PORSCHE ROAD & RACE has been out looking for some of the Porsche drivers and finding out what they have been up to during the Coronavirus lock-down that has affected most countries around the world. With all major motorsport activities on hold or cancelled, and with no end to the Coronavirus outbreak in sight, there is no way of knowing when things will return to a sense of normality.
Of course, this means that workshops are closed, circuits are closed and racing drivers cannot ply their trade for the rest of us to enjoy. Because you cannot go out to the race track to enjoy your favourite sport, we thought we would bring the racing stories to you in the comfort of your own home. With this in mind, we asked some of our favourite Porsche drivers and racing teams what they are doing to stay sharp and focussed.
Ben Barker first drove with Gulf Racing back in 2014, seeing out most of that ELMS season with them as a silver driver. He then got promoted as the team’s Pro driver when he went gold in 2017. But, having just returned recently from a skiing break in France, he went down with some worrying symptoms that sounded suspiciously like he had the Coronavirus. However, with no testing kits available to the general public to confirm whether he did indeed have the virus, Ben self-isolated just to be on the safe side. While he now feels better and stronger, he still cannot go racing because there is no racing taking place right now.
PRR – So what does a racing driver like Ben Barker do to stay sharp?
Ben – I can keep my training regime going which is fine, so that hasn’t really changed in the sense that I’m still keeping fit and still doing the things that I love doing to keep fit. A lot of drivers have simulators which are proving to be quite popular at the moment and they are online racing each other which a lot of the manufacturers are getting on board with. It’s really cool and a lot of fun for those people who have simulators but I don’t have one, so I am at home trying to build a schedule for myself. I am also going back through the archive of races I have done recently, reviewing them on YouTube. It’s a good way of keeping in the groove and remembering what you could have done better as a team and a driver. It is a difficult time, but you have just got to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, keep fit, and maintain a schedule that keeps you going, so you are ready for when it all kicks off again. I have already done some work on my cycling machine, it doesn’t take long to regain your fitness so it is not too bad.
PRR – What is the team doing during this time?
Ben – Well they pretty much have to stop really. In fact, I think the car is still travelling back from Sebring. A lot of the mechanics haven’t got any work to do because many of them are contracted, so they obviously have taken a hit which is tough. It’s a bit like myself, I am a contracted driver, so all work dries up. There are a couple of full-time employees who will obviously carry on just tidying up some of the back-office stuff, and that is pretty much it. I think you have just got to wait and be prepared to get back on track at relatively short notice.
It is disruptive to absolutely everyone, so it is very easy to think selfishly about your own position, and to think about what you are losing out on. But then you have to remember, actually everyone is losing out. Initially it was more frustrating, but now it has evolved with more people getting infected and even dying, and that is obviously a bigger priority and a bigger deal than what we are losing out on.
PRR – With the current hold on all motorsport, can you outline the effect it has had on your WEC hopes?
Ben – My usual contract is with Gulf Racing in the WEC series. They [FIA/WEC] cancelled Sebring a couple of weeks ago and they have postponed Spa which would have been at the end of April, that new date is still to be announced, and they have moved Le Mans to September. Potentially the next race for us this year will be Le Mans unless they can reschedule Spa to be before Le Mans. It could be a couple of weeks before Le Mans potentially, because it is a big comeback to go straight into Le Mans after such a long layoff, also without having had a test day. I think they will probably reschedule Spa to be before Le Mans, and then they will do Le Mans and then that is the season over but I don’t know, I’m just guessing really.
It is a shame really, because in WEC we are running quite well in fifth place in the championship, and we are the second Porsche. At Le Mans, we have had the fastest averages over the race for the last few years so we have been very strong there but we haven’t turned that into results. Maybe in September!
PRR – What do you think the impact will be on the sport?
Ben – I think economically, motorsport has taken a big hit, and it will be very interesting to see who is around when motorsport kicks off again. No-one knows where the virus is going, they are waiting to see that peak flatten and then drop, and then you will have some idea as to when people will be released out of their homes and to get going again. The experts are saying in the next month to six weeks you will be able to see how that curve is dropping. No-one thought it would be a big deal really when we first heard about it in the media, but you didn’t really think then that it would have this much of an effect. It is a reality check for everyone.
And I think another interesting point is going to be how all of these revised calendars are going to work out against each other. I feel that there are going to be a lot of clashes and I think you will see cancelled events. Some series may shrink to half the rounds to fit into those months. So, it could be a busy year end which will be good, but we will see if we can even get on track this year.
PRR – What hobbies or interests do you have to keep you going during this time?
Ben – I have got into reading again because I have been really lazy in that respect, so for me it is a good chance to actually get back into some books. But I am also really into music, I like electronic and techno music, and so I am just going through lots of libraries and playlists and finding new artists, and sharing with friends, that is quite fun. Also, to be honest with you, I spend a lot of the time on the phone and FaceTime, with friends and family. I haven’t spoken to some people for years, so it is nice to do that sort of thing which I don’t normally have a lot of time for.
Ben, we wish you all the best during your self-isolation and hope that you will be able to keep yourself focussed during this challenging time!
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale