British driver Ben Barker has claimed his first wins in the City Index Porsche Carrera Cup Australia on the Sydney Olympic Park street circuit, his first since graduating as champion of the national F3 competition.
Despite never previously having raced on the circuit before, Barker put the Team BRM-Total Oil entry on pole with an assured performance in qualifying, topping the time set by V8 Supercar veteran Steven Richards on his final flying lap.
“I was very happy to take pole,” Barker admitted. “Homebush was another new track to us, but we were on the pace from start, and coming out on top in qualifying, especially by just 0.07secs, was a great start to the weekend.”
Although he lined up at the head of the field for race one of the triple-header, Barker trailed second-row starter Craig Baird into the first corner as the champion-elect made an electrifying getaway from row two.
Undeterred, Barker regained the lead after the safety car was called to recover the stranded car of Richards, who had suffered clutch issues at the start. Getting far enough down the inside of Baird, he forced the Kiwi to yield the corner. From there, he put his head down and, setting a new fastest lap in the process, pulled a couple of seconds on the field and took the the chequered flag and his first win of the season.
“Having come so close on other occasions, it's great to finally get to the top step of the podium – and at my new 'home' circuit,” Barker, now a Sydney resident, grinned. “I got an okay start, but Craig came from nowhere and then made it tough for me to get back past him. However, I knew that we had the pace to do it and made the move stick just after the restart.”
On pole for race two, Barker was crowded by Daniel Gaunt at the start, which allowed Baird to hit the front once more. However, a collision between Baird and title rival Gaunt at the opening turn saw Barker retake the lead.
Again, the Briton put the hammer down, but this time he came under intense pressure from a determined Jonny Reid throughout the race. Although the gap between them fluctuated, Barker was able to stay ahead, eventually taking the chequered flag for a second time.
“We had obviously set ourselves the target of winning races at the start of the year, but this is a high-quality field, so it was always going to be tough,” the teenager acknowledged. “We've been right up there, vying for wins on pace all season, but Jonny made it tough today. It was good experience to have to control a race from the front, and fantastic to come out on top.”
Rain was to play a part in proceedings for race three with the final race taking place on a wet circuit. Barker again took control, making a good getaway to run side-by-side with Reid through the first two turns before finally gaining the inside line and securing the lead. Despite having to learn where to find the best grip in the wet, he managed to pull out a five-second advantage before a dry line began to appear. But with two laps to go, Barker made a costly error, grazing the wall at the fast turn five on the damp track, breaking a rear suspension upright and ending his race.
“I turned in fractionally too late for turn five and put a wheel onto one of the road markings,” he explained. “That was still wet enough to cause me to understeer wide and clip the wall. On a normal circuit, I would probably have got away with it, but here I clipped the wall and did just enough damage to prevent me from being able to continue.”
The DNF denied Barker the round win, but was not enough to prevent him from securing fifth overall in the final championship standings.
“Of course, I'm highly disappointed not to have won all three races, but it's just another thing to learn from,” he noted. “I had such a good lead, that I am sure I would have won, but all it takes is the slightest error. Despite that, I have to be happy with the weekend as a whole. Team BRM gave me a great car, and I just needed to drive it well. It was good, too, to have my mentor, James Winslow, here for the first time this season and to show him the result of his efforts.”