By IMSA Wire Service
In the grand tradition of great collaborations, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship fans are witnessing another in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.
They’ve become known as #Bamthor. It’s the new nickname taking hold in social media for the co-drivers of the No. 912 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR, Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor.
The name is taking on a life of its own after the duo’s back-to-back victories in the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach last month and the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio on May 5.
“We’re starting to get more and more known for this whole ‘Bamthor’ thing, which really just started out like a funny joke by somebody on Twitter,” Vanthoor says. “But now I see the hashtag is being used quite seriously. It just shows how good we get along.”
Just how “good” do they get along?
“I think we trust each other a lot, we respect each other even more, and that’s important,” said Vanthoor. “Because in the end, basically on a yearly basis, I spend as much time with him as I do with my wife, so you’d better get along well.
“I think it’s one of the best relationships I’ve had with a teammate. Not just on track – I live close to Porsche (headquarters) because my wife’s from the area and I often actually see Earl when we’re not racing. We’re also just good friends. Obviously, it’s like a married couple, where sometimes you have a discussion as well, which is perfectly normal.
“We have the kind of relationship where if I don’t feel well about something, I can just go up to him and say, ‘Hey, I don’t like this. What’s happening? Same from his side. I think that’s an important strength together to have.”
Their relationship off the racetrack clearly is paying dividends on it. Buoyed by the back-to-back victories, as well as a third-place showing in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, Bamber and Vanthoor are leading the WeatherTech Championship GTLM standings by seven points, 126-119, over the winners of the past two GTLM titles, Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R.
In fact, the No. 3 team’s performance the past two seasons – and Corvette Racing’s No. 4 team of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner winning the 2016 GTLM title – has provided a blueprint for the Porsche GT Team, and specifically the No. 912 squad, to follow.
“It’s all about teamwork,” Bamber said. “It’s important to qualify at the front because then you can stay out of trouble, and then it’s about executing perfectly. Corvette has been masters in GTLM for the last couple years of executing every race perfectly, so I guess our goal would be to try and emulate that.
“We’ve been studying quite hard about how they do things and how they’ve gone about winning championships, so I guess it’s just about trying to continue to beat the 3 each weekend and keep staying in front of them. Sometimes, it means you’ve got to take a second. Sometimes, it means you’ve got to take a third or fourth. If you have an average finishing rate of fourth place in the championship or higher, then you win the championship.”
This is also the third year of what was a “revolutionary” mid-engine layout for the Porsche 911 RSR when it debuted at the start of the 2017 season. That coincided with Vanthoor’s first year with the team, a year before he and Bamber were paired for the first time in the No. 912.
Both drivers attribute the car’s development as a critical reason for the team’s strong performance. This includes victories by the No. 911 trio of Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki at this year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts and the 2018 season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
“Obviously, this is the first mid-engine car that Porsche built in a long time, so I think it took a little while to get our heads around that idea,” Bamber said. “Now, certainly this year, they’ve really refined it and the car – even when we take it off the truck – wherever we go at any track, it’s definitely performing very, very well.”
“There’s a lot of details to make sure you have all those boxes ticked before you can actually be, let’s say, successful in that [GTLM] class,” Vanthoor added. “That’s why I think experience plays a big role to know which parts are important. To get all those small details right, it takes time. I can really see it now with our team.
“Now, it’s very good, but it takes time for things to go the way you want. For sure, the longer you’re there, the more experienced you are, the more you’re with the same people, it always helps in my opinion.”
Vanthoor and Bamber are together and teammates almost everywhere in 2019, except at next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Vanthoor will rejoin FIA World Endurance Championship points leaders Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen in the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR as the trio goes for their second consecutive GTE Pro class victory with the Germany-based Porsche GT Team.
“It will be different from last year for me because I’m a third driver joining Kevin and Michael,” Vanthoor said. “Last year, I think it was the second race of the [WEC] season, so we wanted to win Le Mans and that’s it. Now, it’s a little bit different because they are leading the world championship quite comfortably, but still, the main target is to win the championship – and preferably together with Le Mans, I guess.”
Bamber, meanwhile, will drive for the U.S.-based team alongside Pilet and Tandy in the No. 93 Porsche 911 RSR. Bamber is a two-time overall Le Mans winner in the LMP1 class, the first coming in 2015 alongside Tandy and Formula 1 racer Nico Hulkenberg.
“It’s going to be quite weird not being in the same car [as Vanthoor], obviously, also because we’ve got good momentum going from America with the team, engineering and stuff like that, to another car crew,” Bamber said. “That’s always a little bit weird to see all your mechanics and guys on the other side of the garage, but it’s just for one weekend.
“I’m looking forward to joining Nick, who obviously I had a lot of success with in 2015, and Patrick. I think we should form a pretty strong driver lineup to represent the American side of Porsche going to Le Mans.”
And two weeks after Le Mans, it’ll be back to normal for the No. 912 team, beginning with the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen on Sunday, June 30.
“Once we get back in, it’s pretty quickfire with three races in [late-June and] July, which is going to be pretty intense,” Bamber said. “That’s when the bulk of the points in the season will start to play out. I think we’ve got a good team of guys, and we’re all gunning pretty hard for the championship as well, flat out.”
“Yeah, obviously we have the championship lead, but it’s not even really worth thinking about,” Vanthoor added. “Sure, you have it in the back of your head, but you want to be smart and not do anything stupid. You’re not calculating yet or stuff like this. It’s way too early.”