Earl Bamber said his late call-up from Chip Ganassi Racing to fill in for Kevin Magnussen at Motul Petit Le Mans proved to be “really helpful” ahead of his transition into DPi racing full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next year.
The former 24 Hours of Le Mans overall winner and FIA World Endurance Champion was shoved into the seat of CGR’s Cadillac DPi-V.R on race day morning after Magnussen was ruled out of the event on short notice, giving Bamber his first laps of the weekend in a frigid warmup session at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
“It was a really crazy Saturday morning, I guess you could call it,” Bamber recalled to Sportscar365. “I was just about to go grab a coffee at Starbucks and head into the track to catch the last bit of morning warmup.
“Then to get called up and be like, ‘OK, you need to be here for warmup.’ I rushed to the track, found somebody’s suit — I grabbed someone’s suit and jumped in the car.
“Warmup was really, really difficult because it was stone cold. I was trying to get up to speed and normally nobody pushes in warmup.
“I was like, ‘OK, I need to get up to speed but let’s not go off.’ I had the image of 2018 when Laurens [Vanthoor] went straight in Turn 6, every time I got to Turn 6. I was like ‘Don’t go off.’
“Warmup was pretty good and I got comfortable. I was lucky that we tested before and the seats fits everyone the same, so it was easy to get in.”
Bamber said once it came to the race, he got into a pretty decent rhythm, in part thanks to having previous seat time in the car in a test at Road Atlanta the previous month.
“I can say that the DPi style of racing is so much fun,” he said. “It was such a challenge, a slightly different style of racing from GTLM because I’d say you’re a bit more flat out compared to GTLM. There’s a bit more of an advantage of being more flat out with the pit strategy and stuff.
“The biggest thing to get used to again was the traffic. It was really difficult to manage but from what I heard from the others, Road Atlanta is one of the most difficult tracks with traffic.
“Having driven GTs, it helped a lot, because you could sit there and be like ‘OK, if I pass here, I know we’re only going to lose a little bit of time.’ I know how quick some of the GTs feel in some of the corners relative to DPi in previous years. That really helped me.
“Having a few battles with people like Montoya was awesome and sharing a car with Scott Dixon, and just driving for Chip Ganassi Racing… Obviously as a kid when you grow up in New Zealand, we were following Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing.
“To finally drive for him, share a car with Scott, race some of the people you’ve looked up to on TV for years was a pretty phenomenal day really. It was very special.
“It was just a shame we didn’t get more of a result that we deserved because I think we had a top-three car.”
Bamber said his sooner-than-expected DPi debut came as a positive experience that puts him better prepared heading into next year, with the Kiwi part of the team’s expanded two-car full-season operation.
“That first race experience was really, really helpful,” he said. “Obviously going to Daytona, the biggest race of the year, it’s a massive help in knowledge.
“The amount of notes and stuff that came out of it and things we can work on and improve on. The program is just starting to ramp up. With LMDh, it’s just going to get stronger and stronger.
“Two cars [next year] will definitely help because we’ll be able to push each other. For me personally going to Daytona, it’s one that’s alluded myself in the GTs, having finished second and been on the podium many times.
“I think it’s a really good chance to try to get an overall Daytona win in 2022. All of eyes are focused on that and [Road Atlanta] was really good prep for that.
“We’ve got the Daytona testing coming up and then the Roar. Hopefully we’ll go for a shot [of the win].”
CGR Cadillac DPi Drive a “Refreshing Challenge”
Bamber said his new opportunity with CGR is a “refreshing challenge” after spending a number of successful years with Porsche as a factory driver.
While his ties with the German manufacturer will continue through his and his brother’s Porsche customer team Earl Bamber Motorsport, Bamber said he felt like it was time for a fresh start on the driving front.
“I was interested to do something fresh,” he said. “When Chip Gansssi Racing calls you, you have to always take it seriously. I think they’re one of the best teams in the world.
“They won the IndyCar championship so many times. They’ve won GTLM and Le Mans and stuff like that. I think the program is good and the potential chance and opportunity to go back to Le Mans, and also to just go out and race a DPi puts you in good stead.
“For me, to race DPi next year is perfect preparation for what everyone’s getting really excited for with LMDh. The opportunity to go for overall wins is really cool.
“For me it’s just a new challenge and a refreshing challenge as well. It’s interesting to see how the other side does things.
“I’m learning a lot and looking forward to getting into the season. I didn’t expect that it would already start racing at Petit but I just had a massive smile on my face when I got out of the car.
“The the car and team we’ve got, I think it’s going to be a really good season.”