Ben Barker achieved a second place finish at the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, one year on from his Class B triumph at the same race last season.
The British sportscar ace once again competed in the Class B #4 Grove Group Porsche 997 GT3 that he co-drove to victory last year, although a cruel twist of fate in the closing stages denied him the chance of a repeat success.
Sharing the car with Luke Youlden and team owner Stephen Grove, Barker formed an integral part of a strong driver line-up.
In qualifying, however, a powershift failure prevented the Porsche from running at optimum power around the 6.2 km Mount Panorama Circuit. Despite this, careful management by the trio of drivers ensured that the car would start the following day’s race from second position, giving the crew plenty of promise for Sunday’s race.
“Without the gearbox problem, I’m certain we would have been able to put the car on pole and be a few places further up the grid,” Barker said. “It was working well in all other areas and the pace of the three drivers was certainly good enough for us to be best in class, but second place still gave us confidence that we could make up places over the course of 12 hours.”
Barker’s hope was fulfilled on race day as the #4 car took the class lead early on. However, a small gearbox issue soon developed into a cause for concern when Youlden was held in fifth car. The issue required an off-kilter pitstop dropped the team two laps behind the leader.
With Barker back at the wheel the car started to offer some stability, however a broken wire located behind the starter button cost the team a further five minutes, as well as the lost lap that Youlden had reclaimed.
The trio then spent the rest of the race on a recovery mission, and after some impressive driving emerged on the lead lap with 15 minutes to go. With Barker looking as though he would take the #4 machine to a memorable victory, a collision with a Class A car resulted in Barker facing the wrong way in a gravel trap.
“I was running comfortably in the pack when one of the faster cars went off the track at the penultimate corner,” he recounted, “I went to the outside in order to avoid any knock-on incidents, but then got tagged by one of the Class A Audis – even though I was already past him at that point – and the unwarranted contact sent me into the gravel trap.
“There was nothing I could do,” the 23-year old added, “I thought I was taking the safest option and then ‘bang’! Once I was in the gravel, all hope of catching the leader disappeared.
This unfortunate setback may not have dropped the car back down the order, but it did spell the end of Grove Group’s victory challenge. While the second place result was disappointing, the team were able to take pride in that their performance had been impressive.
Barker reflected: “I was really impressed with Stephen’s pace and consistency, which enabled Luke and myself to retain the momentum right until the end. On a personal note, I was pleased to record the fastest lap for the Grove team during the race, particularly given the ability of my co-drivers, and I felt in a good rhythm all weekend, which bodes well for the rest of the season. Bathurst has long been my favourite circuit and, despite the outcome this weekend, I’ve grown to love it even more….”
Barker has yet to confirm his racing plans for 2015.