New Zealander Earl Bamber has once again found himself on the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, after a gritty drive between himself and Porsche co-drivers Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet.
Bamber brought home the team's No. 93 Porsche 911 in third place in the GTE-Pro class, pipped by teammates Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre and Michael Kristensen in second and eventual class winners Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra in their AF Corse Ferrai 488.
“We tried everything, but even though we had a very fast car, we couldn’t do more,” said Bamber.
“That’s Le Mans, you simply have to have luck on your side. We’re pleased with the podium finish and now we look ahead. Our focus is now on extending our points’ lead in the IMSA series and to win more titles for Porsche.”
It looked like Bamber would potentially miss the podium all together, but the complexion of the GTE-Pro class changed with three hours to go, when Jan Magnussen spun the third-placed Chevrolet Corvette C7.R at the Porsche Curves. This took the American team out of contention, and lifted Bamber's Porsche onto the third step of the podium.
From there, the No. 93 and No. 92 Porsches battled while the Ferrari held firm at the front. The teammates traded places numerous times during each respective pit-cycle, with second eventually going to the latter by a skint margin of less than 20 seconds. The other Kiwi competing in GTE-Pro, Scott Dixon, ended up finishing sixth in the No. 69 Ford GT.
Overall victory, as expected, went to Toyota Gazoo Racing with their No. 8 and No. 7 TS050-Hybrids claiming first and second. But, what had been mostly smooth sailing for both cars did crumble somewhat in the closing stages. Best of the rest honours in third went to SMP Racing's No. 11 trio of Vitaly Petrov, Mihail Aleshin, and Stoffel Vandoorne.
The No. 7 car shared between Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López was the superior car for most of the race. However, two late sequential pit-stops for punctures (exacerbated by a sensor failure) saw the trio surrender first place in the dying hours.
Victory instead went to the No. 8 of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sébastien Buemi by 17 seconds. The result also saw the trio sew up the FIA World Endurance Championship title.
“It is amazing to win Le Mans for the second time but the win came really unexpectedly,” said Alonso.
“We did not have the pace to win this race against car no.7 on track. Today luck was a big factor and this is part of motorsport.
“I feel for my team-mates who are actually more than team-mates, they are friends. They would have deserved the victory, but the race chose us to win it. Our main goal was to win the World Championship and we are very proud that we have achieved this.”