As you have probably already seen, Porsche just announced their driver lineup for Le Mans, including the announcement of the drivers of the third LMP1 category 919 Hybrid. If you saw that post and thought to yourself, who on earth is Earl Bamber, then we`re here to rescue you. Here`s everything you need to know about Porsche`s newest LMP1 driver.
Being that I closely follow Porsche`s LMP1 exploits, I knew that back in December, they had a test for their current factory drivers. I was almost certain that it would be Christensen and Tandy that were signed to the third 919 car for Spa and Le Mans, but it turns out I was only right about Tandy. When I saw that Bamber was signed to the Porsche werks team earlier this year, I was certain that he would be moved into a GTE Pro car, taking over for one of the seats vacated by a promoted driver. Turns out, I was wrong about that as well.
Bamber seems, to me, to remain a somewhat strange choice for an important role such as this, but I have to assume that he`s had extensive tests both in the simulator and in secret in the 919 Hybrid itself. He does have a healthy background of open-wheel cars with lots of downforce, so hopefully he will be able to adapt quickly to LMP1 category driving. The main concern I have is his limited endurance experience, having primarily run sprint events in his career, barring two runs at the 24 Hours of Daytona (2014 with Muehlner Motorsport, and 2015 with the Porsche factory 912 car, both attempts ended in a DNF).
Being a New Zealander, it is somewhat harder to break into the machine that is international motorsport, necessitating a move to Europe in most cases. Bamber, got his start in New Zealand Formula Ford a decade ago in 2005. His 4th placed position in the championship that year saw him sign on to drive with Team Meritus for an Asian Formula BMW championship season, which he won soundly. 2007 saw the team move him to a Toyota open-wheel series, and 2008 another move to Formula Renault V6. A pair of second place positions in championship when he returned to that same Toyota open-wheel series and then to Formula V6 Asia were added to his mantlepiece. A move up the ladder in 2009 to the GP2 Asia series saw stickier tires and more downforce, and that same year he was added to the `Team New Zealand` A1GP squad. Both were massive steps forward for him, fully jumping into international championships of high caliber.
From there, his open wheel career began to stall, as nothing really opened up in Euro GP2, so he kicked around to a number of different grids in a number of different series, as the proliferation of open wheel championships faltered with the worldwide economic crisis. A1 GP and Superleague Formula disappeared, and Formula Euroseries 3000 is a shadow of its former self. It was in 2010 that Bamber saw the writing on the wall and made a smart move into tin-tops. GT cars are generally not as glamorous, but the work is good if you can get it, and it tends to be a little more stable than most open-wheel rides.
For the 2010-11 season, Bamber had a ride in a Porsche GT3 Cup New Zealand car, where he got his chops, if you will. He didn't immediately take to the Porsche, but he certainly wasn't a slouch. He continued to poke around at his open-wheel career for 2011, taking what he could get, but there were absolutely zero rides for him in 2012. When 2013 came around, Bamber made his choice and jumped at an opportunity to drive in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, and as we can see, it was a good decision. One year later, Bamber was PCCA champion, had a relatively steady paycheck, and was on his way to a ride in Porsche Supercup.
For 2014, Bamber was in Porsche GT3s almost every weekend. He raced a half season of Porsche Carrera Cup Deutchland, netting a pair of victories at the Red Bull Ring and Hockenheim. He also continued his winning ways in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, taking a second championship on the trot. The best part for him, though, was an overall championship victory in Porsche Supercup, taking wins at Spa-Francorchamps, and the Barcelona circuit, as well as five additional podium finishes. The second placed driver last year, Kuba Giermaziak, finished a full 23 points behind Bamber, even though he had more race victories. Consistency is key to winning a championship, and that is probably what caught Porsche`s eye.
Bamber is the newest addition to the Porsche werks driver team, and as of this week, a newly knighted 919 Hybrid driver. How will he fare under pressure to perform under the watchful eye of millions at Le Mans? We`ll just have to wait and see come this June. Good luck, Earl Bamber!
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