One week on, we reflect on the unbelievable with Earl Bamber
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Almost a week ago, New Zealand motorsport fans experienced one of the great emotional roller coasters — the kind of ride that only an endurance race like the 24 Hours of Le Mans could deliver.
History shows that a loss of drive to their front axle early in the race saw the pilots of Porsche's No. 2 919 Hybrid — Germany's Timo Bernhard and New Zealand's Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber — plummet from fourth to a distant 56th (second to last).
But, Le Mans — cruel and unpredictable as always — had other plans for the trio. They eventually clawed back through to take victory by one lap.
It was an incredible feat, and a win that ensures Bamber becomes the most successful New Zealander at Le Mans purely on a numbers basis: two race wins from two starts.
However, Bamber doesn't see it that way.
“I don’t really consider myself up there with what Chris Amon, Bruce McLaren, and those guys were doing. But, for me it’s a very special thing to get a second win,” he told Driven.
“You can drive for so many years just to try to get a first. I could try and try for the next 20 years and probably not get a third win. Whenever you have the chance to win Le Mans, it’s very very special.”
“Maybe later on I’ll look back on what I’ve achieved. At the moment my focus is on trying to win the rest of the World Endurance Championship.”
Beyond the world of stats, what made the win more memorable for the 26-year-old was to accomplish it while sharing the car with Brendon Hartley.
“I started my racing with Brendon. We used to hang out on the farm together; he’d teach me go-karting when I was young. So, I think that’s special, and great for New Zealand motorsport, to have two Kiwis on the podium.
“When Porsche were choosing teams, I said that I’d like to go with Brendon because I’d like to win the races together with him.
"It is amazing to get two wins, but I think it’s even more special to do it with Brendon and to get that win together. That stands out in my mind.”
Between the initial mechanical fault and the spraying of Champagne on the podium was a chaotic plot, punctuated by the capitulation of Toyota's three-pronged assault, and Porsche's quick-fire fix on Bamber's Porsche. “Basically, the team replaced the front half of the car.
They replaced the uprights, they replaced the e-machine in the front, and the gearbox ... at one point the whole cockpit was out.
“If they took two-minutes longer, then we wouldn’t have won the race. It’s a testament to how well those guys did, and how quickly they turned it around.”
The unscheduled stop dropped them 18-laps behind the leaders, but the trio pushed on in “full attack” mode in the hopes of securing fifth — a calculated possibility.
What they didn't predict was the devastation among their rivals, including in the team's leading No. 1 Porsche.
“The thing is that it’s such a quick sprint race that you need the performance. And to get the performance, you need to push everything to the limit. But then you start to see some things breaking. To go and take race cars for 24 hours, always something happens.
“The race either chooses you, or it doesn't.”
Having returned the trophy, Bamber's back to work less than a week after taking the win. As far as the future goes, a WEC title is now the aim. Bamber, Hartley, and Bernhard hold a comfortable series lead, with July's 6 Hours of Nurburgring the next target. We can only hope that the road to the next glory is a little bit smoother.
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