Ben Barker interview: “It was a really big learning curve”
As the 2012 Porsche Carrera Cup GB circus moved to Knockhill for round seven, Ben Barker had yet to win a race in the national Porsche 911 series. However, 25 August 2012 was to mark a turning point in the 22-year-old racer’s season.
From the Knockhill round onward, Barker won five Carrera Cup GB races in a row, vaulting him up the championship table to an eventual finishing position of second, 38 points behind champion, Michael Meadows.
For 2013, Barker graduated to the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup and, racing for Team Bleekemolen, continued to show the speed that marked him as ‘one to watch’ in the Carrera Cup GB. Total 911 sat down to talk about his debut season on the world stage.
How do you feel the 2013 went?
I thought it was a really big learning curve for me, a major part of which was the tracks. I hardly knew any of them, and it was difficult to use just the half-an-hour testing to learn them.
I knew it would be a tough year. My target was to consistently run in the top ten and we did that. Only at Monza and Budapest, where I was taken out while running well, did I not [meet my targets].
Our damage was hardly anything, and the pace was there. At Monaco I set the second fastest lap in the race, and I finished on a high at Abu Dhabi.
What was it that made the Abu Dhabi weekend run so well?
I went out there a few weeks before the race to do some laps of the circuit in a Radical. Just knowing the track made such a big difference.
It sounds kind of clichéd but, in qualifying, everything just clicked and it rolled on from there. After practice, I needed to find time under the hotel [in the final sector] and I just went out there and did it. I got the confidence in the car.
It wasn’t even a perfect lap, just showing we had more speed to come.
Was Abu Dhabi your best race of the season?
Yeah it was, because we had the pace. It was also good racing. I had an attacking [first] race with Kuba Giermaziak, and then a defensive race where we set out tyre pressures too high. So it was good fun.
Nürburgring was also a good weekend where we were on the pace.
What do you need to improve in 2014?
It’s probably just a case of hooking up that lap; getting all the sectors perfect. It’s a case of confidence and, while I’ve been confident this year, it hasn’t been enough.
At Spa, everyone is flat through Eau Rouge on their first lap because they’d done it so many times, but I’d only done it seven times in my career. It’s a tough corner, and you start thinking, ‘If I screw it up, I’ll be in the wall’.
So it’s qualifying where the real gains are to be made?
That’s all it is. In the race you can follow people. You can latch onto the train. But in qualifying it’s all about you.
Which team will you be with in 2014?
Parr Motorsport [Barker’s 2012 Carrera Cup team] are still trying to get in but it’s still pending. It’ll be cool if it happens, as we know each other so well. I’m in contact with a few of the German teams too though.
It all depends on sponsorship. My sponsors have helped me out for a few years, and they’re still going to help, but I need to find a majority backer for 2014 in order to get back on the grid.
Unfortunately, I won’t know anything until January or February, because over the Christmas period everyone is on holiday.
How did the 991 GT3 Cup car compare to last year’s 997 Carrera Cup racer?
It was quite different. I can remember my first test at Barcelona where I kept going for the gear shift.
The Carrera Cup car is a real driver’s car. You’ve got to man handle it whereas, with the new car, you’ve got to be more polite, because of its wider and longer. But the engine is still in the back. It’s still a Porsche, so you get used to it.
Was Carrera Cup a useful stepping stone to the Supercup?
Everyone was pushing [in the 2012 Carrera Cup]. It helped me a lot with learning the dynamics of the 911. It was a good substitute for the Supercup, and I learnt a lot about the mechanical side of things with Parr Motorsport.
If we [Parr] went there, we’d be strong. Paul [Robe] has been with me this year, so they know the new car. We wouldn’t be on the back foot.
What is your target for the 2014?
To go for the [Supercup] championship in 2014. Why not? I’ll be going into qualifying with a strong head, I’ll know the circuits, and I’m going to really work on my fitness.
I’ll give it 110% and not care about the names around me. I’ve just got to go in there with more confidence.
I’d like to try and do some other GT stuff too. Nine Supercup races are not enough, and a lot of the other guys are out there all the time, keeping themselves sharp. I need to be doing the same.
There’s money in the pot to do this, we just need to sort out the rest.
What are your long-term plans?
I’d love to stay with Porsche. This is my third year with their cars and I’d love to continue. When you’re racing in Supercup, becoming a factory driver is obviously your goal. However, I’m open to anything where I get to drive professionally.