As of 2019, Timo Bernhard is the longest-serving Porsche works driver. While his highest profile victory came in 2017, with his upset Le Mans victory, Bernhard has been putting rubber to the road for two full decades as of this month. Of the current drivers, he's also the only one to have won championships at every level of the "Porsche Pyramid." Bernhard won the German Carrera Cup in 2001, won the GT title in ALMS in 2004, won the ALMS LMP2 class in 2007 and 2008, and won the FIA WEC crown in 2015 and 2017. As much as any Porsche model, the man is a machine built for victory.
Becoming a Porsche Junior was not a step Mr. Bernhard expected to take, “I went along, but had no expectations at all,” yet after testing at Misano, Mr. Bernhard left a Porsche Junior. Indeed, he still has the letter affirming his newfound status.
"To be honest, I didn’t really know what was in store. At that time I didn’t think beyond the next race, and only gradually came to understand what a big opportunity this was for me and what the Porsche legend really meant," reflects Bernhard. Back in 1999, he could not have anticipated that by 2013 he would be the first person to test the marque's triumphant return to top tier endurance racing.
Though he began in the Carrera Cup, Bernhard would become indispensable to Porsche's motorsports development. He piloted the 919 Hybrid on its first rollout, and notes that “(I) was involved in the development of the new car from the beginning. Driving the car for the first time in the rollout was a very proud moment.”
Upon entering in to competition in the new car, Bernhard proved formidable. After a slightly rocky 2014, subsequent seasons brought victory after victory. In 34 total entries in the 919 Hybrid Bernhard and his teammates landed on the podium an astonishing 23 times, and racked up no less than a dozen outright victories.
To Bernhard, this level of success was not a given. “When I started at Porsche as a junior in 1999, I wouldn’t have dared dream that some day I might get the opportunity to fight it out for the overall victory in Le Mans, and be good enough to actually pull it off."
But his successes don't end with his competition record. Bernhard, a five-time overall winner of the 24 Hours Nürburgring, was just the man to break the all-time lap record at the Green Hell. Stefan Bellof's 1983 lap record stood for twenty-five years before Bernhard shattered it by an astounding 51.58 seconds, with a time of 5:19.55. Though Bellof's time remains the fastest-ever lap by a competition-legal car, a record that is unlikely to ever be broken, breaking the outright record remains an impressive feat.
Looking to the Future
Following Porsche's exit from top-tier endurance racing, Bernhard has refocused his effort. At present he is splitting his time between driving for Porsche, and driving Porsches for the team he runs with his father; KÜS Team75 Bernhard. Since last year he has been racing a GT3 R in ADAC GT Masters, appearing in Super Sports Car League, and supporting his team's efforts in karting, Porsche Sports Cup, ADAC GT4, and numerous endurance racing events.
As Porsche fans, we're proud to have had a driver like Mr. Bernhard around for so long, and we wish him decades of continued success with Porsche, both on and off the track.