Motorsport: Young Kiwi heads closer to big time

By Eric Thompson

Bamber and Porsche make for a good pairing as they showed in Abu Dhabi, writes Eric Thompson

Earl Bamber (NZ) had pole position for the first race at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi last weekend.
Earl Bamber (NZ) had pole position for the first race at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi last weekend.

A New Zealand Porsche driver was the standout performer at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi last weekend and it wasn't acknowledged exponent Craig Baird.

Rising Porsche star Earl Bamber was the darling of the weekend in only his second time in the Porsche Supercup. Bamber recently sealed the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia championship with a race to spare and rocked the established Supercup drivers by ignoring seniority and putting his car on pole for the first race of the weekend.

"I think we did rattle a few cages with our results over the weekend," said Bamber. "If someone had told me before the start of the weekend I would get a pole position and then get on the podium I'd probably have told them I didn't believe them.

"Especially as I don't drive the car all the time and, at this level, the standard is just so high."

Setting off from pole as the lights went out, fellow Kiwi Richie Stanaway held on to first place to lead the field into turn one. Fighting off the chasing pack for most of the race, Stanaway made a small error within sight of the flag that allowed Nicki Thiim to sweep past and win. Bamber had to console himself with his first podium result in the Porsche Supercup and the fastest race lap.

Not a bad result considering he's still finding his way in the category, which has seen other good Kiwi drivers such as Matt Halliday, Baird and Stanaway taking part.

"I don't think a New Zealand driver has been on the podium in a Supercup race before. I've found the Supercup has the highest level of Porsche drivers in the world," Bamber said.

"It doesn't mean any of the other Carrera Cup championships around the world are any weaker, it's just that you have every single champion from every single national category in the one race. And, on any given day, everybody can actually win.

"It is all about the guy who makes the least mistakes and does a good solid job - he's the guy who comes out on top. So it's always interesting."

Bamber has a good pedigree for a youngster, having won the New Zealand Grand Prix, been on the podium as an A1GP driver, finished runner-up in the Toyota Racing Series, won the Formula BMW Asia championship and now the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia title. For a bloke who has spent most of his time in cars without a roof, the 23-year-old from Whanganui has got to grips with the Porsche rather quickly.

"I've always loved Porsches and I enjoy driving them. Ever since I drove for Triple X at Ruapuna, I really liked it and was on the pace straight away. I haven't exactly worked out why I'm fast in them but maybe the way I drive suits the car," said Bamber.

Due to his form in the Asian championship, Bamber was given a chance to showcase his skills as one of eight drivers for the annual Porsche Scholarship event where contestants are assessed not only on their driver skills but also media handling and off-track behaviour.

If Bamber wins, he'll be taking a big step towards a full-time drive in the Supercup next year.

"Of course, I'd like to be able to do the whole championship but it's down to funding. If I do win the scholarship, which comes with a €200,000 prize fund, that'll go a long way towards the money for a full season. My results over last weekend can only help my cause.

"The team I've been racing for are really happy and to get a pole for them was brilliant and showed they did have a fast car. They're really keen to have me on board."

Bamber's back racing this weekend at the Macau Grand Prix and, if his current form continues, expect to see him on the podium again.

- NZ Herald

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