Saturday’s Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda represents a golden opportunity for one of sports car racing’s newest kids on the block, as Earl Bamber prepares for his factory GT Le Mans class debut with Porsche North America.
While being a relatively unknown name to the U.S. motorsports scene, the 24-year-old New Zealander has been through a rapid and impressive rise through the Porsche ranks, remarkably all in the last 18 months.
Bamber, who was crowned Porsche Carrera Cup Asia Champion in his rookie year in 2013, won Porsche’s International Cup Scholarship Challenge last November, which was followed up by a full-season drive in Porsche Supercup.
He leads the highly competitive Supercup championship with one round to go, in what’s already been a breakout year for the former A1 GP and GP2 Asia driver.
“When I started my GT racing career, I didn’t expect to go from Carrera Cup Asia to Supercup so quickly and then even to this position so quickly,” Bamber told Sportscar365.
“It’s been a quick transition but I’m lucky that I can draw on the experience of my past as well, to have driven with big teams. I think it makes the transition a lot easier than others who have only come from Carrera Cup before.”
Bamber received the call to drive the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR this weekend, filling in for Richard Lietz, who continues his recovery after breaking his arm in an accident at VIR.
While having tested with the CORE autosport-run factory operation at Road Atlanta in August, his GTLM debut comes at a pivotal point in the title chase, as Porsche heads into the season finale tied for the lead of the manufacturer’s championship.
“For me, it’s not about anything personal for myself,” said Bamber who teams with Patrick Long and Michael Christensen this weekend. “They brought me here to help the team.
“At the end of the day, we’re here to try and win the manufacturers’ championship. It’s very, very tight. I just have to do exactly as they ask me to do and deliver on those targets.”
As with any driver, his transition from a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car to the 911 RSR has presented a challenge, but Bamber has proven to be a quick learner in adapting to the GTE-spec contender.
“There’s some things that you can take but the [911 RSR] is another ballgame with the amount of downforce you have and the car’s suspension is different as well,” he said. “Certainly the feeling is different and I have to learn how to use the downforce as well.
“But at the end of the day, it has a steering wheel, it has a pedal and it has four wheels, so it’s just another racing car. So you have to get in there, hustle it and get the most out of it.”
It’s already been a busy year for Bamber, who took part in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Twelve Hours of Sebring in a Muehlner Motorsports Porsche 911 GT America, while also winning his class in February’s Bathurst 12 Hour.
In addition to his focus on Supercup, he currently leads the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia championship and also competed in early season rounds of Porsche Carrera Cup Germany.
Bamber credits Porsche’s Carrera Cup platform for the quick rise through the ranks,
“That has brought me so far from where I started the season to where I am now,” he said. “At the start of the year, there was no way I could do something like this.
“Being under the Porsche program has excelled my driving so much. I think it’s a real credit to what they’re trying to achieve and a credit to the program.”
Co-driver Christensen, who also came through Carrera Cup and Supercup ranks, made his top-level GT debut here last year in CORE autosport’s Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, which led to the Dane landing factory driver status this year.
Could the same prospects be in store for Bamber?
“These cars are fantastic to drive,” he said. “Every time you drive a Porsche you have a big smile when you get out. They’re fantastically challenging cars but just a brilliant car.
“I love every minute of it and I’d love to one day be a factory driver. That’s my real goal.”
And given what he’s already achieved in a very short GT racing career, that goal could very well be released sooner than later.