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.

NHRA playoffs kick off with Beckman, Crampton, Line, Savoie wins

Photos and videos courtesy of NHRA
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(NHRA media release)

MOHNTON, Pa. – It’s been over a year since Jack Beckman parked his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car in an NHRA winner’s circle but on Sunday at the 35th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil he came out on top.

Not only did Beckman defeat John Force in the final round at Maple Grove Raceway, he also took over the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series points lead.

“Our Sunday, I think it was perfect,” Beckman said. “That car was consistent, and it was fast. It’s one thing to be consistent and be a 10th (of a second) off the field but to run numbers as good as any other car out here, up and down the race track all four runs on race day.”

Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were victors in their respective divisions at the first race of the 2019 Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Beckman has been the runner-up four times in 2019 but it was his 3.958-second pass at 330.07 that gave him the holeshot win over Force’s quicker 3.952. One of the runner-up finishes was just two weeks ago at the U.S. Nationals against Force.

“In NHRA, you have zero control over what the car and driver in the other lane are doing,” Beckman said. “Did I want to beat him? Of course. Did it sting that he beat us in the Indy final? Duh. But none of that was going to help me be any better. Some fans came over before the final and said, ‘Hey, we’ll go razz John.’ And I said, ‘Don’t poke the bear.’ That guy, always seems to find a way to get motivated and win more races.”

It was a battle of Kalitta Motorsports in the Top Fuel final round but it was Crampton who raised the Wally trophy when he defeated his teammate Doug Kalitta with his 3.738 pass at 329.10 in his DHL dragster. Crampton now ties team owner and NHRA legend Connie Kalitta with 10 career wins.

Doug Kalitta snagged the Top Fuel points lead when previous leader and reigning champion Steve Torrence made an early exit in round one.

“It was definitely a great day for the whole team,” Crampton said. “All four cars are running good, particularly the dragsters, of course. But for Doug to take the points lead heading out of here, and we made a good jump in the points as well, that’s what we need to do. It’s that time of the year. It’s time to execute on race day and Connie and (crew chief) Kurt Elliott gave me the car to do it.”

Line earned his 50th Pro Stock title when he defeated Fernando Cuadra in the final round of eliminations thanks to his 6.553 pass at 210.60 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro. Line also took over the points lead from his KB teammate Bo Butner. Cuadra, who was completing in his first career final round, is also a KB powered car.

“It was a big victory, for sure,” Line said. “Not one of my shiner moments, but big victory, nonetheless. I was a little tardy (leaving the starting line) so not what you want to do in the final round. But 50 wins just means I’ve had some great race cars to drive and some great people I’ve gotten to work with over the years. It’s been a fun ride.”

Savoie picked up his second consecutive win on his White Alligator Racing Suzuki. He took down Steve Johnson with his 6.774 lap at 198.55 in the final round and went on to claim the Pro Stock Motorcycle points lead.

“It was just a great, great day for everyone. My whole team. I don’t take any of this credit. (Crew chief) Tim (Kulungian) and everybody on the team worked their butts off and here we are. At my age, I can do it. I didn’t count on making the top 10 because I took three races off. And, bam! Here we are. No one, not even myself expected this.”

The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues Sept. 27-29 with the second race of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs, the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Richie Crampton; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Austin Prock; 4. Brittany Force; 5. Clay Millican; 6. Mike Salinas; 7. Leah Pritchett; 8. Antron Brown; 9. Steve Torrence; 10. Jordan Vandergriff; 11. Dan Mercier; 12. Terry McMillen; 13. Todd Paton; 14. Billy Torrence; 15. Lex Joon; 16. Smax Smith.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman; 2. John Force; 3. Ron Capps; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. John Smith; 6. Tim Wilkerson; 7. Matt Hagan; 8. Robert Hight; 9. Shawn Langdon; 10. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 11. Jim Campbell; 12. Cruz Pedregon; 13. Jonnie Lindberg; 14. Mike McIntire; 15. Bob Tasca III; 16. Terry Haddock.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line; 2. Fernando Cuadra; 3. Matt Hartford; 4. Jeg Coughlin; 5. Deric Kramer; 6. Bo Butner; 7. Erica Enders; 8. Alex Laughlin; 9. Aaron Stanfield; 10. Kenny Delco; 11. Chris McGaha; 12. Bob Benza; 13. Greg Anderson; 14. Wally Stroupe; 15. David Miller; 16. Val Smeland.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. Steve Johnson; 3. Matt Smith; 4. Karen Stoffer; 5. Angelle Sampey; 6. Eddie Krawiec; 7. Andrew Hines; 8. Hector Arana Jr; 9. Angie Smith; 10. Ryan Oehler; 11. Kelly Clontz; 12. Jianna Salinas; 13. Michael Ray; 14. Scotty Pollacheck; 15. Hector Arana; 16. Ron Tornow.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Richie Crampton, 3.738 seconds, 329.10 mph def. Doug Kalitta, 3.779 seconds, 331.28 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.958, 330.07 def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.952, 328.78.

PRO STOCK: Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.553, 210.60 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.594, 208.78.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.774, 198.55 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.805, 196.59.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Austin Prock, 3.698, 331.61 def. Jordan Vandergriff, 3.757, 322.34; Mike Salinas, 3.818, 252.80 def. Billy Torrence, 4.727, 163.53; Brittany Force, 3.691, 326.79 def. Todd Paton, 4.265, 207.98; Leah Pritchett, 3.731, 326.40 def. Lex Joon, 4.858, 152.73; Doug Kalitta, 3.722, 330.96 def. Smax Smith, 8.356, 74.14; Richie Crampton, 3.733, 329.26 def. Dan Mercier, 3.892, 310.63; Antron Brown, 3.743, 328.30 def. Terry McMillen, 4.130, 237.59; Clay Millican, 3.752, 329.67 def. Steve Torrence, 3.741, 330.15; QUARTERFINALS — Crampton, 3.781, 324.44 def. Brown, 9.080, 81.48; Kalitta, 3.740, 329.83 def. Salinas, 4.354, 196.39; Prock, 4.735, 219.51 def. Pritchett, 5.736, 105.48; Force, 3.784, 306.67 def. Millican, 3.927, 266.42; SEMIFINALS — Crampton, 4.656, 164.57 def. Force, Broke; Kalitta, 3.740, 333.91 def. Prock, 4.015, 295.66; FINAL — Crampton, 3.738, 329.10 def. Kalitta, 3.779, 331.28.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — John Smith, Dodge Charger, 4.280, 245.05 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 6.422, 144.74; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.926, 320.36 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 10.025, 83.22; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.909, 327.51 def. Mike McIntire, Toyota, 5.898, 119.98; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.908, 331.45 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.204, 249.21; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.938, 326.40 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.752, 172.94; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.919, 331.04 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 5.774, 127.88; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.915, 329.58 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.977, 327.66; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.899, 332.02 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.961, 329.91; QUARTERFINALS — Force, 3.944, 331.61 def. Wilkerson, 7.140, 133.20; Beckman, 3.927, 331.61 def. Hight, 9.203, 83.25; Capps, 3.916, 329.18 def. Hagan, 8.623, 79.91; Todd, 3.949, 324.75 def. J. Smith, 4.013, 313.80; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.916, 331.12 def. Todd, 5.501, 167.26; Force, 3.929, 329.42 def. Capps, 4.262, 240.25; FINAL — Beckman, 3.958, 330.07 def. Force, 3.952, 328.78.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Fernando Cuadra, Chevy Camaro, 6.588, 209.75 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.578, 209.75 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.622, 211.06; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.549, 210.21 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.557, 210.54; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.552, 210.08 def. Bob Benza, Camaro, 6.593, 208.10; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.564, 209.92 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.587, 209.30; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.540, 210.44 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 17.922, 45.55; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.554, 209.36 def. David Miller, Dodge Dart, 19.609, 36.81; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.568, 210.44 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Hartford, 6.591, 209.75 def. Laughlin, 7.169, 205.82; Cuadra, 6.578, 209.56 def. Enders, 6.581, 209.07; Coughlin, 6.568, 209.65 def. Kramer, 6.571, 209.92; Line, 6.549, 210.41 def. Butner, 6.575, 210.41; SEMIFINALS — Cuadra, 6.598, 208.46 def. Coughlin, Foul – Red Light; Line, 6.572, 210.57 def. Hartford, 6.604, 210.73; FINAL — Line, 6.553, 210.60 def. Cuadra, 6.594, 208.78.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Matt Smith, 6.843, 198.15 def. Scotty Pollacheck, 7.109, 192.91; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.807, 195.11 def. Hector Arana, Foul – Red Light; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.891, 196.36 def. Angie Smith, 6.902, 196.19; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.837, 194.72 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.971, 193.18; Hector Arana Jr, 6.897, 197.19 def. Ryan Oehler, 6.946, 194.46; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.822, 197.31 def. Ron Tornow, Buell, Broke – No Show; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.865, 195.03 def. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 6.976, 191.40; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.871, 197.31 def. Michael Ray, 7.009, 189.71; QUARTERFINALS — M. Smith, 6.862, 199.58 def. Sampey, 6.857, 196.07; Johnson, 6.854, 195.42 def. Arana Jr, 6.967, 192.08; Stoffer, 6.847, 196.96 def. Krawiec, 6.878, 196.70; Savoie, 6.818, 197.10 def. Hines, 6.904, 196.44; SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.834, 195.70 def. M. Smith, 6.847, 198.64; Savoie, 6.818, 196.42 def. Stoffer, Foul – Red Light; FINAL — Savoie, 6.774, 198.55 def. Johnson, 6.805, 196.59.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta, 2,180; 2. Brittany Force, 2,147; 3. Steve Torrence, 2,133; 4. Antron Brown, 2,127; 5. Richie Crampton, 2,126; 6. Mike Salinas, 2,104; 7. Austin Prock, 2,094; 8. Leah Pritchett, 2,093; 9. Clay Millican, 2,092; 10. Billy Torrence, 2,032.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman, 2,179; 2. John Force, 2,160; 3. Robert Hight, 2,155; 4. Ron Capps, 2,136; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,105; 6. Matt Hagan, 2,092; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,089; 8. Bob Tasca III, 2,072; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,057; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,043.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line, 2,194; 2. Bo Butner, 2,155; 3. Alex Laughlin, 2,139; 4. Erica Enders, 2,116; 5. Matt Hartford, 2,103; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 2,099; 7. Deric Kramer, 2,095; 8. Greg Anderson, 2,092; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,041; 10. Val Smeland, 2,031.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie, 2,166; 2. Andrew Hines, 2,160; 3. Matt Smith, 2,143; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,134; 5. Karen Stoffer, 2,120; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,117; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,083; 8. Angie Smith, 2,062; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,042; 10. Hector Arana, 2,032.