Oz: Barker close to podium on category debut
11 March 2010
Britain's Ben Barker came close to taking a podium finish on his first weekend of racing in the Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 Championship, but had to settle for a hat-trick of fourth place results at the tricky Wakefield Park circuit.
The Formula Ford UK graduate stunned his rivals by taking top spot in opening practice at the New South Wales venue, belying his lack of F3 experience to set the pace in wet conditions, and remained in the top three positions through to the end of qualifying on Saturday.
“I had a great day's testing on Wednesday, putting in a time of 54.31secs, which was under the 54.64secs lap record set by [reigning champion and fellow Briton] Joey Foster last year,” the 18-year old commented,, “That gave me a lot of confidence and, come official practice on Friday - which was very wet - I went fastest again, this time by nearly three-tenths.”
With the rain continuing into the second practice session, Barker again appeared to have an advantage over the field, but opted to use a late red flag to study data collected by Team BRM. Despite just five minutes remaining in the session when the halt was called, however, the addition of ten minutes' running saw Barker usurped by his rivals and pushed back to third overall as the track began to dry.
A minor error midway through the sole qualifying session on Saturday was then to have a major effect on Barker's results for the rest of the weekend. Having enjoyed some clear track for the first ten minutes of the 25 allocated to determining the grid for race one, the Briton made the mistake of braking on the outside kerb at turn five, running over the grass as a result.
Although he managed to return to the track, a rogue stone flicked up during his excursion punched a hole in the airbox of his Dallara F307 and, while not offering a huge technical advantage, proved sufficient to see race officials demote him to the rear of the grid.
“Overall, I was happy with my pace in practice, but the mistake in qualifying was disappointing,” Barker admitted, “The lap after I went off, I put in my best time – even though the hole in the airbox cost me straght line speed. That was good enough for third overall, but the scrutineers decided that my airbox pressure was too low and put me to the back of the field.”
The setback was to prove costly on the winding Wakefield layout, even though Barker made up ground in the first of the weekend's three races.
With two sprint events now preceding a longer feature race at each meeting, and the result of each race setting the grid for the next, the 18-year old Essex native knew that he needed to make a good start to the first outing, and jumped to fifth as the lights went out. However, with overtaking difficult on the 2.2km circuit, he then spent the next six laps battling returnee John Magro for fourth, and had to pull off an ambitious dive into the final corner to gain another place. Once free of Magro, Barker began to make inroads into third place but ran out of time before the chequered flag waved.
Nevertheless, his race one result meant that he would start fourth in race two, but excessive wheelspin off the line threatened to undo all the hard work as the BRM entry slipped back to fifth. Undaunted, Barker quickly regained the place by taking Magro on the inside at the turn seven hairpin, and again began closing on third-placed Tom Tweedie. Once more, however, the narrow circuit proved difficult to pass on and, despite getting a run out of turn two in the closing stages – a move which resulted in the Briton being edged onto the grass – Barker had to settle for another fourth place as the order from race one was repeated.
The weekend's feature race proved equally frustrating as, despite the greater number of laps, Barker again found himself staring at Tweedie's rear wing. Although capable of lapping as much as three-tenths quicker than the young Australian – and a similar margin from the leaders – the lack of clear air meant that he remained stuck behind the older car and had to settle for another fourth place, cementing a similar position in the overall standings.
“Tom defended for the entire race and I just couldn't make a move - as much as I tried,” Barker reflected, “I was only 0.3secs off the leaders' pace, despite having no clean air for downforce and, without being stuck behind a slower car, I believe I could have reeled them in and contended for fastest lap.
“However, although I'm a little disappointed, I have to remember that this was my first race weekend in F3 and, overall, I learnt a lot about racing an F3 car. I've found that qualifying is vital due to the difficulty in overtaking, and I can take that knowledge – and other things that I have learned – to future rounds. All the other guys in the field have had years of valuable experience in slicks and wings cars, so to show I can set the pace, as I did in practice and qualifying, is encouraging.”