Every year since 2015, Porsche factory drivers have pocketed the drivers’ title in the FIA World Endurance Championship with the 919 Hybrid Le Mans prototype. Finishing second at today’s six-hour race in Shanghai, Earl Bamber (NZ), Timo Bernhard (DE) and Brendon Hartley (NZ) succeeded the previous title winners Romain Dumas (FR), Neel Jani (CH) and Marc Lieb (DE). This marks the second driver’s world championship in the WEC for Bernhard and Hartley after 2015. With twelve race victories between them, the two are the most successful long-distance drivers in WEC history: they clinched their first world championship title in 2015 with Mark Webber (AU).
It’s enormously challenging for three drivers to share a race car at a 6- or 24-hour race. “Endurance racing is a team sport,” asserts Timo Bernhard. As the boss of the Porsche “Team 75 Bernhard” he knows what that involves. But he’s also very clear about the cooperation between drivers: “An endurance crew must be on the same page on personal and technical level. This is essential and you have to work at it.”
Each brings their own driving style with them, each as unique as their signature. They first have to adapt this style and then make an honest evaluation when setting up the car. The short practice time has to be divided between the three. Even with settled weather conditions, not all three draw the same cards in completing a qualifying simulation on fresh tyres. And not all three will get a chance to test a set of tyres at the end of its lifespan. Still, by race time, each must know how the car handles with new, used or worn-out rubber. Feedback about the grip level and turn-in response or warnings for wet spots or inattentive competitors have to be formulated reliably, classified correctly by the recipient and implemented. There is no room for personal preferences in the setup work. No one benefits from measures that only one can use. But all pay when one doesn’t cope. It’s all for one and one for all. While one musketeer is out on the track, the other two are glued to the monitors, listening to radio communications and consulting with the engineers.
A German and two Kiwis
At 36 years old, Timo Bernhard is the longest-serving Porsche works driver. The man from Saarland in southwest Germany launched his Porsche career in 1999 as a junior and was crowned champion in every category of Porsche’s motor racing pyramid. It was Bernhard who carried out the first function tests in 2013 with the first version of the Porsche 919 Hybrid. During the difficult initial test phase, he assisted the fledgling LMP squad in banding together. From 2014 until the end of 2016, he shared the car with the then 24-year-old Brendon Hartley from New Zealand, and Mark Webber. The Formula 1 ace from Australia and the young Kiwi benefitted from Bernhard’s experiences in endurance racing. The German has won all the classics: Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans and the Nürburgring 24-hour race five times. Hartley is grateful to have “learned so much from Timo and Mark.” For his part, his sheer speed earned him respect from the start. “Our young hotshot,” Bernhard used to call him as he gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder. Thumbs up for Hartley, who outside the cockpit was often rather shy at first. Webber grasped how things were done in endurance racing, he was delighted to discover the different atmosphere in the pits, and feeling rejuvenated, contributed his wealth of experience with serious downforce vehicles. Thus, the disparate three grew into a formidable triumvirate to become world champions in 2015.
When Webber, at the age of 40, stepped down at the end of 2016 after three years together, Bernhard and Hartley agreed: Earl Bamber was the man. Kiwi number two joined the team. He was eight months younger than his compatriot Hartley and a shooting star at Porsche: As the winner of the Porsche Motorsport International Cup Scholarship, he scored the title in the 2014 Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup as well as the Carrera Cup Asia, for the second time straight. At his debut in the Porsche 911 RSR at Petit Le Mans on Road Atlanta he promptly secured second. In early December 2014, Porsche signed him on as a works driver and in 2015 he joined the crew in the third Porsche 919 Hybrid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. There, he achieved the 17th outright victory for Porsche with Nico Hülkenberg (DE) and Nick Tandy (GB).
Hartley knew more about Bamber than just his race successes: the two had grown up together – city boy Brendon and country boy Earl. “My parents were happy to drive me to Earl’s farm, sometimes for quite long stays,” recalls Hartley, “and our summers there were great.” Bamber reveals: “Brendon learned to drive a car at our place,” before adding with a grin, “and he was confronted with some aspects of rural life.” Hartley replies, “Your father bribed me with sweets to teach you how to drive a kart.” The teacher was seven years old, his pupil was six. The two competed against each other until they were twelve, before going their separate ways. Hartley continued his single-seater career in Europe and quickly advanced. He was contracted as a reserve Formula 1 driver for Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso, he worked as a simulator driver for the Mercedes F1-team and, when things didn’t work out with a permanent F1 cockpit, he then discovered endurance racing in LMP2.
Bamber moved to Asia. He, too, successfully contested various single-seater classes before reorienting himself and his career at Porsche really took off. For the two, a preference for their continents remained: Today Hartley lives in Monaco, Bamber in Kuala Lumpur. “At home in New Zealand it was a big deal when two kiwis stood on the Le Mans podium as overall winners in 2017,” declares Bamber, “It was 1am there when the race finished and after that it was one big party.”
Bernhard’s motivation to request Bamber as the third driver was not only because of his impressive résumé: The New Zealander had previously contested the Carrera Cup Deutschland for his team. “Until I couldn’t hold on to him anymore because he was too good,” says the former-team boss with a laugh, as he slaps Bamber on the back.
Porsche secures third straight world championship title with the 919 Hybrid
Finishing second and third at the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship allowed Porsche to successfully defend the drivers’ world championship title as well as the one for manufacturers. The Porsche LMP Team will return home to Stuttgart with the manufacturers’ trophy for the third consecutive time. The works driver trio of Earl Bamber (NZ), Timo Bernhard (DE) and Brendon Hartley (NZ) finished second in the six-hour race of Shanghai and are the new world champions. Their teammates with the sister car – the outgoing world champion Neel Jani (CH), André Lotterer (DE) and Nick Tandy (GB) – came third in China. A technical issue early in the race had caused them to drop back. Victory in the WEC’s round eight of nine went to Toyota. Until the 174th of 195 laps it looked as if the manufacturers’ title would remain open until the final race in two weeks time. But then the second Toyota had to pit for repairs after a collision and the two Porsche 919 Hybrids each moved up a position.
The race took place on a consistently dry track with ambient temperatures of around 15 degrees Celsius. The abrasive tarmac of the Chinese Formula One circuit was a decisive factor as normal.
How the race went for car number 1:
Start driver Nick Tandy, who had his 33rd birthday today, battles with both Toyotas and successfully defends second position until a sensor issue drops him back on lap 19. He receives instructions via radio how to activate the back up solution. The 919 is running fine again, but Tandy is now in fourth position, running one minute and 15 seconds behind the third placed sister Porsche. Tandy refuels after 31 laps. End of lap 62 the second stop is due. Neel Jani continues on fresh tyres, he is now one lap down from the leading Toyota. With 75 laps completed, Jani uses a full course yellow period to fill up again. On lap 91 he is also lapped by the second Toyota (number 7). The next stop for fuel is due after 106 laps: pick up is removed from the front splitter and Jani gets two used and two new tyres. With 136 laps completed, the number 1 Porsche is refuelled again. André Lotterer jumps in and gives it a go on fresh tyres. He refuels after 167 laps (race lap 168) for the last time. When the number 7 Toyota needs to pit for repairs after a collision, Lotterer moves up to third.
How the race went for car number 2:
For a short time after the start, Earl Bamber manages to improve to third position but then has to let the faster number 8 Toyota go and finds himself back in fourth. When the other Porsche has its technical issue, Bamber goes into third. He refuels after 30 laps and after 61 laps, hands over to Brendon Hartley, who gets fresh tyres. After 76 laps the car is refuelled under Full Course Yellow. Three laps later Hartley is almost forced off track by a LMP2 car. There is contact but with no major damage. Having 107 laps completed, Hartley refuels again. The tyres stay on the car but the front hood is changed to get rid of pick up. On lap 126 Hartley is lapped by the leading number 8 Toyota. After 137 laps for the number 2 car, Hartley hands over to Timo Bernhard who continues on fresh tyres. He refuels after 166 laps (race lap 167) and gets promoted to P2 when the number 7 Toyota has its unscheduled repair stop.
The Porsche LMP Team after the race
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: “Today’s race told another chapter of an almost unbelievable success story that shortly comes to an end. For the achievement of six world championship titles and three Le Mans overall victories, this team deserves the highest praise. With a great team spirit and good fun, they had a common aim: to win races for Porsche. This was again rewarded today by the defence of both world championship titles. What we have experienced over especially the last three years will take some time to sink in. Hats off to every single team member that contributed to this success and I want to thank everyone at Porsche worldwide, especially the board. They have supported us right from the beginning, believed in us and gave the programme a high priority. Without this backing, we would not have won those races. This also goes for the great cooperation with our partners right from the beginning. Now I’m looking forward to an exciting race in Bahrain where many board members will join us. I’m utterly proud of our achievements over the recent years.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: “First of all congratulations to Toyota for a strong performance in today’s race. Congratulations also to Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley for the drivers’ championship. For sure it’s a sensational story to win all these titles and races three years in a row. At the same time, it was a big relief today not just for me but for the entire team that we could seal the two championships with one race remaining. It was not an easy situation in recent months, especially after the announcement was made to stop after this season. But we kept everyone focussed and built up a points gap in the middle of the season. We are really happy that this worked out today. A big thank you to everyone back home in Weissach for the sensational work they have done again this year. A big thank you to the race team here that was delivering despite all of the pressure at each race. And finally, a big thank you to all six drivers. What they have done this year was sensational team work – also between the two cars. “
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 1:
Neel Jani (33, Switzerland): “Our car number 1 crew has been unlucky this year, a throttle sensor problem causing us a problem in this race. But we would not have caught both Toyotas and so in this regard, it wasn’t a massive problem. Now we have to turn around this streak of bad luck in Bahrain – a race win would be great. Congratulations to the sister car crew for the title.”
André Lotterer (35, Germany): “It’s cool that we got on the podium with both Porsche crews. Congratulations to our three team mates for becoming the new world champions. It is great that we also won the manufacturers’ title, the team did a top job. For us it wasn’t easy today after we had the issue early in the race. It was basically a case of bringing it home after that.”
Nick Tandy (33, Great Britain): “The sensor issue is a big shame because we really were in the fight with the two Toyotas but the problem cost us nearly one lap. Afterwards only a safety car or a very fortunate full course yellow could have allowed us to get back in contention. However, we were lucky that we could stay in the race because it was not known how quickly the problem could be fixed. Congrats to Timo, Brendon and Earl.”
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 2
Earl Bamber (27, New Zealand): “World Champion! It just sounds amazing. The team was fighting hard for it all year and now we grab the manufacturers and drivers world championship. I did a double stint at the start of the race. It was okay but it didn’t look like we were on the right tyre. I just tried to manage the tyre as best as I could for the double stint. The tyres held on very, very well actually, but we didn’t have a chance against the Toyota. The task was to bring it home in third position which ultimately became second. This weekend is super special. I can hardly believe that I won my first championship with Porsche back in 2013, only four years ago.”
Timo Bernhard (36, Germany): “The second world championship title – this is kind of crazy and difficult to put in words. It is an honour to drive for the Porsche LMP Team and the brand, it is mega. I am relieved that we have secured both titles here. Now we can face Bahrain a little more relaxed. My stint was good but of course we knew a third place finish would be enough. I could have pushed harder but it just wasn’t necessary. Instead we slowed the car down a bit for safety. Toyota was not really within reach today, but the car was reliable and the crew did another sensational job. This is what endurance racing is about. Many, many thanks to everyone and of course to Brendon and Earl.”
Brendon Hartley (27, New Zealand): “I was second in the car and stayed there for 76 laps. We lost a lot of downforce in the beginning, so the first stint was hard work. At the stop, we changed the nose which improved this issue. But we had one set of tyres less than all the other cars after we lost one in qualifying. So this was a kind of game over for us. But we definitely have had an incredibly year. Taking the World Championship title after winning Le Mans – it might take a while until it all sinks in. I had a few busy weeks but sharing this moment with Earl and Timo I will not forget for the rest of my life.”
Porsche has crowned the 919 Hybrid’s career with a third consecutive Manufacturers’ World Championship title. A second and third place finish at the Shanghai 6-hour race on Sunday produced an early title decision at round eight of nine on the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC calendar. At the same time, Earl Bamber (NZ), Timo Bernhard (DE) and Brendon Hartley (NZ) clinched the drivers’ title. The Porsche 919 Hybrid has netted six world championships, three outright Le Mans wins, a total of 17 race wins including seven double victories, 19 pole positions and twelve fastest race laps from 33 races.
Michael Steiner, Board Member for Research and Development at Porsche AG: “Three manufacturers’ world championship titles and three Le Mans victories for the Porsche 919 Hybrid are confirmation of our initial bold decision to attempt something totally new. Especially in regard to battery technology, downsizing, efficiency improvements with the turbocharged petrol engine and, in particular, for energy recovery systems. We didn’t look for role models, instead we struck out on our own path. Only by doing this could we create such a strong package, which has enabled us to make huge progress on the racetrack and in our technical development centre.”
First victory in the maiden 2014 season
The career of the innovative Le Mans Prototype, with a system output of a good 900 hp (665 kW), in the top category (LMP1) can be likened to a journey in the fast lane: In 2014, Porsche unveils a unique drive concept. A compact, highly efficient two-litre, V4 turbocharged gasoline engine (500 hp/370 kW) is supplemented by brake and exhaust gas energy recovery systems. At the press of a button, the two energy recovery systems mobilise a boost of an extra 400 hp (294 kW), which gives the 919 a traction advantage under acceleration. While the normally aspirated power unit drives the rear axle, the high-performance electric motor gets to work at the front axle and transforms the Le Mans prototype into an all-wheel drive when exiting corners.
Already in its maiden 2014 season, the Porsche 919 Hybrid pockets two pole positions (Spa-Francorchamps/BE and São Paulo/BR) and its first victory at the six-hour finale (São Paulo/BR).
2015 Superior right down the line
For the 2015 season, Porsche retains the drive system – which is still the most advanced in motor racing today – but turns every component of the 919 inside out. The lessons of the debut season are implemented at a breathtaking development speed. The 919 is the car to beat in 2015: Neither Audi nor Toyota and Nissan as the fourth LMP1 works team manage to even once secure a front row grid position. The two front spots are the sole domain of Porsche. Neel Jani (CH) sets a qualifying record for the current track layout of the Circuit des 24 Heures of Le Mans: 13.629 kilometres in 3:16.887 minutes, averaging 249.2 km/h. The first of three overall Le Mans victories for the 919 follow thanks to Earl Bamber (NZ), Formula 1 driver Nico Hülkenberg (DE) and Nick Tandy (GB). The trio shares the third 919 Hybrid that Porsche fields that year. When it comes to Le Mans and prototypes, they are the least experienced – and yet of all the drivers to bring home the 17th outright victory in Porsche history, it is them. The most recent success had been back in 1998. Porsche – which is inextricably connected to the myth of Le Mans like no other car manufacturer – had not competed at the top echelon since 1999.
After the triumph at Le Mans, the world championship remains gripping. The points for the Le Mans winners don’t count towards the final classification. From the following six-hour races in Nürburgring (DE), Austin/Texas (USA), Fuji (JP) and Shanghai (CN), the trio Timo Bernhard (DE), Brendon Hartley (NZ) and Mark Webber (AU) yields four overall wins. On 1 November in Shanghai, Porsche celebrates the first Manufacturers’ World Championship title since 1986.
The name of the game at the Bahrain finale is to bring home the World Championship for Drivers. Bernhard/Hartley/Webber struggle with an ailing car. Over the course of the race, both throttle barrel levers of the combustion engine break. Quick-thinking mechanics fit two pliers into the red-hot engine and lock the barrels on full throttle. Engineers programme the engine management system in real time. Pit stops still work but only in electric drive. After two pit stops for repairs, the pilots have to settle for fifth place. Only when Marc Lieb (DE) in the second 919 outpaces the leading Audi-driver André Lotterer (DE) shortly after the halfway mark of the race does the title come back within reach. The nail-biting drama has a happy ending: Romain Dumas (FR), Jani and Lieb win the race and Bernhard/Hartley/Webber secure the world championship title. The drama, the driving prowess, and the impressive performance of the still-young team turn the 2015 finale into the highlight of 919 history.
2016 Always at the limit
For 2016, the competition returns stronger. Many details of the 919 get a makeover, but not a totally new design. The air becomes thinner. At Le Mans, Bernhard/Hartley/Webber are leading, only to have all hopes dashed when their 919 suffers a water pump failure. From midnight, the 919 shared by Dumas/Jani/Lieb is locked for hours in a distant duel with the fastest Toyota. Porsche’s simulation programme is constantly updated: will work, won’t work. When Jani pulls into the pits with a slow puncture for an unscheduled service several laps before the flag, a Toyota victory looks certain. But with one lap to go, the race takes a shocking turn for Toyota: Kazuki Nakajima (JP) loses power and rolls to a stop. Jani brings home the 18th overall victory for Porsche.
Dumas/Jani/Lieb lead the world championship, however, the season turns gnarly for the Le Mans winners. The rivalry within the team is staunch. Bernhard/Hartley/Webber claim victories at the Nürburgring, in Mexico City, in Austin and Shanghai. In China, Porsche scores its second Manufacturers’ World Championship title. At the finale in Bahrain, sixth place is enough for Dumas/Jani/Lieb to replace their teammates as the world champions. Bahrain is also a stage for farewells: Audi steps down from the WEC, Webber retires from professional motor racing, Dumas and Lieb leave the LMP1 programme.
New challenges for 2017
For the 2017 WEC season, the Porsche 919 Hybrid lines up on the grid with modifications to its aerodynamics and suspension as well as other efficiency improvements for the power train. The driver lineup has been reshuffled: The reigning world champion Jani now shares the No. 1 Porsche with André Lotterer (DE), who has been signed at Porsche after Audi’s withdrawal from the series. Tandy joins them as the third driver. In the sister car, Bamber joins forces with Bernhard/Hartley as a replacement for the retired Webber. For cost reasons, the WEC permits only two aero kits per season. Porsche focuses on Le Mans: the season highlight not only provides maximum prestige, but also awards double the points. The first two races at Silverstone (GB) and Spa (BE) are run under a damage-control strategy due to the aero kit, which is good for top speeds on the high-speed Le Mans circuit, but lacks downforce in the twisty passages. Second and third in England, third and fourth in Belgium. At Le Mans, two Porsche go head-to-head with three Toyota. In the qualifying and in the early stages of the race, Toyota sets the pace. At 6.30pm, the Porsche pit crew is alerted to a problem. In the 58th race lap, Bamber is running in fourth place, but has lost power at the front. The team leaps into action. At 7.35pm, the race is in its 78th lap when Hartley takes up the chase. Running in position 54 and 19 laps down, the situation looks hopeless.
Toyota sustains heavy losses in the night: Two prototypes retire, one has fallen far behind. The fierce fighting takes its toll, and in the morning, shortly after eleven o’clock, Porsche too falls victim: Holding a lead of 13 laps, Lotterer has to throw in the towel with an engine failure in the scorching heat. It’s now the moment of truth for the sister car: Bamber/Bernhard/Hartley plough through the field of the other classes. With 20 laps to the flag, Bernhard sweeps into the overall lead – his dream of winning Le Mans with Porsche is nigh. It’s the third outright victory for the 919 at Le Mans and the 19th for Porsche.
The Le Mans winners also claimed full points from the Nürburgring, in Mexico City and Austin. Bernhard and Hartley become the most successful drivers in WEC history. In Shanghai, after the eighth of nine WEC rounds, the third straight Manufacturer’s World Championship title for Porsche is secure. The Porsche 919 Hybrid has achieved everything.