Friday, December 1, 2023

GR Racing Achieves Lifelong Ambition with Podium Finish at Le Mans 24 Hours

The GR Racing team fulfilled their ultimate ambition as they celebrated a podium finish at the world-renowned Le Mans 24 Hours over the weekend. Ben Barker, the British driver with eight consecutive appearances at the prestigious endurance race, expressed his delight at achieving this milestone, especially during the centenary celebration of the event.

Barker, who had previously tasted success on the FIA World Endurance Championship podium, acknowledged the significance of achieving this feat at Le Mans. Reflecting on the team’s fourth-place finish in 2022, Barker expressed his excitement, stating, “This is a mega result — and one that is long overdue! Any podium at Le Mans is special, but to get one at the 100th-anniversary running of the event adds a little extra sparkle. Finishing in the top three is everything at this race because Le Mans is such a unique event, with unique pressures on the teams, drivers, and cars. It’s an amazing feeling to finally get that monkey off our backs!”

The team’s #86 Porsche 911 RSR, adorned with a special livery commemorating the 100th anniversary, started the race in the tenth position within the fiercely competitive GTE-Am field. Barker’s exceptional driving skills enabled the team to claim the lead in their class during his stint, setting a strong foundation for their campaign.

“The race was frantic right from the start,” Barker recalled. “Even though we had 24 hours ahead of us, there was an element of having to survive the early stages. Fortunately, the #86 remained unscathed, and had decent pace, allowing me to take the lead around the two-hour mark and maintain it until the first driver change.”

However, the unpredictable weather conditions that plagued the event led to a setback for the GR Racing team. Barker’s teammate Ricardo Pera encountered slick track conditions during a downpour, resulting in the #86 Porsche sliding into the barriers. Despite the setback, the team displayed exceptional teamwork as the mechanics swiftly repaired the damaged car, minimising their time loss.

Credit: Porsche AG

“We were both lucky and unlucky,” Barker explained. “Ricky was extending our lead when the rain came, and even though he managed to avoid significant damage by missing the first barrier, he made contact with the rear right corner as the car spun. Fortunately, he made it back to the pits, and the team repaired the car in just ten minutes, ensuring we stayed ahead of the safety car that would have cost us another lap.”

Undeterred by the setback, Barker, Pera, and team owner Mike Wainwright continued to push forward, determined to regain lost ground. They displayed remarkable consistency and resilience throughout the night, gradually climbing up the leaderboard and recovering the lost lap. Barker’s exceptional driving during the night made him the fastest Porsche driver, setting the pace for the team.

By maintaining a steady performance and steering clear of trouble that plagued other competitors, the GR Racing trio steadily moved up the ranks, reaching fifth place in their class as the final hour approached. With Barker completing his final stint and handing over to Pera, the team seemed poised for another commendable result against better-funded opponents.

The team’s unwavering determination paid off as they capitalised on issues faced by other cars ahead of them in the closing stages. Despite Pera wrestling with a soft brake pedal, he managed to secure a podium position in the final laps. The tension in the GR Racing pit garage was palpable, turning into pure jubilation as Pera crossed the finish line.

“You could feel the tension,” Barker recounted after the podium celebrations. “But seeing Ricky bring the car home in the top three after another intense 24 hours was an unparalleled feeling. This is a small private team that has been coming here year after year, with largely the same crew behind the scenes, and this result is a true testament to their effort and dedication. It’s a well-deserved success for the entire team!”

The GR Racing team will now shift their focus to round five of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship, scheduled to take place at Monza from 7-9 July. Before that, Barker will participate in another 24-hour event at Spa-Francorchamps for the third race of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, held from 29 June to 2 July.

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