Ben Barker survived a weekend of almost unparallel drama 'down under' to claim his first international motorsport crown in only his second season of car racing.
With just a single season of Formula Ford in the UK under his belt, the Briton held his nerve in a thrilling triple-header at Sandown Raceway to emerge as winner of the 2010 Kumho Tyres Australian F3
Championship, and the prestigious Australian Drivers Championship's Gold Star, in the closest finish in series history.
Despite holding a eight-point advantage over main rival – and Team BRM team-mate – Mitch Evans, Barker had the disadvantage of never having been to Sandown before, while his opposition was all more familiar with the quick 3.1km circuit. With just two half-hour sessions to get acquainted with the venue, the 19-year old was delighted to eventually be lapping within a couple of tenths of his Kiwi team-mate, but knew that he still needed to step up the pace if he was to secure the title.
A wet-dry shoot-out to determine the top six grid positions provided another test of Barker's resolve as, having made it safely through the first phase of qualifying, he knew the right call on tyres would be crucial.
“I called for slicks as the end of the session would be okay for them,” he revealed, “I ended up fourth fastest with my last lap, but was running first on track and therefore took the chequered flag before everyone else as the circuit continued to dry.”
A slipping clutch at the start of race one on Saturday afternoon saw the Briton lose a couple of places off the line, but he quickly regained them at turn one, only to find championship outsider Tom Tweedie harrying him for the remainder of the race as he benefited from a low-drag aerodynamic set-up. Barker dropped to fifth on the penultimate lap, but again used the opening corner to reclaim his position, running around the outside of Tweedie and securing the inside line for turn two.
With Evans second on the road, the points gap closed slightly, but Barker continued to lead going into race two on Sunday morning. Another bad start, however, appeared to have put his title hopes in jeopardy when another BRM team-mate, Zhang Shan Qi, slammed into the back of the #5 machine entering turn one.
The Chinese driver rode over Barker's rollhoop, having already demolished his rear wing and front suspension, and came close to injuring the Briton after making contact with his crash helmet.
“It was a massive impact, and I was very lucky as one of his wheels scraped my helmet, but, worse than that, I got back to the pits thinking my championship was well and truly over,” Barker admitted, “It was a horrible feeling.”