Ben Barker recorded a top ten finish on his debut in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup, scoring points first time out at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.
Having had his pre-season testing programme curtailed by a series-wide recall of parts by Porsche, the practice sessions in Spain represented only Barker's second outing in the Team Bleekemolen car, but he defied his similar inexperience of the Barcelona circuit to post times in the top six, and reported improvements to the handling of the new 991-based 911 GT3 Cup machine as he and the team made a raft of changes throughout the session.
With confidence high before qualifying, Barker believed that he could compete for a place in the front few rows, but a couple of small mistakes on his first run left him towards the tail of the top ten, dropping to 13th as some of his rivals used new tyres to go quicker on their next attempt. Bolting on his own set of fresh rubber, the Briton climbed a couple of spots in the order, but was left to rue another small error on his best lap.
“I locked up in the middle sector, and that probably cost me three-tenths of a second,” Barker confirmed, “I was among the fastest of all through sectors one and three, so would definitely have been higher up the order. However, I wasn't far off the pace, and we knew that there was time in the car.”
Barker's time still put him ahead of some illustrious company, with nine-time World Rally Championship winner Sebastian Loeb and former British Touring Car champion and World Touring Car racewinner Alain Menu both behind him on the grid. At the start of the 14-lap race, however, the Briton lingered a little too long on the clutch, allowing Loeb to get the better of him on the run to turn one, but wasted little time in returning the compliment, taking the place back from the Frenchman into the hairpin on the opening lap.
With Supercup regular Kevin Estre sidelined before the start, the battle with Loeb would become one for a top ten finish, as well as being a highlight for both the spectator at the circuit and watching live on Eurosport, where both drivers received a good deal of airtime. Loeb's on board camera caught the Frenchman's attempt to wrest the spot back at the hairpin – only to also show Barker cutting back under the 'guest driver' to reclaim the advantage!
Once back ahead of his rival, Barker was able to establish a cushion that ensured he was able to cross the line in tenth place, securing six points towards his championship campaign, but was unable to bridge the gap that he opened out in front whilst he was battling.
“The scrap with Sebastian was great!” Barker enthused, “It may not have been for the podium, but it was good to come out on top and make sure I finished in the top ten on my Supercup debut.
“Running on old tyres, however, meant that it was difficult to close the gap to the cars ahead of me once I had built a gap back to Loeb, so tenth was as good as it got on the day. I was beginning to edge closer towards the end of the race, but wasn't entirely happy with the brake balance, and pressing on meant that there were a couple of leery moments as well.
“Tenth place is a good return for my first race in the series though, and it was good to come home with no damage to the car. I think I showed good pace across the weekend and can now realistically hope for better results as the season goes on. I want to be aiming for the top five from now on, beginning in Monaco next time out. I enjoy street circuits – and have already won around Monaco – so I can't wait to get there!”
The second round of the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup takes place in Monaco over the weekend of 24-26 May.