Gulf Racing took a hard fought and well-earned GTE-AM 4th place in the first of the international fly-away events of the 2016 WEC championship, at the 6 hours of Mexico at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico city. It was a very encouraging start during the first practice sessions, with the team topping the timesheets in GTE-AM for both FP1 & FP2, Adam Carroll and Ben Barker setting the pace respectively in those sessions on Thursday. The team felt confident that they had a good setup and pace to take into Friday practice and qualifying. Still competitive in FP3 with Carroll setting 3rd quickest time Barker took on qualifying with Mike Wainwright, setting a time of 1:42.2, only 0.2 seconds from the outright quickest time of the session, a strong lap from Mike would see the team take 3rd place with their average combined time, this was to be further improved to 2nd after the pole sitting Aston Martin had its times removed for a technical infringement.
Starting alongside the #88 Porsche on the front row was a great place for the team to challenge for a strong result in the race. Ben Barker lined up to take the start under the clouds of Saturday, with rain looming it was clear a good start was required to help the team battle possible adverse conditions later in the race. Barker did not disappoint as he took the lead from the start, beating Porsche factory driver Pat Long in the pole sitting car and the Pro Ferrari through turn one where after he held the lead with some great pace and consistency, ending his stint 3 seconds ahead of the #88 Porsche and more than 20 seconds from the rest of the GTE-AM field.
It was shortly after Barkers first scheduled stop that bad luck hit, a unexpected full course yellow was called soon after Wainwright left the pits for his first stint, allowing other teams to then pit with this advantage completely cancelled out the lead Barker had earned and immediately put Wainwright on the back foot for his double stint. After a consistent run from Wainwright over the next two stints Barker took over the car once again, still in dry conditions but with the rain coming… After 50 minutes in the car the rain started to fall and Barker continued until it was clearly too wet to continue on the slick tyres. The final two hours of the race saw Carroll take the wheel, initially in the wet conditions and subsequently, for the final hour on slicks as the track dried out.
Despite great pace from all drivers (with Barker setting the fastest race lap in GTE-AM) and the usual impeccable pit stops from the crew, the podium was not to be and after making up significant ground over the course of the second half of the race Carroll crossed the line only 30 seconds behind the third place car.
Matt Beers - Team Manager : ‘We had great pace in the car from the outset and all the drivers were on great form this weekend, adapting to a new track very quickly, an unfortunate turn of luck in the first hour of the race essentially meant we missed a podium spot and that’s disappointing, but we proved that on a new circuit, where every team had a steep learning curve, we could be up there and even ahead of the competition. That’s encouraging for us and we are looking forward to carrying that form into the COTA event with confidence that we can push for the podium again.’