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Porsche Goes “Back to the Future” With GTLM Lineup

Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber on full-season returns to IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship…

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

Porsche factory drivers Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy have been linked together since 2015. They made up two-thirds of the driver lineup for the No. 19 Porsche 919 Hybrid at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which they won alongside F1 racer Nico Hulkenberg.

They spent most of the remainder of that 2015 season, and all of 2016, participating in the GT Le Mans class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, with Tandy helping co-driver Patrick Pilet win the GTLM driver championship in 2015.

Last year, both were selected to drive in the FIA World Endurance Championship LMP1 class for the full season, which netted a second overall Le Mans victory for Bamber.

However, when news broke last summer of Porsche’s plans to discontinue its LMP1 program following the 2017 season, both drivers knew exactly where they wanted to spend 2018.

“Once we knew that the LMP1 program was stopping, then my immediate request was to come back here and race in the IMSA championship,” Bamber said. “In 2015 and ’16, it was awesome times and great memories. I really love the tracks and the race series, so it made obvious sense to come back here.”

“I’m really happy to be back,” added Tandy. “It was a time of year last year that I really missed being in Daytona racing. I got a few other jobs for Porsche, but I really missed the time here in January.”

As he was for all but two races in 2015 and all of 2016, Tandy will again be paired with Frenchman Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR. This time around, he’s hoping to celebrate his own driver championship as a season-long pairing.

“Unfortunately, in 2015, he missed a race to go to Spa for LMP1,” said Pilet, omitting the fact that Tandy also missed the Long Beach event. “It was good success for him, because he won Le Mans after, but I think it will be a good thing to win the championship together.”

Tandy is definitely onboard with that plan, which begins with this weekend’s 56th Rolex 24 at Daytona. 

“The championship is what we all want,” he said. “It was great to be a part of the team in 2015. Being part of that team championship, obviously, I helped Patrick to the driver’s title.

“Everybody that goes racing want to win these big races, but ultimately, the end of the season aim is to be a champion.

“Of course, that’s something we all want to do and it’s something I’ve missed out on the last few years. I’ve been very close in lots of different areas, but I missed out on the championship.”

What Tandy and Pilet haven’t missed out on, however, is celebrating on the top step of the podium at the end of the Rolex 24.

In 2014, they took the GTLM class victory in the inaugural WeatherTech Championship event with Austrian Richard Lietz as their co-driver. This year, they’ll go for it again with endurance co-driver Frederic Makowiecki.

On the other hand, Bamber, a two-time overall Le Mans winner, hasn’t yet tasted victory in the Rolex 24. He’ll attempt to add another crown jewel to his racing résumé this weekend with co-drivers Laurens Vanthoor and Gianmaria Bruni in the No. 912 Porsche.

“It would be huge to try and tick one of the big boxes at the Rolex 24,” Bamber said. “A couple of years ago, we were leading until the last hour, but unfortunately the two Corvettes powered by at the end.

“We still got on the podium. That was special, to be on the podium here, but obviously hunting to go a few steps better.”

His season-long co-driver will be Vanthoor, with Bruni joining the No. 912 squad for the endurance races.

For his part, Vanthoor – who competed in his first full WeatherTech Championship season last year – was as eager to have Bamber as his teammate for 2018 as the New Zealander was to team with him.

“My wish for Porsche a couple of months ago was to race again in America with the 912 and be with Earl, and that’s exactly what I got,” Vanthoor said.

“I’m really happy to drive with Earl. He’s a very good driver. He impressed me when we first drove together because he was quick in two laps time and he was a very talented driver.

“I think what is good is we’re a similar age and we have the same mindset. We want to achieve the same things. He’s a hard worker and we try to push each other. I think it will be a very good relationship. I feel at ease with him, and I hope he does the same. Let’s see how it goes.”

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