Two-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner Earl Bamber is in Mexico this weekend for round five of the World Endurance Championship. Bamber, along with his co-drivers Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, lead the championship and are looking to solidify their position at the top of the table.
The New Zealander's rise to becoming a Porsche factory driver began when he moved to Asia sensing that was the place to get a foothold as an international race car driver. The 27-year-old was a trend-setter in going to Asia when he first raced and won the Formula BMW Asia in 2006.
After travelling the world racing, he joined the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia (PCCA) one-make championship in 2013 and promptly won it, which opened the door to a Porsche scholarship and a gig in the SuperCup that he also won. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since Bamber's first foray into Asia a number of Kiwis have followed in his footsteps including his brother William (Will) Bamber. The younger brother is racing in his first full PCCA season and is handily placed in third with Martin Ragginger second and fellow Kiwi Chris van der Drift leading.
"This [PCCA] is my first full season since I raced in the Suzuki Swift Cup [winner 2010]," said Will Bamber. "I moved up here [China] after Earl did and for a while just had the odd drive before getting a fulltime drive.
"It was hard at first as I would get last-minute calls to race in different championships. I'd turn up at the track to just fill in for a driver so I didn't have much time to get used to the car or track and not many tyres.
"It was fantastic to be able to sign up for a full season, do pre-season testing. It's paying dividends now.
"I'm also racing in the China GT, the Asia Le Mans series in both sprint and endurance, the Blancpain series, and I also coach in the Thailand Porsche series. So it's getting pretty busy, which is really cool.
"Pretty much for the next four months I'll be racing every weekend in a different country."
Asia has a healthy number of new and growing race championships and categories and a lot of opportunities for drivers looking to get a foot in the door to build an international profile. And while Bamber is keen to race as much as possible, his primary goal is focusing on the PCCA.
One-make championships are one of the hardest to stand out in, as the skill level is pretty much the same and the drivers are all in the same car, so it's more about talent rather than machinery.
"Earl has shown what winning this championship can do for you and how much Porsche will support you. This year the field is high quality and valued all round the world.
"Most of the time if you do well in Carrera Cup people notice, and while the phone doesn't ring off the hook, you've put yourself in the frame and people notice," he said.
Bamber's hope is to follow his brother and get selected for a Porsche scholarship that in turn will open more doors. It's open to drivers under 26 years of age (Bamber is 23) and selection is not just based on race results.
"You don't actually have to win it [PCCA] to be selected for a scholarship. Basically Porsche China have a driver pool where we go away on boot camps.
"It's about fitness, media training and you get rated on every single thing about our driving and a whole heap of other stuff. There are six of us in the pool and we find out next week who's going to get picked to go to Europe in three weeks' time," said Bamber.
It's been a struggle for Bamber to get where he is and he's single-minded in grabbing every single opportunity that comes his way. The scholarship is top of mind for him as a way to continue climbing up the professional racing mountain.
1. Chris van der Drift 161
2. Martin Ragginger 154
3. Will Bamber 147
4. Andrew Tang 117
5. Zhang Dasheng 107
6. Phillip Hamprecht 102
7. Tanart Sathienthirakul 86
8. Akash Neil Nandy 78