The Porsche GT Team concluded the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season by winning the manufacturer, driver and team titles. At the final round of the season at Road Atlanta (USA), the two Porsche 911 RSR flying the Coca-Cola colours finished on positions five and six. This race marked the 50th and final factory outing for the successful GT vehicle from Stuttgart, which won six of the eleven rounds on the 2019 IMSA calendar. The Porsche works drivers Earl Bamber (New Zealand) and Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium) have been crowned the drivers’ champions, with the team title going to the squad campaigning the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR. In the GTD class, the Pfaff Motorsports customer team achieved a podium result with the No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The ten-hour Petit Le Mans race in the US state of Georgia was distinguished by the constant lapping manoeuvres. With 34 vehicles competing on the 3.6-kilometre circuit, the order was quickly established. When the safety car was deployed for a final time shortly before the finish, the gaps shrunk. In the ensuing 25-minute sprint, Bamber battled valiantly to clinch a podium spot, but was unable to do better than fifth place in the fierce competition of the GTLM class. For the final round of the season, the New Zealander and his Belgian teammate Vanthoor shared driving duties with the Frenchman Mathieu Jaminet in the ca. 510 hp 911 RSR, which is based on the high-performance Porsche 911 GT3 RS* road-going sports car. The No. 911 sister car helmed by Nick Tandy (Great Britain), Patrick Pilet and Frédéric Makowiecki (both France) secured sixth place. Tandy and Pilet concluded the season as runners-up in the drivers’ championship.
In the GTD class, Porsche development driver Lars Kern (Weissach) and his Canadian teammates Zacharie Robichon and Scott Hargrove scored a podium spot. The Porsche 911 GT3 R fielded by the customer squad Pfaff Motorsports finished its debut season in the North American sports car series on third place after a gripping finale.
Comments on the race
Fritz Enzinger (Vice President Motorsport): “It’s a historic day for Porsche Motorsport. After winning the manufacturers’ and drivers’ world championship titles in the FIA WEC, we’ve now also secured the titles in the 2019 IMSA championship. Thanks to all the drivers and the entire Porsche team for their excellent performances. Our incredible team spirit and the common goal of winning races for Porsche have made this success story possible.”
Pascal Zurlinden (Director Factory Motorsport): “That was definitely not our best race. We made a lot of small mistakes. Still, now it’s time to celebrate. We have every reason to party after winning all titles in the 2019 IMSA series. We’re now the champions of the FIA WEC and in North America – that’s something we can be extremely proud of.”
Steffen Höllwarth (Head of Operations IMSA Championship): “Our competitors were better today. It didn’t go so smoothly for us. But we have our eye on the big picture. We’ve won the manufacturers’ title and claimed positions one and two in the drivers’ and team classifications. All in all, it was a phenomenal season. We’ll enjoy our successes, but we’ll also analyse today’s race.”
Patrick Pilet (Porsche 911 RSR #911): “The race wasn’t easy, because we lacked some speed unfortunately. We don’t yet know the reason for this. Still, it’s a great day for Porsche. Together, we won all the titles. Congratulations to Earl and Laurens on winning the drivers’ championship. I’m now looking forward to the party we’ll have to celebrate being crowned manufacturers’ champions.”
Nick Tandy (Porsche 911 RSR #911): “You can’t win every race. Today wasn’t our day. Still, we achieved our goal of winning the championship. Congratulations to the entire Porsche squad and especially to Earl and Laurens. After a great season, the guys deserve to be champions.”
Frédéric Makowiecki (Porsche 911 RSR #911): “It was a perfect season for Porsche. If you take home all the titles in the enormously competitive GTLM class, then it’s proof of perfect teamwork, strong performances in the cockpit and an extremely competitive car. The Porsche 911 RSR has enabled us to secure many victories. The new 911 RSR has some big shoes to fill next season.”
Earl Bamber (Porsche 911 RSR #912): “The race was simply exhausting because we had to fight over ten hours. Unfortunately we didn’t have the pace to win today. Still, in spite of all the problems, we were within striking distance of the podium until the last lap. And that’s exactly what set us apart in this incredible season. Our perfect teamwork always gave us the opportunity to be right up the front when the going got tough. Now we’ll celebrate our titles.”
Laurens Vanthoor (Porsche 911 RSR #912): “I came to Porsche three years ago. I finally got the chance to drive in the USA. It’s something I’ve always wanted. The IMSA series was completely new territory for me. I had to get used to the racetracks, the processes and the car. Now I’ve won the title with my friend Earl. For me personally, a dream has come true.”
Mathieu Jaminet (Porsche 911 RSR #912): “That was a tough race. In the high temperatures in the first half of the race we weren’t fast enough. Only when the sun went down were we able to utilise the full potential of our Porsche 911 RSR. We fought to the last second, but it wasn’t enough. Still, the most important thing was to win the title – and that’s what we did. I’m proud to have contributed to this.”
1. Calado/Pier Guidi/Serra (GB/I/BR), Ferrari 488 GTE, 434 laps
2. Briscoe/Westbrook/Dixon (AUS/GB/NZ), Ford GT, 434 laps
3. Blomqvist/De Phillippi/Herta (GB/USA/USA), BW M8 GTE, 433 laps
5. Bamber/Vanthoor/Jaminet (NZ/B/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 433 laps
6. Pilet/Tandy/Makowiecki (F/GB/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 432 laps
1. Auberlen/Foley/Machavern (USA/USA/USA), BMW M6 GT3, 418 laps
2. Mies/Feller/Morad (D/CH/USA), Audi R8 LMS GT3, 418 laps
3. Robichon/Hargrove/Kern (CDN/CDN/D), Porsche 911 GT3 R, 418 laps
Mutual respect is the secret to success
The year is 2016. Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor meet for the first time in the narrow streets of the Special Administrative Region of Macau. It’s the GT World Cup: Bamber drives a Porsche 911 GT3 R, Vanthoor an Audi R8. At the title decider finale, the Porsche works driver overtakes his Belgian rival with a spectacular manoeuvre to snatch the lead. Several corners later, Vanthoor loses control of his vehicle and crashes into a wall. With sparks flying, his car slews along the track on its roof. Images zoom around the world. The race is halted and then red-flagged; the final result is taken from the lap prior to the accident. Vanthoor wins the title, Bamber the respect of his rival.
Today, they are both Porsche works drivers – and for the last two years, teammates, best friends and now champions of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Scoring fifth at the final race of the 2019 season, the two-time overall Le Mans winner Earl Bamber (New Zealand) and Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium) have crowned their impeccable alliance by winning the drivers’ title of the GTLM class. Sharing the cockpit of the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR, the successful duo celebrated victories at Long Beach, Mid-Ohio (both USA) as well as Bowmanville, Canada, and also finished on the podium at Daytona, Lime Rock, Road America and on the Virginia International Raceway.
Respect on all levels: no room for big egos
The mutual respect that developed between the two at their first encounter three years ago has deepened over the course of their time working together. “That’s one reason for our success,” says Vanthoor, whom Bamber has nicknamed Larry. “Earl and I have the utmost respect for each other. We talk openly about everything, there are no secrets between us. Of course we both have the typical racing driver gene. Each of us wants to be the fastest. But in our partnership, such competitive thinking plays no role. There’s no room for ego trips. We both have our strengths. If we can fully utilise these strengths then we’ll both be all the more successful.”
The 28-year-old Belgian, who lives near Porsche’s headquarters at Stuttgart, and the 29-year-old New Zealander based in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), harmonise perfectly on and off the racetrack. “We work despite the fact that we’re completely different,” says Earl Bamber, the 2014 Porsche Supercup champion. “Yet, we have a very close friendship, which goes far beyond our joint commitments as Porsche works drivers.”
Vanthoor and Bamber have contested almost 20 races and tests so far this season, and have spent a great deal of time together at hotels, at the racetracks and in planes. “Still, Earl always comes over to our place for dinner when he visits Stuttgart. He even joined our family on vacation for a few days,” says Vanthoor. “Sometimes I wonder who I see more often, my wife or Earl. It’s extraordinary, and it’s great. So great, in fact, that Porsche will have a tough time if they ever want to separate us as a driver pair.”
Sparks of friendship fly to the fans
The newly-crowned champions also spend time together during endurance training. In the Vanthoor’s family workshop at home, the Belgian built his teammate a custom racing bike. And off they went. “We always have a lot of fun on those bike trips together. We spend a lot more of our leisure time together than other driver duos. When we go out, things sometimes happen that should probably not be made public,” says Vanthoor with a grin. “We’re kind of like a married couple. We like and respect each other. We don’t always agree but we always find a solution that both of us can live with. It makes us strong.”
The special relationship between the Porsche works drivers, who have contested the North American sports car series together since 2018, is also well received by the fans. “That’s apparent by the fact that there’s now a rather popular Twitter hashtag, #BamThor,” explains Vanthoor, who is responsible for qualifying the car at all race events. “This Twitter idea didn’t come from us, it came from our fans. People notice that we get on really well and that we’re close friends. We gratefully adopted it,” says Bamber. Under the hashtag #BamThor, the two Porsche drivers sell their own merchandising products to fans, who now eagerly await a championship t-shirt.