Clare-raised Ben Barker undone by a late safety car in latest round of FIA World Endurance Championship
Ben Barker and the Gulf Racing team came within minutes of claiming an historic podium finish as the FIA World Endurance Championship resumed after its winter hiatus, only to be undone by a late safety car at Sebring.
Resuming after a four-month break in the WEC’s Super Season, Clare-raised driver Barker and his Gulf team looked set for a podium finish only to end an agonising fourth.
They made full use of the two-day test session that preceded the race at Florida’s most famous airfield, to hone the balance and set-up of the #86 Porsche 911 RSR.
The work appeared to have paid off as he lapped close to the pace throughout practice, but then could not match the pace in qualifying with a ninth spot on the grid.
With the expected eight-hour race running from late afternoon into the night, the Gulf team’s plan was to give owner-driver Mike Wainwright the bulk of the daylight running before handing over to Barker and third team-mate Thomas Priening as darkness fell.
Priening found a way to take fourth spot, only for rain to set in for the remainder of the race.
This initially played into the Gulf team’s hands, as the championship leaders – not wanting to be caught up in an incident that could threaten their overall advantage – allowed the Porsche through into third spot and, when former F1 pilot Giancarlo Fisichella made a mistake in the best of the Ferraris, third quickly became second.
With conditions worsening and the #86 still on slicks, the decision was made to swap to wet-weather tyres and, while the correct thinking, proved a fateful one for Gulf’s podium ambitions as a slight delay during the stop dropped them back to fourth position. And another safety car interruption as soon as Priening rejoined meant there was no opportunity to use the fresh rubber to regain positions.
“It’s such a frustrating end to a very positive week,” Barker said.
- Round seven (of eight) of the FIA WEC will be at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on May 3-5.