Porsche Promotes Bamber And Tandy To LMP1 Duties, Hires Lotterer
Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy, and André Lotterer in a 919 Hybrid at Le Mans. That's just not fair.
As mentioned in a previous post, Porsche has hired two new GT class drivers to compete in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. Those two new drivers will effectively be replacing the two drivers who raced in that series last year who have been promoted to the Porsche's Hybrid LMP1 FIA WEC effort. I was slightly incredulous when Porsche announced that they were retiring Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas from their LMP1 team, but now that I know they're replacing those two with Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy, I am confident that the decision was well thought out. Those two drivers are highly aggressive and very fast in any car you choose to put them in. Both drivers have experience with Porsche's LMP1 team, as they won Le Mans teamed with F1 driver Nico Hulkenburg in 2015 (Porsche's 17th overall victory at Le Mans).
So you've got Bamber and Tandy in the car, who do you choose to replace Mark Webber? With Audi heading out of the class at the end of the 2016 season, it was only logical that Porsche hire the best prototype driver now a free agent. André Lotterer is a conusmate professional and will do an amazing job filling Webber's shoes. Sure, he doesn't have the celebrity cache, but he's got the speed and right now that's what Porsche needs more than anything. It would seem that Toyota will be doubling down on their LMP1 efforts to attempt to win that Le Mans 24 that keeps eluding them next year, and if Porscher rests for even a second on their laurels, they'll be overtaken in no time. While I didn't know it at the time, I asked a quite prophetic question at the end of the 2015 season during an interview with Earl Bamber. Over dinner, my discussion with him gravitated toward the rest of the LMP1 grid. The question was awkwardly phrased, but ammounted to "Who, not already on the Porsche team, would you prefer to team with? What other LMP1 team driver do you admire most?" Without hesitation, he replied by saying simply "André". Mark Webber, sitting just two seats away, broke away from his conversation to reply the exact same. So, there you have it, not only a fast shoe, but already admired by his team mates.
Earl Bamber is a quick New Zealander that started off on the traditional open-wheel path with go-karts as a child, then graduating through Formula Ford, Formula BMW, Toyota Open-Wheel, Formula Renault V6, and GP2. He represented Kiwis in the now-dead A1 GP series. After his open-wheel career died, he moved to tin-tops in 2010, taking on a Porsche GT3 Cup New Zealand championship. He moved up to Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, and then on to Porsche Supercup. In 2015 he joined the Porsche works team, where he won Le Mans. Yeah, he's good. Since then, Porsche has had him running in IMSA. This season was difficult, but he did manage to win one race. Here's a more in-depth profile I wrote on him back when Porsche first hired him, if you're interested.
Nick Tandy was hired by Porsche at the end of 2012 for the 2013 season. The British driver is super quick, and has the required downforce experience to take on the 2017 season in the 919 Hybrid with verve and gusto. He's had a very interesting career progression, having started out in short oval "Ministox" before moving on to Formula Ford. He moved up through Formula Palmer Audi where he won the championship in 2007, into Formula Three. His Formula Three contracts fell apart with some team issues, and Konrad offered him a spot in a Porsche Carrera Cup car. With no prior testing and having never been in the car before, he went on to finish second in his premier race. After a few seasons coming very close to the championship, Tandy was given an opportunity by Porsche to sort of float around the world running where he was needed, ALMS, ADAC GT Masters, International GT Open, and more. Paired with Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers, Tandy helped the Falken Tire Porsche win the 2013 Petit Le Mans. Hired to the factory RSR team for 2014, Tandy won the 24 hours of Daytona with Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet. In 2015, he won Le Mans. Overall. In an effort to get Tandy some more prototype seat time, they loaned him out to KCMG to run in their Oreca Nissan LMP2 car in WEC.
André Lotterer is a Belgian-German racing driver who claims the German flag as his, though he still lives in Belgium. He has been the non-Porsche racing driver that I have looked to for the last few years as one of the best. With Audi's LMP1 program since 2010, he's had years of experience at the pinnacle of sports car racing. He started his career in Formula 3, and succeeded in making it to Formula 1 as a Jaguar test driver in 2002. Ironically, Lotterer was passed up for the team's open seat in 2003 as they chose to hire Mark Webber instead. He's since raced in Champ Car, Super Formula, and Super GT, winning championships for Lexus in 2006 and 2009. 2009 was also the year that André made his Le Mans debut, filling in at the Kolles-run Audi LMP1 team, where he and fellow Le Mans rookie Charles Zwolsman raced the full 24 with just two drivers, finishing 7th overall. Audi was impressed with his drive in 2009 and offered him a spot on the works team for Le Mans in 2010, teaming with Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler to finish second overall. Since that time, Lotterer has been coming back with Audi to Le Mans and he's won three times (2011, 2012, and 2014). An accomplished prototype driver, he should be an excellent team leader for the #2 Porsche.
For more information, read Porsche's full press release here.