Tandy, Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg in 2015. Photo: Getty Images

Bamber, Tandy evolving, growing as Porsche factory drivers

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The dynamic shift from some of Porsche’s more senior factory drivers – names such as Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, Joerg Bergmeister, Patrick Long and Wolf Henzler – to its newer ones like Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber, Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and Sven Mueller has been an interesting trend to follow over the last few years.

As Porsche itself stands on the precipice of a big change to its motorsport program – its LMP1 program in the FIA World Endurance Championship ends at the end of 2017 and its Formula E program will come online for season six in 2019 – quite where it places all its factory stars over the coming years remains a question mark.

Tandy and Bamber have arguably been the closest of Porsche’s “new guard” joined at the hip over the last several seasons, similar to a Long and Bergmeister or a Bernhard and Dumas as was present from the early-to-mid-2000s into the 2010s. Long and Bergmeister still continue to drive together even in 2017, in a Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

This past weekend at Motul Petit Le Mans saw Tandy and Bamber back on U.S. soil in their somewhat natural habitat of a Porsche 911 RSR in the GT Le Mans class. Tandy was in search of his third Petit Le Mans victory in five years, having been a part of the final win for the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in the 2013 American Le Mans Series finale with Team Falken Tire, then part of the monumental overall win in 2015, with the new generation Porsche 911 RSR that first came online in 2014.

As third drivers rather than full-time U.S. drivers, Tandy and Bamber’s roles were different this past week, but both welcomed the chance to return and sample Porsche’s latest GTE masterpiece, the new mid-engined 911 RSR.

“We drove it a lot with the development cycle, so it’s not too different to get back in. It’s a 911 at heart,” Bamber said. “The engine’s moved in the middle. It’s a big improvement on the downforce side.”

Tandy added, “Like you say, the biggest thing is the amount of aero grip you’ve got. It frees up space in the diffuser area. The weight distribution on the old RSR wasn’t a massive detriment; even so the new car is within 1 percent of the old car. They’ve moved the engine forward, and the cockpit is completely different. The driver is more inside the cabin, and with the way the systems work on the car, the electronics are more different than the fundamental physics. Now this is much easier to drive. It’s a big step forward.”

Tandy’s 911 return came only a few days before he revealed a cool bit of news, that he’s got his own actual production 911 with his name on it.

Coming back to a 911 RSR was the reverse of what they did when they did their first two races in the Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 car in 2015, and Tandy more or less equated it to getting right back on a bike. It only takes four to five laps to re-adapt, he said.

Both drivers have raised their stock within the Porsche framework the last few years. Tandy came online as a factory driver at the end of 2012, Bamber at the end of 2014. Both have an overall win at Le Mans, with Bamber adding his second this year.

It’s beyond the cockpit though where they’ve evolved most, growing from drivers in privateer teams to understanding the sheer volume of people that make up a Porsche factory program.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – APRIL 15: Nick Tandy of Great Britain and Porsche LMP Team is interviewed by the media following qualifying for the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone on April 15, 2017 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

“Clearly you have to operate at a certain level to even be looked at as a factory driver at Porsche,” Tandy explained. “You can never buy experience. It just comes with time.

“As for the actual art of driving cars, and being fast, I don’t think anything’s changed since probably I joined the first year of Porsche. But what I’ve learned is how to be a more professional driver and work better in a team, in a multi-driver format.

“And I’ve gotten better at conducting endurance races. It’s not just about driving in endurance races. Everyone in this paddock can do that. But it’s how often can you repeat it, lap-to-lap? For us, doing different jobs with different teams, that’s something that you learn. So I hope I’ll continue to learn the next 5, 10, 15 years!

“Being a factory driver here is about reaching that peak, and then staying there.”

Bamber concurred. “Going from a Cup car, in Carrera Cup and Porsche Supercup, to then getting into the U.S. at the end of 2014, then it was obviously quite a big step in ’15. Driving-wise you don’t change too much. But you go from a small Cup team – with two mechanics and one engineer – to GTLM where there’s 40 people on a race weekend! How do you utilize all the tools around you?

“Then you go to LMP1 with 250-260 staff and there’s so many resources there. What you learn, is that you have so much manpower. You’re feeling different things. Moving from setting up a Cup car for sprint to a 911 for an endurance race was a difficult transition. It was such a big shift in the environment. But having Joerg Bergmeister as a teammate the first year was amazing. He made for great preparation.”

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The Porsche LMP Team 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy drives during practice for the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone on April 14, 2017 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

In the short-term, both Tandy and Bamber have expressed an interest in wanting to return to North American action full-time next season once the LMP1 program ends. Porsche traditionally reveals its programs for the following year at its Night of Champions event in Germany in December.

Looking a bit further ahead, with Porsche’s Formula E program coming online in 2019, both have interest there, owing to the technology involved.

“One of the things I loved about LMP1 class is developing new technology and we were a big part of that,” Tandy said. “It’s a developing formula… and a developing series. It’s interesting to me now. The manufacturers are developing their powertrains. All-spec wasn’t as interesting but now it’s becoming more open.”

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – APRIL 15: Earl Bamber of New Zealand and Porsche LMP Team is interviewed by the media following qualifying for the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone on April 15, 2017 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

Bamber added, “I think it’s quite interesting because on the driver lineup, the field there is world class. Outside of F1 it’s one of the toughest competitions with factory lineups. It’s all really interesting.

“I think winning with a private team isn’t interesting. But representing Porsche there would be special. We’ve proven we can build the best hybrid system in sports cars. Porsche wouldn’t go into it if it wasn’t a serious championship.

“I want to drive something I like driving… like the 911. You go out with a big smile on your face.”

There’s three more races left in the FIA WEC season, this weekend at Fuji where Porsche will retain its high-downforce aero package, with final races in China and Bahrain. Bamber, Bernhard and Brendon Hartley are poised to secure the driver’s championship with Porsche set to lock up the manufacturer’s championship. Porsche switched positions between the Nos. 2 and 1 cars the last couple races, so the No. 1 car’s lineup of Tandy, Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer is still in search of its first FIA WEC win this season.

Whatever happens the rest of the year, rest assured Bamber and Tandy have made their mark already as Porsche factory drivers and will be an asset to whichever program they are placed in for 2018.

Whether dinner or driving, Montoya and Cameron fast friends at Penske

Courtesy of IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dane Cameron’s reaction to being told he’d be paired with Juan Pablo Montoya on Team Penske’s DPI Acura didn’t signal the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“I sign my contract with (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric, and he says, ‘We’re going to put you with Montoya,’ ” Cameron told NBCSports.com, pausing to laugh. “I’m thinking ‘Did I do something wrong? Is he mad at me? Why is he giving me that guy? This is going to be a lot of work.’

“At first I wasn’t really sure what I was in for because (Montoya) definitely has a bit of a reputation. I was like, ‘Oh man, how is this going to go?’ ”

Actually, it’s gone really well.

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Entering this weekend’s season-opening Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Cameron and Montoya are the reigning champions of IMSA’s premier division. In their second year together, the No. 6 duo scored victories last season at Mid-Ohio, Detroit and Laguna Seca while finishing on the podium in seven consecutive events.

But it’s easy to understand why Cameron initially might have had reservations about a working relationship with Montoya.

Over a Hall of Fame career spanning more than two decades, the outspoken Colombian famous for his cutthroat indifference and swashbuckling sizzle has been embroiled in controversial rivalries with many of the world’s greatest drivers while blazing a winning trail in IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One.

Cameron, meanwhile, is a low-key native of Sonoma, California, who is the first three-time champion of the WeatherTech Series (since the IMSA merger of 2014) but whose professional driving experience is limited nearly exclusively to sports cars.

Yet since their first conversation – Montoya called Cameron while he was driving home from signing that first contract with Penske – their rapport has been strong, and as simpatico as they are behind the wheel, they also get along famously off the track.

“We have such a good relationship,” Montoya told NBCSports.com. “It’s amazing how well we bonded. We really created a friendship. We have massive amounts of trust in each other. Whether he makes a mistake or I make a mistake, there’s no judgment. We always seem to be there for each other, and we complement each other really well.

“I like going to dinner with this guy, put it that way. That doesn’t happen often.”

Cameron said his teammate’s loose and playful style immediately was a welcome relief. During one of his first media appearances with Team Penske’s IMSA driver lineup, Cameron was nervous about maintaining the team’s well-coiffed image of professionalism.

But as Montoya and teammate Helio Castroneves traded barbs about turning gray or graining weight, Cameron suddenly felt at ease.

“Juan’s a good guy to break the ice when it’s getting a little stuffy in the room to have a little joke or make fun of Helio coloring his hair just to lighten the mood,” Cameron said of Montoya. “If things are tense, he’s good. It’s silly and childish but fun. That helped me get more comfortable for sure

“He’s probably a little more brash than I am and likes to pick on people and have some fun, but I like to enjoy myself, too. If everything’s really serious, and you’re miserable, it’s tougher to perform in the car. If you’re enjoying yourself and surrounding yourself with the right people in a good environment, then things come together a lot easier.”

Cameron and Montoya never met before joining Team Penske’s relaunched sports car program two years ago. The team used the same formula for filling each of its Acuras: Pairing an IMSA champion with an IndyCar star.

Ricky Taylor and Castroneves were aligned in the No. 7, and Montoya was teamed with Cameron, who had won the 2016 DP title with Action Express Racing.

The No. 6 Acura in testing for the Rolex 24. Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron and Simon Pagenaud will share the car this weekend at Daytona (courtesy of IMSA).

“With (Cameron) winning the championship, we knew Montoya would have respect for him,” Cindric said. “We saw pretty quickly that (Montoya) could learn from (Cameron) in this form of racing. It’s been healthy. We’ve never had any problems with them.

“It’s good to see them have success and Montoya get another championship. He was so close to the IndyCar (title) with us, it was good to get one with him.”

Montoya, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and Cameron will be paired with another Indy 500 champion at Daytona as Simon Pagenaud joins their Rolex 24 entry for the second consecutive season. Montoya and Cameron still are seeking their first endurance victory, and Pagenaud bring the resume of a former American Le Mans Series champion.

The trio will split the driving over 24 hours while also compromising on myriad details, such as the positioning of the seat and pedals. Hitting a setup that can suit each driver’s style with optimized speed is among the biggest challenges in sports car racing.

“You have to find the right balance between standing up for what you really want and what you really need so you can perform and then maybe give up here and there on certain things that aren’t bothering you,” Cameron said. “When you find the right partnership and the right guy to be with, it really can push the program to the next level.”

Said Montoya: “It’s crazy that we always want the same things out of the car. We keep helping each other. And it’s funny because when I’m really happy with the car, he struggles a bit. And when he’s really happy with the car, I struggle a bit. And we kind of found that middle ground where we know it’s good. I can make it work here, and he can make it work there.”

Each has their own track-specific strengths, too. Montoya is a three-time Rolex 24 winner who excels on the Daytona road course, where Cameron still is seeking his first win. It’s the opposite at Sebring International Raceway, where Montoya says, “I know I suck, and Dane’s freaking unbelievable.”

Such brutal honesty is part of what makes Montoya a good teammate.

“He just wants to have fun and drive race cars and really isn’t into drama,” Cameron said. “Sometimes he can’t bite his tongue, but that makes everyone love him at the same time. We just found a really great way to have fun at the racetrack and become closer friends away from the track.

“He’s just the right guy.”

Juan Pablo Montoya (left) and Dane Cameron celebrated after winning at Laguna Seca last year (courtesy of IMSA).