Ben Barker got his 2014 Porsche Mobil1 Supercup campaign off to a flying start with third place in the season opener at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.
Returning to the scene of his debut in the F1 support series a year ago meant that the 23-year old Briton at least had prior track knowledge, while pre-season testing had shown the potential of his new partnership with the Verva Lechner Racing team as he looked to build on a top ten overall position from 2013.
That promise appeared to be confirmed as soon as practice got underway, with Barker avoiding the numerous yellow flags to set the third fastest time in the session. Having focused largely on completing a long-distance run to build up data for raceday, the Cambridge native was also confident that there was more to come from the car, but qualifying proved to be frustrating as the close nature of the Supercup field meant that a two-tenths gap to pole position left him back on row four of the grid.
“I wasn't confident enough on the brakes and that's what cost me the time,” Barker explained, “In this series, the top drivers are so closely matched that the slightest problem can make a big difference in grid position. Despite that, I know that we have pace in the car and there is more to come.”
Knowing that a good opening lap would be key to overcoming Barcelona's reputation as a venue that puts a premium on overtaking, Barker's task was eased slightly by a number of cars suffering driveshaft problems at the start. His position boosted off the line, he then made a good getaway to pass another car around the outside into turn one.
Determined to make as much of the field being bunched together as he could, the former F3 champion got a good run through turn eight and launched another attack into the daunting – and blind – turn nine, claiming third position on the exit of the corner.
“It was a bit hairy, but it came off,” Barker smiled, “Around the outside isn't necessarily the place you want to pass there and, truth be told, I was a little wide in my line, but I made it stick. It was important to make up places early, as this isn't a track where passing is easy and, after that, it didn't really look like there would be many opportunities. I caught up with Philipp Eng towards the end and was possibly quicker than him but I didn't want to make a lunge and throw away a podium position.”
The third place finish is Barker's best yet in the Supercup, and continues a successful start to the 2014 campaign that saw him win his class in the Bathurst 12 Hours and add two further victories during a guest appearance in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB.
“This is a mega result,” he enthused, “It's really got the monkey off my back, and I hope there will be more like this now. The Verva Lechner car is quick – I only missed fastest lap by 0.05secs – but it is tough at the front in this series and I need to make sure I qualify better. I'm happy to leave Barcelona with a podium and am confident that I can carry the momentum all the way to Monaco.
"I'm delighted to have got the season off to such a strong start with my new team and I'd like to thank them for all their hard work to be ready – I'm really looking forward to the rest of the year now!"