Ben Barker translated his recent good form into his European Le Mans Series debut as the competition took its final bow of 2016 in Portugal.
The Clare-raised driver has grown in both confidence and potential through his maiden World Endurance Championship campaign with the Gulf Racing team, to the point where he earned himself an invitation to complete the line-up at GTE-Am class rival Proton Competition in Estoril.
Already familiar with the team’s Porsche 911 RSR, the 25-year-old had little time to acquaint himself with the Autódromo do Estoril circuit during practice, but proved a quick student as he was the fastest driver in the LM-GTE.
“We only had six laps of practice because of a red flag and then a broken driveshaft, so I was well chuffed to put the car on pole,” Barker admitted.
“After sharing qualifying responsibilities in other series, it was also nice to be selfish and qualify alone here.
“It took me back to my (Porsche) Supercup days and meant that my pace really counted towards the team’s grid position.”
Having got used to starting races in the WEC, Barker had to sit back and watch as Proton team director Christian Ried took the green light in Portugal, and was helpless as his good work was undone by someone else’s mistake, removing the car from a strong third place.
“Chris is a fast bronze (level) driver and did a great job to hold off several pro drivers and keep us in third place,” Barker said.
“Then another competitor decided to drive into the side of the car on the exit of the last turn, causing a puncture and splitting the power steering hose.
“We changed the tyre, but didn’t realise that the hose was also leaking and, when I got in 15 minutes later, the power steering wasn’t working at all.
“It was pretty much impossible to carry on without it and would have been hell for our other bronze driver, so I had no option but to pit for repairs, which cost us five minutes.”
The unexpected delay also meant that, having initially been contesting the podium positions, the #88 Proton entry found itself embroiled in the battle for fifth place for the remainder of the four-hour race.
But Barker still had personal goals to chase before handing the car over to co-driver Gialunca Roda for the run to the chequered flag.
“While we were only able to battle for — and win — fifth position, I still wanted to make my mark on the ELMS, so it -was both pleasing and slightly frustrating to miss the fastest lap in LM-GTE by just 0.001 seconds, especially after qualifying fastest,” he said.
“It would have been a nice reward for the team for me to get the fastest lap having been one of the quickest guys on track all weekend.”
With no future ELMS events this season, Barker will revert to trying to stop Proton winning as his attention now returns to round eight of the World Endurance Championship.
The 6 Hours of Shanghai takes place in China over the weekend of November 4-6.