Ben Barker returned to an old stomping ground to continue his winning start to the 2014 racing season, dominating the opening round of the new-look Porsche Carrera Cup GB at Brands Hatch.
Invited to pilot the 'guest car' as the series debuted the German marque's GT3 Cup model, Barker seized the opportunity to warm up for his forthcoming Porsche Mobil1 Supercup campaign and bolstered confidence already high after taking a class win in February's Bathurst 12 Hours.
The Briton, who was reunited with the Parr Motorsport team which guided him to second overall in the 2012 championship and assisted his move to the Supercup last season, made full use of his previous experience of the Type 991 GT3 Cup by qualifying on the front row of the grid alongside reigning champion Michael Meadows as the Kent venue was graced by warm and sunny conditions. With each driver's second-fastest time determining his starting slot for race two, Barker again secured the outside of row one, putting himself on the advantageous side of the infamous Brands Hatch grid.
"I haven't been to Brands for a while, and was still adjusting my lines, so qualifying was a little bit disappointing,” the 22-year old admitted, “The final sector of the lap was where I lost the time and, without that, I know I could have been on pole. However, it wasn't all bad as second place put me at the top of the slope, so I was confident that I could turn things around on race day.”
With a typically enthusiastic BTCC crowd already massing on Sunday morning, Barker proved true to his word and made the perfect getaway to lead into Paddock Hill Bend. Once in front, he made the most both the performance of the #0 car around the short Brands Hatch Indy circuit to keep a lead of around two seconds throughout the 34-lap distance. His eventual margin of victory was a shade over 1.7secs, but such was the Cambridge native's pace that he netted a new outright Porsche lap record for the layout, posting a 46.546secs benchmark on lap five.
“I knew where there was time to be found, but it was important to make a good start,” he confirmed afterwards, “As it happened, it was a blinding getaway and I was able to control the race from there. A 34-lap race is hard work around a circuit like this, but I always felt that I had things under control. Setting a new lap record was the icing on the cake, but gave us even more confidence heading into race two.”
The second race, which closed the programme late in the afternoon, provided a similar story, with Barker overcoming the inherent disadvantage of not leading the rolling start to out-brake Meadows and go around the outside of him at the first corner. He then built his advantage over the field to take the chequered flag by a comfortable margin. With the pace of the race generally slower as conditions cooled, the CARS-backed talent's lap record was never under threat, but finding the top step of the podium for the second time completed an ideal run-out ahead of the Supercup season.
“This was almost the perfect race weekend as far as I am concerned,” Barker concluded, “Only taking pole position as well as the two wins could have bettered what we achieved, but it's a great boost for my confidence, especially after winning at Bathurst last month.
“I was a little apprehensive about the rolling start, as it meant that I couldn't beat Meadows on pure reaction time, but I made another mega getaway and was able to out-brake him into turn one. After that, I knew that I could manage the gap, so it was just a matter of concentrating and getting my lines right.
“Thanks to both Porsche UK and Parr Motorsport for putting me in the car this weekend – it's a great way to warm up for my main campaign. It will be interesting to see how the Supercup car handles on these new tyres on bigger tracks than Brands Hatch Indy, but I hope that I can continue in the same vein for the rest of the year.”
Being a guest of the Carrera Cup GB means that Barker's success on track does not translate into championship points but, with his focus on Porsche's international competition, that will not be a concern as his attention turns to pre-season Supercup testing, which gets underway at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona this week.