Earl Bamber admits the battle for supremacy in GTE Pro in this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans is not as clear cut as people are making out, and he is not ruling out any of the six manufacturers – Porsche, Ford, Ferrari, Corvette, Aston Martin and BMW – being in contention this weekend.
The New Zealander shares the #93 911 RSR with Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy, with the trio part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship influx of Porsche GT Team stars that also includes Gianmaria Bruni, Frédéric Makowiecki and Laurens Vanthoor.
“If you look on the pure time sheet, you’d say Ford and Porsche, but when you start look in the depth and the details with the fuel loads and what tyres people are on, there’s also a lot of people very close,” said Bamber. “So I would say it’s not so clear cut.
“Corvette look strong, Ferrari will be there, not really sure about Aston [Martin] or BMW because we don’t know about their cars but for sure we know about the other two, so don’t rule out anybody.
“At the same time it’s going to such a hard paced race, you’ll see cars break, you’ll see drivers make mistakes, the driving standard seems a bit average, so we’ll see lots of incidents and tears.
“At the end of the day in racing, you want to fight against the best cars in the world, so that’s what we’ve come here to do. I think it is probably one of the best grids assembled in the world.”
Bamber revealed discussions took place within the factory Porsche outfit to enable the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA squads to fight it out amongst themselves for this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Bamber says having two separate teams within Porsche opens up the competition within the GTE Pro class further, and with different driver philosophies and ideas about how to make the cars faster, it makes for added excitement.
“It’s really good, because that’s why we bring them here,” said Bamber. “We’re not arguing but discussing with Porsche that we need to have freedom, compete as two separate teams but together for Porsche because that builds competition.
“If we just run all four exactly the same then we don’t need two teams to come. [We would] just run it with one team. But with two teams, different people’s ideas, different philosophies, is a really good way to go.
“It’s completely open book. It’s just different people’s ideas coming from different angles. And there are cars if you look at the sectors where our cars quicker and in other parts, the other cars quicker in the other, if you could combine it we would be even quicker, but you actually can’t because of compromises.”
Bamber says it is important to respect Le Mans and race the track first before turning the attention to their rivals, and should everything come together, it will almost certainly earn themselves a podium result.
“I always say for this race, one of the most important things is you need to try and beat Le Mans before you need to beat everybody else,” said Bamber. “That means you can do the race, fuel, tyres all the way, never in the garage, never an incident, never a penalty, then you’re probably on the podium.
“Whether you have the speed or not to do it, you’ll be on the podium because a one-minute penalty takes nearly forever to get back.”
Bamber is two victories from two attempts at Le Mans in LMP1 machinery, winning in both 2015 and 2017 with the Porsche LMP Team, but his only previous GT experience in 2016 saw the car retire, and the New Zealander is looking to turn his fortune around in 2018, particularly with the expectation of the bosses at Porsche, who want to see the marquee to take victory in their seventieth year.
“I’d like to finish the race this year in a GT,” said Bamber. “I’ve got a 100% success in LMP1 and I’ve never finished in GT’s, it’s polar opposites.
“We’ve got a huge effort this year. It’s awesome to see four factory cars, I think we’ve really done our homework as well, because it’s a massive effort, a much bigger effort than I remember in 2016. It’s the 70th year, we’ve more or less been told we have to put one of these cars on the top step of the podium. So that’s the expectation.”
Bamber will return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the beginning of July at Watkins Glen, and the Kiwi says the same squad that is running the Le Mans team will be on duty as soon as the race is over to prepare the car for the six-hour race near New York.
“It’s the same crew that we have when we do IMSA,” said Bamber. “So if you walk in our garage it’ll be the same people that are in IMSA in ten days time after the race at Watkins Glen.
“That’s quite a challenge as well, same with the race cars. They’re going to prep the cars Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for Watkins after the race.”