World Endurance Championship pacesetter Ben Barker translated his recent GT class form on the global stage into his European Le Mans Series debut as the competition took its final bow of 2016 at Estoril.
The 25-year old Briton has grown in both confidence and potential through his maiden WEC campaign with the Gulf Racing team, to the point where he earned himself an invitation to complete the line-up at GTE-Am class rival Proton Competition in Portugal.
Already familiar with the team’s Porsche 911 RSR, a car similar to that which he has raced throughout the year, Barker had little time to acquaint himself with the Estoril circuit during practice, but proved a quick study as he again proved to be the fastest driver in the LM-GTE class, just as he had on his last WEC outing.
We only had six laps of practice because of a red flag and then a broken driveshaft, so I was well chuffed to put the #88 car on pole. After sharing qualifying responsibilities in other series, it was also nice to be selfish and qualify alone here. It took me back to my [Porsche] Supercup days and meant that my pace really counted towards the team’s grid position.
Having got used to starting races in the WEC, Barker had to sit back and watch as Proton team director Christian Ried took the green light in Portugal, and was helpless as the German’s good work in holding off more experienced drivers was undone by someone else’s mistake, removing the #88 car from a strong third place.
Chris is a fast ‘bronze [level]’ driver and did a great job to hold off several pro driver and keep us in third place. Then another competitor decided to drive into the side of the car on the exit of the last turn, causing a puncture and splitting the power steering hose. We changed the tyre, but didn’t realise that the hose was also leaking and, when I got in 15 minutes later, the power steering wasn’t working at all. It was pretty much impossible to carry on without it and would have been hell for our other bronze driver, so I had no option but to pit for repairs, which cost us five minutes.
The unexpected delay also meant that, having initially been contesting the podium positions, the #88 Proton entry found itself embroiled in the battle for fifth place for the remainder of the four-hour race, but Barker still had personal goals to chase before handing the car over to co-driver Gianluca Roda for the run to the chequered flag.
While we were only able to battle for – and win – fifth position, I still wanted to make my mark on the ELMS, so it was both pleasing and slightly frustrating to miss the fastest lap in LM-GTE by just 0.001secs, especially after qualifying fastest. It would have been a nice reward for the team for me to get the fastest lap having been one of the quickest guys on track all weekend. Thanks to Proton – I’ve loved working with them this weekend and hope to be back in their thoughts for the future.
With no further ELMS events this season, Barker will revert to trying to stop Proton winning as his attention now returns to round eight of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the 6 Hours of Shanghai, which takes place in China over the weekend of 4-6 November.
Ben Barker Press Release