We take a look back at some of the key moments in Porsche’s four-year run with the 919 Hybrid through the eyes of those involved with the championship-winning program. Next up is newly crowned two-time World Champion Timo Bernhard.
As one of the first drivers to be confirmed for the campaign and the first to climb behind the wheel of the car, Timo Bernhard will forever be engrained as a key part of the of the Porsche 919 Hybrid program.
The 36-year-old German, along with co-driver Brendon Hartley, have also achieved the most success in Porsche’s four-year LMP1 effort, highlighted by two World Drivers’ Championships and victory in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Bernhard’s first memories of the 919 Hybrid came nearly two years before its competition debut, and just weeks after fracturing a vertebrae in a testing accident in an Audi R18.
“The first moment was when I jumped into the mockup chassis back in 2012, still wearing the collar from the Sebring accident and jumping into the start of a new era,” Bernhard told Sportscar365.
“I wanted to be on board as early as possible and I was actually the first driver assigned to this program, together with Romain [Dumas].
“The second moment was the pre-rollout. I was very anxious to get into the car and there were a couple of dates for the first rollouts. It was a very emotional time leading up to that and the whole team came together.”
The first rollout on June 12, 2013 at Porsche’s test track in Weissach (pictured above) signaled the start of a new era for the German manufacturer, in what would eventually deliver a hat-trick of Le Mans victories and three consecutive Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ World Championships.
“I knew from the start it was going to be a new era in which people would define you after your career because it’s definitely the highlight program of my career,” Bernhard said.
“I had a feeling everything was leading up to this. You have a feeling in a way.
“You can make history for yourself with this program. You can achieve the goals that you always wanted to achieve in your career and that’s why I wanted to take no compromise and do the best job I could possibly be.”
Bernhard, who scored his first overall Le Mans win with Audi in 2010, alongside longtime Porsche factory driver Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller, admitted it’s difficult to compare Porsche’s four-year run in LMP1 to Audi’s ultra-dominant era, which ran for considerably longer but with less direct manufacturer competition.
“It’s hard to compare this to the time with Audi before we arrived,” he said. “We started at the peak of competition between Toyota and Audi and they were the benchmark in the first year.
“We learned a lot and for sure, we did things our own way, but definitely with this era, when you look at it in a couple of years, you’ll say that was the peak. We competed, we had success, and that was the goal. ”
Having been one of Porsche’s longest-running factory drivers, and achieving wins and championships in the manufacturer’s GT2, LMP2 and LMP1 machinery, Bernhard said the 919 Hybrid program will remain as his career highlight.
“First of all, it’s the Porsche brand,” he said. “This brand has so much success in motorsport in the past.
“I think the goal was clear from the beginning, which is a good thing, but also there’s a lot of pressure because people were expecting us to do good.
“It kept the level high but kept us on our toes as well so we didn’t take anything for granted and we always wanted to achieve it.
“The other thing was the pure mindset of the people, of the leaders like Fritz [Enzinger, LMP1 Vice President] and Andreas [Seidl, Team Principal]. The mindset of these people to go for performance and success but also have this human part was very important.
“We always speak about the Porsche family and this was always an ingredient which was very important.”