Ben Barker will return to lead Gulf Racing’s assault on the FIA World Endurance Championship this season in GTE-Am.
The 25 year-old Briton had his driver rating upgraded from Silver to Gold in December and takes over the role of lead driver from Adam Carroll, who has stepped aside to prioritise his Jaguar Formula E commitments.
Now in his second year of WEC, Barker will again partner team owner Michael Wainwright in the older-generation Porsche 911 RSR, with Australian rookie Nick Foster completing the line-up.
“Obviously with my status changed to Gold, it’s nice to be back in a full season of WEC again,” Barker told Racing.GT.
“It’s a big step for my career in that now I’m officially the Pro driver, so I’ll be looking forward to qualifying and potentially starting the races again. I think I earned that from last year’s performance and hopefully it’s the start of many years for me as a lead driver.”
GTE-Am will have a different look in 2017, as 2016-spec cars – including the Ferrari 488 and upgraded Aston Martin Vantage – become eligible for competition.
Class stalwarts Proton Racing are the only other team to persist with the 911 RSR, but Barker is optimistic that the ACO’s Balance of Performance will keep the 2015-spec Gulf car in contention in their second season.
“The obvious concern that is obviously that it’s an old car and it hasn’t got the aero capability as the 488 or the Aston has, but if the ACO balance it fairly then as the regulations state, we should have as fair chance as anyone,” he said.
“I think we can still show some speed and hopefully get some results against those newer cars, the familiarity is definitely going to be a benefit going into year two. Going back to a very familiar environment, knowing faces and names around the paddock and them knowing me always makes it a bit more relaxed.”
Barker added that Porsche specialist Foster, the 2015 Carrera Cup Australia champion, will give Gulf another dimension.
“He’s done a lot of Carrera Cup racing, he’s going to be quick,” Barker added. “He hasn’t got loads of endurance experience but he’ll pick that up very quickly and he’ll be hot on my heels, that’s for sure.
“It’s a competitive line-up and if we can extract some more speed out of Mike, which I know he is capable of, then there’s no reason why we can’t be very competitive.”