If a driver wins the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours you would expect their name to go down in history but in the world of instant hits and even faster failures, Earl Bamber could be considered the forgotten member of the winning team just one year on.

If you Google the Kiwi's name you have to get all the way to 'Earl Bam' until the search tool autofills the final three letters 'ber'. Partnered in the third Porsche LMP1 entry at the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours, Bamber joined F1 star Nico Hulkenberg and British journeyman Nick Tandy.

Both were duly given particular focus, after all it is a rare sight for a current F1 driver to jump into endurance racing and win the biggest prize on debut, while Tandy made a journeyman route through Porsche's Supercup ranks to Le Mans glory.

Bamber followed a similar path to Tandy in the Porsche set-up but was making his Le Mans debut as a relative unknown.

Sure the New Zealand native had been dominating the Porsche one-make competitions - two-time Porsche Carrera Cup Asia champion and 2014 Porsche Supercup winner - but on his Le Mans debut on only his second-ever outing in the Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 mega-beast, Bamber could be forgiven for feeling under pressure.

"It was horrible. It is the worst thing ever."

That is what Bamber called the final four hours of last year's Le Mans when his team were the surprise leaders.

"You have gone so far but you know if you have one small problem with the car you are out.

"I was the second-to-last stint before handing over to Nico and I remember coming through one section and started to smell burning. I was really scared but I didn't want to say anything and hoped it went away. Luckily enough it was an LMP2 car blowing up in front!

"When you lead you hear ever sound and smell in the car and you think about it too much. We'd never gone 24 hours in the LMP1 and we were leading so we didn't know what would happen next. We were super happy to lead but had no idea what would happen which is worse."

Having sparked a lifelong friendship with the F1 star and the Porsche regular at Le Mans, Bamber feels his squad had an intriguing mix which certainly allowed the trio to improve and test one another's skills.

"Hulkenberg was a good example," Bamber said. "He never really has an opportunity to be on the podium in F1 yet he can be a fantastic sportscar driver. There are also more competitive drives available too, in GT or LMP1 you always have a chance because of there are so many manufacturers doing a good job.

"Le Mans you are flat out and every second counts because you never get any lost seconds back."

This year Bamber and company have been denied the opportunity to defend their LMP1 drivers' titles due to Le Mans clashing with the new F1 Grand Prix of Europe in Azerbaijan's capital city Baku - while Porsche also opted not to run a third prototype car this year.

Instead, the New Zealander will 'debut all over again' for Porsche in the GTE-Pro class at the Circuit de la Sarthe alongside Frederic Makowiecki and Jorg Bergmeister.

In an interesting twist, Tandy has turned from team-mate to rival in GTE-Pro as he lines up in the sister Porsche 911 RSR with Patrick Pilet and Kevin Estre.

Bamber is relishing the''rookie' challenge again at Le Mans and feels his victory experience from 12 months ago will count for little inside the GTE-Pro battle which sees the competition of Ferrari, Chevrolet and Aston Martin bulked up by the return of Ford with a four-car entry.

"This year my approach is I look like a rookie again because I've never done the GT," he said. "Everything will be a new experience so I'm trying to learn from my team-mates.

"Just because I've won the race doesn't mean I know anything. I will rely on my team-mates who have plenty more experience than me. So I want to learn from them and do the best I can."

 

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