Whanganui expat driver Earl Bamber has claimed his third podium at the iconic Le Mans 24 Hour race as his Porsche GT Team finished third in the GTE Pro trophy division in the early hours of Monday, NZ time.
After two trips around the clock, Bamber and his team of co-drivers Patrick Pilet (France) and Nick Tandy (England) had completed 342 laps, which is tellingly around 43 laps less than the unlimited power of the LMP1 vehicles which contest the overall title – a prize Bamber has won twice.
The Toyota Gazoo team with Spanish lead driver Fernando Alonso, a two-time Formula 1 world champion, took out the endurance race for the second straight year, beating their team mates by 16.9s, due to the other Toyota having to stop for a tyre change entering the last hour of racing, while SMP Racing were third.
In GTE, the winners were the AF Corse team of Daniel Serra (Brazil), James Calado (England) and Alessandrao Pier Guidi (Italy), with second place going to the other Porsche GT team of Frederic Makowiecki (France), Gianmaria Bruni (Italy) and Richard Lietz (Austria).
Bamber and his crew had a best speed of 213kmh during the event, making a good start as they completed their fastest lap over in just the third time around the circuit – 3m 50.279s – which was comparable to the winning AF Corse team (3m 50.125s on Lap 97) but behind their fellow Porsche drivers (3m 49.831s on Lap 304).
A lot of excited was generated in the fifth hour of racing, as the Corvette Racing car being driven by Germany's Mike Rockenfeller was reeled in by the chasing pack of Serra, another Porsche GT team with driver Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium) and then Bamber.
They ran nose to tail for multiple laps, with Bamber coming out fourth after they all went in for a pit stop.
At one point, Bamber's team was up to second, but with five hours remaining in the race in the early hours of the morning at Le Mans, they were hovering in the third to fourth GTE standings, as Serra's crew had gone up to the lead, while Rockenfeller and Vanthoor's team fell back off the pace.
Fellow Kiwi and IndyCar standout Scott Dixon came sixth for GTE in the Chip Ganassi Ford with American co-drivers Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook.
Ultimately, the Top 5 GTE cars occupied 20th to 24th on the overall placings.
Bamber's busy northern hemisphere season continues as he now heads to Germany for the Nurburgring 24 Hour race, then a week later he travels back to the United States for the next round of the IMSA championship at Watkins Glen.
Alonso's Le Mans overall victory will be his last in the World Endurance Championship for Toyota, as he is being replaced for next season by Bamber's fellow Kiwi, friend and 2017 Le Mans co-winner Brendon Hartley.