Ben Barker goes the distance at Le Mans
Ben Barker enjoyed a trouble-free run to see the chequered flag at the end of his first-ever encounter with the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
The Clare-raised driver logged nine hours of track time, divided across four spells, and was given the honour of bringing the #86 Porsche 991 RSR home in 32nd place overall.
In a typically tough event, which saw the long-time overall leader denied victory by a technical failure just six minutes from the end, the Gulf Racing team of Barker, Adam Carroll and Mike Wainwright completed 328 laps of the Circuit de la Sarthe to finish fifth in the LMGTE Amateur class.
“Racing in the Le Mans 24 Hours has been a lifelong ambition of mine and, apart from missing the podium, I probably could not have wished for a better debut,” Barker said.
“The #86 car might not have had the pace of the class-winning Ferrari, but it didn’t miss a beat through the entire race, which is a testament to the work done by the Gulf Racing team in the build-up to the event.
“Mike, Adam and I were able to get into a rhythm and pound out the laps, steer clear of trouble and bring the car to the chequered flag, which a lot of others didn’t.
“Completing the final stint and taking the car across the line for the last time was an unreal experience at the end of an unreal race, with the crowd and the marshals making it a moment I won’t forget in a hurry.”
Qualifying had left the Gulf car an unrepresentative 11th in class, with Barker’s own new tyre run - and any hope of an improvement in the third and final session - denied by heavy rain, which swept over the region at just the wrong time on Thursday night.
The entry’s true pace was therefore masked until the race which, despite starting in the wet, ran dry for the majority of its twice-round-the-clock distance.
Barker’s best lap time during the 24 hours would have qualified the #86 machine a lot further up the LMGTE Amateur grid, and was part of a consistently quick event that saw the 25-year-old lapping on a par with more experienced rivals in both GT classes.
“It was one of the best performances of my career,” he said. “I was consistent in all of my stints, made no errors and lapped as quick as any pro, which I think proves that I belong at this level.
“It was a shame not to get a crack at qualifying on new tyres on Thursday night, but I was happy with my pace and comfortable in the car, day or night, in both qualifying and the race.
“Le Mans has shown itself to be everything I imagined it to be and this weekend will take some beating.”
Barker will switch his attention from endurance to sprint racing as his next competitive appearance takes him to Austria’s Red Bull Ring for round three of the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup, where he will look to improve on the fourth place finishes he took in Spain and Monaco.
Round three of the Supercup supports the Austrian Grand Prix over the weekend of July 1-3.