While Nick Tandy was an easy choice for driver of the year in 2015, and Nico Hulkenberg generated the most headlines outside the sports car-focused press, the third member of Le Mans’ overall winning triumvirate, Earl Bamber, had a different reflection on the 2015 season.
The 25-year-old Kiwi was only confirmed as a Porsche factory driver 12 months ago after winning the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup and Porsche Carrera Cup Asia titles in 2014.
This year, he then embarked on what would be an incredible season of his own, even despite a couple mistakes.
Bamber’s speed was never in question but his first official outing as a works driver, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, started ignominiously when he and teammate Marc Lieb came together. It took both of the factory 911 RSRs out of the race.
Then Tandy’s rare misstep of his own – contact with Kevin Estre’s 911 RSR when aboard the third Porsche 919 Hybrid at the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps – eventually left the third car several laps down and unable to mount a major challenge in its debut.
It meant that come Le Mans, little was expected for the trio of LMP1 rookies. But Bamber, like his teammates, rose to the occasion and scored a surprise, but popular, overall win.
“You can dream of that success but you’d definitely wouldn’t guess it would happen,” Bamber told Sportscar365. “Especially to drive the LMP1 car.
“Just to have the honor to represent Porsche at the world’s biggest sports car race was a huge honor, and then we managed to win the race, which was incredible.”
Bamber then shifted back to his GT commitments, racing the remainder of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season with Joerg Bergmeister in the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR.
Bamber won a pair of pole positions, at Road America and Road Atlanta, although the latter race saw him crash in qualifying and force the need for a new tub before the race.
The pair didn’t win a race and was arguably frustrated to have lost out at Virginia International Raceway, having dominated most of the race. Their best result was second on three occasions.
Still, Bamber noted how much he had to learn this year, adapting to racing in North America for the first full season.
“To go in the U.S. and to have Joerg as a teammate was fantastic during the year,” he said. “I learned a huge amount.
“It’s obviously a big step up from Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup to a factory role, a lot of different things, bigger teams … the thing in the U.S. is you have to learn a lot.
“I learned a huge amount and grew a lot as a driver. So I’m looking forward to next year as well as a second year as a works driver in the GT program. Hopefully I can keep building on that and we can win and have many more great results.”
The versatility in going between LMP1, GTE-Pro (GT Le Mans in IMSA) and GTE-Am this year, he said, made him a better driver.
“It was great fun actually. Going with the garage from Proton Racing was also fantastic, I loved the time there,” he said.
“They’re a great bunch of people, it would be cool to do a few races with them next year.”
Bamber’s 2016 program will be solely GT-focused. He’ll team with Fred Makowiecki in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and hopes to do selected FIA WEC rounds with Proton Racing, where he competed in a handful of races this year.
“It’s going to be nice to battle for a championship. Last year, I didn’t do a full season anywhere, so I’d like to do a full championship somewhere and get a good result overall.
“It’s nice to win races, but also it’s nice to have a championship at the end of the year.”