Motorsport: Hampton Downs festival set to roar

By Eric Thompson

Hartley, Bamber to put Porsche museum cars through paces
Brendon Hartley successfully campaigned in the Porsche 919 Hybrid last year.   Photo / Mark Webber
Brendon Hartley successfully campaigned in the Porsche 919 Hybrid last year. Photo / Mark Webber

During the early planning phase for this year's New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing at Hampton Downs, it's highly unlikely the organisers would have envisaged just how poignant it would to celebrate Porsche in 2016.

No one would have guessed that by the end of the 2015 international motor racing season, there would be a Kiwi who had won the Le Mans 24 Hour, and a fellow New Zealander would have been crowned the World Endurance Championship winner.

To cap it all off, both Earl Bamber (Le Mans winner) and Brendon Hartley (WEC winner) are Porsche factory works drivers.

The festival is held over two consecutive weekends, January 15-17 and 22-24, and both drivers will be on hand to demonstrate two very special cars. In a rare move, the Porsche museum in Stuttgart, Germany, has shipped out a 1977 Porsche 935 and a 1998 WSC LMP1 Prototype.

The forerunner of the 1998 WSC LMP1 car was the WSC-95 that won Le Mans in 1996 and 1997. Only two cars were built and the 1998 version made its last appearance in anger at the Petit Le Mans in the United States where it finished second, and the WSC-98 was retired at the end of 1998.

On the other hand, the 935 dominated global sports car racing in the late 1970s. It was the factory-racing version of the Porsche 911 turbo built for the FIA-Group 5 category. It was developed from the Carrera RSR 2.1 turbo prototype, which had finished second at Le Mans 24 Hours the previous year.

1977 was the start of a brilliantly successful career for the Type 935, which appeared in large numbers throughout the world in many shapes and sizes as race teams tried to find more speed. It won the 1979 Le Mans 24 Hour outright and many other endurance events, with an envious record of 123 wins from 370 starts.

"This will be the first time I'll actually be driving at the festival. I went last year, but only as a spectator, so it should be fun this time," said Hartley.

"I've never raced at Hampton Downs before and only done a few laps in a road car. So it's going to be great to go for a skid in a couple of factory racecars and I'm really looking forward to enjoying myself.

"I'm making the most of time back home in New Zealand, and while these weekends are a type of commitment, there are very enjoyable ones.

"I won't actually call it a job and it's great to be able to come back and do these things before heading to the US for the Daytona 24 Hour."

Bamber is in the same space as Hartley and it'll be a treat for fans to see two factory drivers showcasing some cool cars.

"I can't wait to get behind the wheel of the 935 and the prototype," he said. "It'll be so good to turn a few laps in the cars and while we won't be at full race pace, we'll be able to push them along a bit.

"Being able to drive these cars in front of all the Kiwi fans at home is pretty special, as I don't get to drive race cars at home much at all these days, so it makes the weekend special for me.

"The fans who have been watching our seasons on television will be able to get up close and see and hear these cars live. I can't wait."

The German manufacturer will also have two other factory cars at Hampton Downs - a 918 Spyder (the latest Porsche supercar) and a full-size model of the 919 Hybrid LMP1 car so successfully campaigned by Hartley and Bamber in 2015.

As well as Porsches, this weekend there is a full dance card of motor racing, including Formula 5000, Historic Muscle Cars and Pre-65, plus numerous other single seater and tin-top classes.

- NZ Herald

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