Kiwi Le Mans champion Earl Bamber: No 2 Porsche fought back from brink of early exit
Kiwi driver Earl Bamber has described how the No 2 Porsche came from the brink of an early exit to claim a famous victory at the Le Mans 24 Hour race.
Claiming his second win at the prestigious event, Bamber teamed up with countryman and childhood friend Brendon Hartley and German Timo Bernhard to triumph at the famous Circuit de la Sarthe in France on Sunday (Monday NZ time).
In what turned into a race of attrition, their 919 Hybrid dropped to 59th and 18 laps back of the lead on the 13.6km-long track when it needed an electric motor replaced in the fourth hour before producing a stunning fight back to win a lap up of the second-placed car.
Bamber, who won Le Mans with Porsche in 2015 but is in his first year as a fulltime driver with the German manufacturer's LMP1 programme, said the race had again proved it chooses who it wants to win.
"I was driving at the time when I heard it go 'bang' and I thought it was our race done," the Whanganui product told Fox Sports.
"I brought it back to the pits and the guys looked into it, and we were back out in under an hour. It was a matter of fighting back into the top five at first, then that became a podium and then a podium became a win.
"We were counting the seconds, a few hours out it looked like it might be down to the last lap whether or not we'd pass. It was incredibly tense in the pits and we were going flat-out all the time.
"It was basically a sprint race when we got back out – we had nothing to lose. We risked it all and got the reward."
Re-entering so far back from the front of the race, the No 2 Porsche looked to be well and truly out of contention for victory.
However, the four other entries in the fastest and most powerful LMP1 class had or were also set to run into mechanical woes.
When the No 1 Porsche became the fifth of the five LMP1 cars to experience trouble, forced to drop out in hour 21 with an oil pressure issue, the No 38 car leading the LPM2 category found itself with an unlikely lead.
But, by that stage, Bernhard was charging and with a little more than an hour remaining he hit the front, the No 2 eventually taking the chequered flag with more than a lap to spare.
Bamber said it was incredible to win such a huge race with a mate who had taught him to drive when they were seven-years-old.
Revelling in his debut Le Mans triumph, Hartley expressed a similar sentiment and said it had been an "unreal" day.
The Palmerston North driver told Radio Sport that doing it with the No 2, the same number Kiwi motorsport legends Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon had for their 1966 victory at the race, made the win even more special.
Hartley said it was remarkable their machine didn't appear to have a scratch on it at the finish.
"[Coming back out] it was 'OK, we will push at the maximum'," he told Radio Sport.
"There was no looking after the car, the suspension and we attacked all the kerbs because all we wanted to do was get points for the championship.
"Some of the leaders had some failures and then we thought 'OK, a podium could be on here.' We fought and fought.
"After three hours in thinking it was all over, to come back to that, it was an emotional rollercoaster and brought tears to people's eyes. It's very cool, it's something I will never forget."
Hartley also paid tribute to the swift work of the mechanics and crew of the No 2 car.
He told motorsport.com if they had been stalled in the pits for "five minutes more" they would not have won the race.
Two other Kiwi drivers were taking part in the famed race, with Scott Dixon and Richie Stanaway both competing in the LMGTE-Pro class.
Indycar star Dixon was 24th overall and seventh in class in a Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, while Stanaway was 26th overall and ninth in class in Aston Martin Racing Vantage.