Elation from Le Mans Kiwis: ‘I can’t believe we pulled this off’
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The drivers of Porsche's shock Le Mans-winning No. 2 Porsche 919 LMP1 Hybrid, including Kiwis Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber, have reflected on their incredible never-give-up victory overnight that saw them come from second to last in the standings to win by a lap over the nearest car.
It's only the third race where a New Zealander has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, following on from Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon's victory in 1966 with Ford, and Bamber's surprise win in 2015 where he played a starring role. The win also helps the trio strengthen their case in the World Endurance Championship points standings.
“Le Mans is one crazy race,” said Hartley.
“The mechanics worked incredibly hard on Saturday evening to get our car repaired in super fast time and since that moment Timo, Earl and myself, together with our engineers, have been pushing hard, 100% every second, and desperately hoped that our efforts would somehow pay off.”
For Hartley, this is his first win at Le Mans after several years of trying and of close calls. Uniquely for fellow New Zealander and teammate Earl Bamber, the win ensures that he has a 100 per cent victory record as a factory LMP1 driver — having won at his last attempt with the team after missing out on a seat last year.
“I can’t believe we’ve managed to pull this one off having been at the back of the field after an hour in the pit-box,” said Bamber.
“Both Brendon and Timo have been part of the Porsche LMP programme from the beginning while this victory is as much down to the guys in the pits. Without their hard work we wouldn’t have got back racing again so this win is down to them.”
Germany's Timo Bernhard was chosen as the driver to 'bring home' the No. 2 Porsche in the final stages, with all three drivers having pushed for a combined 20-hour period to fight back from 56th place.
“It feels surreal. When I joined Porsche as a junior driver back in 1999, I carefully developed the dream to perhaps one day get the chance to fight for overall victory at Le Mans,” said Bernhard.
“I hoped I would be good enough to really do this one day. Now, 18 years later, we have achieved it together. The final lap was very emotional for me. It will take some time before I realize what has happened.”
“It’s hard to find words for what happened,” added Porsche Team Principal Andreas Seidl.
“The drivers and the entire team have done an amazing job. We can put two tough weeks behind us that provided some highs and lows but we fought with typical Porsche spirit. It will take some time for what we have achieved today to sink in.
“We’ve now won Le Mans three times in a row which is just sensational. The team worked relentlessly for this over the past twelve months. Toyota was a very strong competitor. They pushed us to the limits and beyond and we both paid the price.
“It is a sad that Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy retired from the race because they controlled it for a long time. But Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley and especially Timo Bernhard deserved to take the race win. Timo was the development driver right from the beginning of the programme.
“After the long repairs, the three of them kept fighting and were ultimately rewarded.”