Porsche, podi­ums and pre-sea­son pos­si­bil­i­ties

Ben re­flects on his 2017 motorsport sea­son and looks ahead to 2018

Total 911 - - Ben Barker -

All too quickly, it’s De­cem­ber. The time of year where we catch our­selves look­ing back­ward as much as for­ward, re­flect­ing on what we’ve done with the past 12 months as much as look­ing to what lies ahead in the next dozen.

I think it would be fair to say that my year has had its share of talk­ing points on the track, both high and low: from the strug­gles early in the sea­son, through a very try­ing Le Mans, to two podium fin­ishes in the fi­nal four rounds of the FIA World En­durance Cham­pi­onship.

The Gulf Rac­ing team will ad­mit that it took some time to get used to a switch of tyre sup­plier last win­ter and, with­out the free­dom to test at will, the open­ing rounds were al­ways go­ing to be tough. We were hop­ing to get more from Le Mans, but a con­tro­ver­sial ap­pli­ca­tion of the Bal­ance of Per­for­mance reg­u­la­tions meant that we were on the back foot, even be­fore we ar­rived in France, lead­ing to pos­si­bly the hard­est race of my ca­reer.

From that point on, how­ever, things started look­ing up. There were never any doubts about the po­ten­tial within the team. Gulf con­sis­tently had some of the best ex­e­cu­tion on pit stops in the en­tire WEC field, the car was ex­cep­tion­ally well put to­gether and the driv­ing strength im­proved with ev­ery out­ing, but re­sults didn’t start go­ing our way un­til we left Europe. The Nür­bur­gring had been a pos­i­tive swing af­ter Le Mans, and third place in Mex­ico was vin­di­ca­tion of the ef­fort that had gone into the pro­gramme over the first half of the sea­son.

We could have had another top three next time out in Austin but for a brake is­sue and rising cock­pit tem­per­a­tures. We showed prom­ise at Fuji be­fore the weather made a lot­tery of race­day, but were even­tu­ally re­warded a sec­ond time in China, where we fin­ished sec­ond at the 6 Hours of Shang­hai af­ter some good tyre strat­egy right from the start of the week­end. Un­for­tu­nately, the sea­son ended on a low in Bahrain, but two podium vis­its will be a good place to start from in 2018.

I’ve not got any­thing signed and sealed for next year, but talks are pro­gress­ing with Gulf and a re­turn there would be high on my Christ­mas list. I want to be back in the WEC, and I think we’ve estab­lished a good rap­port over the past cou­ple of sea­sons. Porsche should be even more com­pet­i­tive in the GT-AM class with the in­tro­duc­tion of the new mid-en­gined RSR that has al­ready proven it­self in the Pro cat­e­gory, and the class looks set to grow as a whole, so there’s added in­cen­tive right there.

Next year’s WEC will be some­thing spe­cial too, as the se­ries’ de­sire to re­po­si­tion it­self on the cal­en­dar has re­sulted in what they’re call­ing a ‘su­per­sea­son’, with two scor­ing trips to Le Mans at ei­ther end of the cam­paign, and the ad­di­tion of a 12-hour race at Se­bring in the USA. I think the WEC needed to in­tro­duce a ‘mid-dis­tance’ event to bridge the usual six-hour races and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and where bet­ter to do it than Se­bring, which has a rac­ing his­tory all of its own.

Rac­ing in the US is also some­thing I’d con­sider ask­ing Santa for. I’ve done it be­fore, but not on a reg­u­lar ba­sis for a few years now. I re­ally think it’s pos­si­ble to make a ca­reer out of rac­ing State­side, and I’d love to get a shot at the Day­tona 24 Hours. How­ever, I think 2018 might come a bit too soon, de­spite hav­ing some irons in the fire on that side of the At­lantic.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not look­ing to turn my back on Europe. The rac­ing here is great and I’m in a good sit­u­a­tion, but I need to look at the big pic­ture and work out where my ca­reer is go­ing and where it’s go­ing to be most sus­tain­able. Although the WEC will re­main my pri­or­ity, I’d just love to add a few more races to my sched­ule. There are only five WEC events slated for 2018, so it’s not that I don’t have time. I’d also like the op­por­tu­nity to go for over­all wins, rather than just in class. There are a num­ber of op­tions in GT3, and win­ning in the Le Mans GT3 Cup this sea­son has only whet­ted my ap­petite for more. I’ll keep you all posted, of course.

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