This weekend, New Zealand is primed to repeat a feat not achieved since 1966: Two Kiwi drivers topping the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It could seem presumptuous to expect Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber to win on their first Le Mans outing in the same car – but when that car is a Porsche 919, and they (along with Timo Bernhard) make up one of the strongest trios on the grid it’s a pretty good bet that the two childhood mates can emulate Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon.
Victory this weekend is of course a much better bet than Bamber would have been when he lined up 2015. He was very much the long-shot. Along with Nick Tandy and F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg, the No.19 Porsche 919 was the ‘extra’ car, three rookies boosting the impressive Porsche works entry.
The approach was simple and audacious: give it the jandal until it breaks. It didn’t break and the trio won in style, and nobody was cheering louder than Amon back in New Zealand. 49 years earlier Amon had won the world’s biggest Sports car race alongside McLaren. Now a lad he had watched grow up as a racer, had become just the third Kiwi to win Le Mans.
Hartley, stood a step down in 2015, and while he would go on to claim that year’s World Endurance Championship alongside Bernhard and Mark Webber, he’d be to the first to admit that Le Mans remains the one he wants more than anything.
Of course, over 5000km of racing in changing conditions against a field of varying performance means nothing can be guaranteed – but our money is on Hartley and Bamber.