Earl Bamber has described the last few days as a “whirlwind” following his late call-up to drive for KCMG in the Nürburgring 24 after several Porsche drivers were ruled out at short notice.
Bamber was originally due to be driving in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Mid-Ohio this weekend, but the return of positive test results from the manufacturer’s 24 Hours of Le Mans group forced drastic adjustments to its programs.
This included the withdrawal of Porsche’s drivers who were primed for the Nürburgring, as well as the Manthey Racing team which was involved in both 24-hour races.
It also prompted Porsche’s CORE-run factory GT Le Mans entry to be pulled from Mid-Ohio, freeing up Bamber – who wasn’t at Le Mans – to drive a Porsche 911 GT3 R at the Nürburgring.
The New Zealander has been placed with KCMG, alongside ex-factory drivers Joerg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard who were drafted in to substitute for the quarantining Richard Lietz, Romain Dumas and Patrick Pilet.
“We were just preparing for Mid-Ohio and I was planning to go there on Thursday,” Bamber told Sportscar365.
“Then I got a call on Tuesday morning at 4:30 a.m. to say that we weren’t going to do Mid-Ohio and to come here [to the Nürburgring].
“The biggest thing was trying to get a flight, and we didn’t know if we could get in the country. New Zealanders can come [to Germany] from New Zealand, but we weren’t sure if it was possible from America.
“But they let us on the plane and we got over, so that wasn’t a problem. We arrived Wednesday morning and had to wait a day to receive a negative COVID-19 test, and then finally to the track yesterday afternoon.
“It was a pretty whirlwind 24 hours but we finally made it so it’s really cool to be here.
“I think it’s the right decision that Porsche makes to keep everyone safe, and the community as well. It’s a tough decision and sad that we have to miss the race, but in the end it’s the right thing.”
Bamber suggested that it will be “a challenge” to switch from his IMSA Mid-Ohio mindset into the different approach required to tackle the Nürburgring 24 on the Nordschleife.
“The last time I drove here was in last year’s N24, over one year ago,” he said.
“The last time I drove the [911 GT3] R was in my own car at Bathurst [in February]. But it’s the same for a lot of people that they haven’t been driving the car as much. We’ve just got to get used to it.
“We’ve got an awesome team, so that’s going to be really good fun. To join KCMG is really cool, also for the fact I drove NASCAR with them earlier in the year now to be joining them for the biggest race on their calendar is pretty cool.
“Me and Paul [Ip, team owner], when he first moved to Porsche, talked about being in one of his cars so it’s really cool to be able to join one of them and do the Nürburgring 24.
“Hopefully we can finish the race and get a good result with the team.”
Isolation Call Affecting More than Just Drivers
In addition to losing three pilots, KCMG is also heading into the Nürburgring 24 without its technical director, two race engineers and a data engineer at short notice.
One of the drafted-in race engineers is Patrick Arkenau, who has worked with Bamber on the No. 911 Manthey Racing ‘Grello’ Porsche in recent Nürburgring 24 editions.
“We have support from Porsche with a race and data engineer,” the team’s sporting manager Matt Howson told Sportscar365.
“And then on the other car we have used our data engineer we already had and promoted him to race engineer, and then we’ve brought in another guy to support him on data.
“The original race engineer on car No. 19 [driven by Josh Burdon, Alexandre Imperatori, Edoardo Liberati and Dennis Olsen] is supporting remotely.”
Howson added that the team considered contesting the N24 with only one car before it got the drivers together to compensate for the absence of its three factory members.
He said that all the deliberations and decisions took place within a period between Monday night, when Porsche informed its teams of the situation, and Tuesday afternoon.
“It definitely crossed our mind because until the drivers who had become available were available, it could have been anybody or nobody,” explained Howson.
“There’s no point in running a car just for the sake of it. We took the view that if we could make the driver lineup strong like it is, then we run the second car because two chances is better than one in this event.
“It was a big effort from everybody, but the team just has to carry on as normal in terms of setting up.”