start of the race at noon on Sunday, but faced a tough assignment with the opposition universally opting to run their higher-graded drivers for the opening stint. Undaunted, he stuck to his task and handed over to Barker with the Gulf car still in contention after the first hour, giving the 26-year old Cambridge native a solid platform on which to build.
“The pace in the car was good to begin with, and I was able to turn in consistently good lap times, comparable to those of the Proton Porsche which went on to win the race,” Barker noted, “However, towards the end of each run, the performance of the tyres began to drop away, and we were unable to maintain that same level to the end of the stint.”
With third driver Nick Foster turning in another competent performance on a circuit that he had rare prior knowledge of, and Wainwright continuing to show improvement through his second run just after half-distance, the Gulf car remained in contention for a potential podium finish, before eventually being classified fifth in class. Barker, meanwhile, was optimistic that the team had now accrued enough data about the Dunlop tyres – which it switched to over the winter – to continue building on its early-season results in the second half of the year.
“Gulf Racing already has a lot of the pieces in place to be a podium contender so, if we can get the most out of the tyres over the remaining five rounds, there is no reason why we can’t be in the mix going forward,” he confirmed, “We’ve been playing catch-up on the other Dunlop teams to this point, using practice sessions and the races in place of testing, but think we have enough information now to get the most out of the tyres over the remaining five rounds
“We’ve found a good direction for the entire set-up - there is clearly pace in the car, so we’re just looking for a little more longevity from the tyre. The Dunlops need to be worked in a different way to the tyres we were using last season, but we’re optimistic for the ‘flyaway’ rounds, beginning next time out in Mexico. The Gulf crew continues to turn in the best preparation and pit-stops in the pit-lane and, if the performance on-track can match that, there’s good reason to believe in better results.”
Barker and the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche will be back in World Endurance Championship action after a brief summer break, with round five of the series taking them to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for the 6 Hours of Mexico over the weekend of 1-3 September.