Earl Bamber's road to Le Mans


By Ross Jamieson

I first came across Earl Bamber at Zhuhai in 2006. Earl was fighting for the Formula BMW Asia title and I was there to observe as a guest of team Meritus. Watching Earl dice with Daniel Ricciardo through turn 14, a fast fifth gear corner, I remember feeling slightly relieved I would not be on the grid until the class of ’06 had graduated. Earl went on to win the championship, ahead of Australian Sam Abay in second and Daniel Ricciardo in third.

Earl did indeed graduate from Formula BMW. Post ’06, he raced Asian Renault V6, Formula Toyota New Zealand, Australian F3, GP2 Asia and A1GP to name a few. In both Asian Renault V6 and GP2 Asia, Earl remained in Meritus red. Although he only ran partial campaigns in both series, his pace often overshadowed vastly more experienced team-mates, including former F1 driver Alex Yoong.

Earl’s ongoing involvement with the team during my stint as a Meritus Formula BMW driver meant we often overlapped at testing events and race-weekends around Asia. Despite his evident speed, Earl’s career stuttered from ’09-12.

After a number of years without a full-time drive, Earl sealed back-to-back Carrera Cup Asia championship victories in ’13 and ’14. He followed these performances with the Porsche Supercup crown last year, a result that propelled him into Porsche’s factory programme. When he was announced as an LMP1 driver a short time later, I was not in the least bit surprised. Nor, I imagine, was anyone who has ever shared a racing circuit with the New Zealander.

Earl is an enthusiastic driver and it has always been easy to tell he loves racing. He is confident too (and rightly so), for he often has the pace to back his claims. I remember a bet he made with a team member during a testing weekend at Sepang – Earl declared he could run the undulating circuit (all 5.543km of it) in under 20 minutes (or thereabouts). He was promised a new set of race-boots if the stop watch proved his claim. Although track limit accusations were rife, a trip to the local race-wear dealer occurred soon after.


LMP1’s class of 2015 together all the way back in 2008: Bamber, Neel Jani and Loïc Duval

A gifted runner though he is, Earl’s real ability lies in driving racing cars very quickly. In ’08, two years after his rookie season in Formula BMW (my second year in the series), Earl’s data was still regularly trotted out to demonstrate how things should be done. He was able to generate lateral load extremely quickly and subsequently balance the car on the limit of grip. Hoping to gain a little more insight into Earl’s driving, I asked my former data engineer (who worked with Earl in Formula BMW, Asian Renault V6 and GP2 Asia) what made him so fast.

I did not get the technical reply I was expecting. Instead, here are three reasons that might explain, in part, how he was able to win on his Le Mans debut. Firstly, Earl grew up on a farm, surrounded by vehicles and dirt roads. Finnish rally drivers tend to be quick on snow and in the same way, Earl’s early exposure to cars, bikes and farmyards seems to have bred highly developed car control.

Secondly, he displays unnatural levels of concentration while driving – he is simply unflappable with a PlayStation controller in his hand or a helmet on his head. This was undoubtedly useful as he hurtled down the Mulsanne in the early hours of Sunday.

At Silverstone last year, on his way to third

Finally, by hook or by crook, he has had the privilege of driving a staggering variety of racing cars – from the single-seaters already discussed to 1000bhp time attack monsters. The variety has given him an incredible ability to adapt, learn and apply lessons from one situation to the next.

Our former data engineer concluded: “On any given day there might be one or two faster than him. But Earl can give 100 per cent every day of the week.” Earl’s 100 per cent is very fast indeed.

Many years ago, Earl set one of our mutual team-mate’s spare overalls alight (temporarily and without permanent damage), all in the name of good humour. He was always up for a good time and I’m sure Sunday evening was very enjoyable. Congratulations to Porsche, Nico Hülkenburg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. It was Porsche’s 17th Le Mans win and Earl’s first. I’m sure both those tallies will continue to rise.

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