From karters to Le Mans champions - Hartley and Bamber still racing together
If you had told a 7-year-old Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber they would be on top of the Le Mans podium one day, the young lads would have given you a sideways glance or two.
But it came true for the Kiwi pair 20 years later, after they and German team-mate Timo Bernhard won the 24 Hours Le Mans race in France on Monday morning (NZ Time) in their LMP1 category Porsche 919 Hybrid.
Manawatu's Hartley, 27, and Bamber, 26, of Whanganui have known each other since they were kids and tearing around the Kartsport Manawatu track in Palmerston North, and as fate would have it, they are now on the same Porsche team racing in Europe.
Their team produced a massive comeback at Le Mans to win the endurance crown, having been held up for an hour in the pits due to technical problems and at one point had been in 56th place, before fighting their way back to win.
It is the second win for Bamber after his 2015 victory, the same year Hartley was second.
Bamber's mother Maureen stayed up to watch the whole Le Mans race and she has seen the progress of the two lads since they were racing as children.
"They did karting together at the Manawatu kart track and I used to drive them around," she said. "Then on the farm they would drive around.
"They've been friends for a long time."
Maureen and Hartley's mother worked together in the kitchen at the racetrack.
Hartley and Bamber learnt to drive between the karting track and driving around the paddocks on the Bamber farm up the Whanganui river, north of Jerusalem.
Both drivers won multiple karting titles in the early 2000s and Bamber was the first New Zealand driver to claim a podium spot at the Rotax Max category's annual grand final in the Canary Islands in 2005.
Hartley, who started young when he was 6, raced karts through his teens before heading to Europe and he has been an endurance driver since 2012 after he was dumped by Red Bull as their reserve Formula One driver.
Bamber came through the Porsche Motorsport pyramid, through the Carrera Cup, the Super Cup, the GT factory programme, then the LMP1.
Maureen said it was humbling that the two guys had won the race, especially because the television commentators had been saying they were going to finish 56th after their technical problems.
"I was there when Earl won the first time at Le Mans and so it was an amazing race, absolutely amazing. Never give up."
Hartley's brother Nelson also had a sleepless night watching the race.
"He's been trying pretty damn hard to get that result for a while," Nelson said.
"Especially considering it's two New Zealanders who were childhood friends."
Nelson said some may not realise how much of a big deal the win is, but will see if people are still talking about the win in 20 years in the same way as the great win by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon in 1966, which was the last time New Zealand drivers have won the title.
"It's pretty cool actually," Nelson said. "It's one of the biggest races in the world and we do motorsport for a living.
"Pretty damn happy."
Nelson works at Hartley Engines and Motorsport with father Bryan and they build nearly half the country's stockcar engines.
Nelson didn't think the Porsche team were out of it after their following their delay, but started to believe they could do it once they started overtaking the slower cars.