Of the many storylines up and down the Dubai 24 Hours paddock, Jon Barnes and Mark Famer’s debut in the event with Century Motorsport was one of the more intriguing ones that caught the DSC deputy editor’s eye.
A race-winning partnership in British GT, Barnes and Farmer are set to part ways in 2018, after Aston Martin factory driver Nicki Thiim was announced as Farmer’s new teammate for the season. That change meant that unintentionally, the 24 Hours of Dubai this month was a swansong for the duo, who had spent three years racing together, and had already planned to contest the Dubai 24 prior to TF Sport’s driver re-shuffle.
In the event, they competed with Century in an SP3 class Ginetta G55 with Nathan Freke and Dominic Paul, and despite being unfamiliar with the car, and the event, Barnes got off to a flying start, setting TCE Series pole before the race. (For this year’s Dubai 24, the race saw two overall winners, and therefore pole-sitters; for the highest placed GT and TCE runners)
“The Ginetta is a great car, it’s so easy to get to grips with and drive,” Barnes said to DSC. “It’s not an easy circuit, and getting used to a new car in just one day isn’t either. That’s why we come and do this, easy races are not much fun. I’d not driven the circuit, or the Ginetta, but it was fine.
“The circuit is brilliant, I love it and I’m really happy with the time,” Barnes said. “The circuit looks lifeless on TV, but there’s some great corners, lots of undulations. It produces good, challenging racing.”
It was a really new experience for Barnes, who in the past had only competed in a 24-hour race once, at Silverstone. And with Dubai being the gruelling race that it is, predictably it threw some real surprises the way of Century’s crew.
“We decided to go with an alternate strategy in the race, and drive to a delta time of 2:14. That way we’d run each stint to a whole tank of fuel and play the long game. We’d be slower, but would do two more extra laps each stint that the other cars in the class and preserve the car.”
But that was all thrown out the window, when six hours in, the engine blew.
“Normally, any engine failure you get in a race costs you dearly, usually it’s over for you. But thankfully Creventic is lenient in its rules, they’ve got an interest in everyone making the finish,” he explained.
“I was in the car when it happened, it was just into my second stint, I was half an hour in, I pulled a gear and it went boom, punched a hole in the side of the engine block, and as soon as the car stopped I radio’d the team and I thought it was the end of our race. But they came back and explained that they’d already got the engine crane out, and were going to put a new one in as quick as possible.”
Thankfully Creventic is lenient in its rules, they’ve got an interest in everyone making the finish
Despite having to change the engine, the team continued and eventually the car finished classified fourth in the attrition-hit SP3 class after managing to complete 475 laps.
“They were heroes, the boys got stuck in, I’m really grateful for that hard work. Six hours in they were there putting a new engine in when a lot of teams would have thrown in the towel.
Overall Barnes’ experience in the race, which featured over 90 cars, a lot of night running, and a real mix of driving talent, was a positive one, the Englishman coming away wanting to return in the future.
“I think after that one, we all wanted to get back in and carry on!” Barnes said. “I definitely want to go back to Dubai, it’s a fun race, and if we got the chance, I think the four of us would love to do it again.
“For me, the most memorable part was the first night stint in the race I did at about 11pm. I mean, that was a proper eye-opener. I spent about 75 percent of the time looking in my mirrors for GT3 cars, as they come out of nowhere in the pitch black and all of a sudden are right next to you. That was the most mentally taxing stint I’ve ever done.
“As a whole too, it was memorable. It’s got far more presitige that I was expecting. it was great to see the race getting so much attention in the media, and being treated so professionally by everyone in the paddock.
I definitely want to go back to Dubai, it’s a fun race, and if we got the chance, I think the four of us would love to do it again
“Creventic do a really good job of covering the race, with lots of cameras and good commentary. I really was impressed, because it’s not an easy race to organise. It’s got such a mix of drivers, and some quirky rules, but it all worked out, and the racing was great.”
It’s early to be thinking about Dubai 2019 though, as for the rest of 2018 Barnes’ commitments are unclear. With a return to British GT with Farmer now not an option, he’s pursuing other drives domestically as well as on the continent in Blancpain.
“We ended our time racing together on such a great note,” said Barnes when asked for his thoughts on his final race with Farmer, and how the future looks. “After the race we went to Yas Marina, and spent time in the AMR garage watching their GTE car in action for some testing before we headed home. Then we officially ended it all with a cup of coffee at Heathrow.
“It’s been a really good few years with Mark, I’ve loved every minute of it, and have become really good friends with him and his family. I wish him all the best for the future. This is definitely how you want to end something like this, having fun and racing hard.
“As for me this year, I’m still working on getting a seat sorted. It’ll be a fresh start.”
Featured image courtesy of British GT/Jakob Ebrey Photography