New Zealand Classic Car - - Special Feature -

In all hon­esty, the chance of get­ting Hart­ley on the top spot was go­ing to be a big ask in a car that had only been in a few races prior to the Grand Prix of en­durance or ef­fi­ciency. How­ever, with two-and-ahalf hours to go, there was a pal­pa­ble sense of hope and ex­pec­ta­tion in the Porsche camp, as Hart­ley and com­pany were in front — then re­al­ity set in. The car rolled to a stop with a dis­ap­pointed Web­ber grip­ping the steer­ing wheel in im­mense frus­tra­tion, hav­ing failed to fin­ish yet another 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

At this point, I would like to quote some­thing I said in last year’s piece on the race: “Porsche will be back next year. There’s no doubt about that, and prob­a­bly with a third car. They have a de­ter­mi­na­tion to get back to their pre­vi­ous win­ning ways. And, with another year of de­vel­op­ment and test­ing of the 919, who’s to say tro­phy num­ber 17 won’t be wing­ing its way back to Stuttgart in 2015.” Well, there you go.

Kiwi Tri­umph

This year was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish on a num­ber of lev­els. Audi, Toy­ota, and Porsche had three cars apiece. Nissan had re­joined the LMP1 fray with a odd-look­ing front-wheel drive thing, and New Zealand had four — that’s right, four — driv­ers in the 83rd run­ning of the old­est and most spec­tac­u­lar long- dis­tance race in the world.

Join­ing Hart­ley in a third 919 Hy­brid was Earl Bam­ber (24), who had also been locked into the Porsche fam­ily as a works racer. His main fo­cus is cam­paign­ing a 911 RSR in the Amer­i­can United Sportscar Cham­pi­onship, but he was called upon to take part in the Le Mans race, join­ing Ger­man For­mula One pi­lot, Nico Hülken­berg, and Bri­tish racer, Nick Tandy.

If that wasn’t good enough, As­ton Martin Rac­ing de­cided to run Richie Stan­away (for a full World En­durance Cham­pi­onship sea­son) in the LM GTE Pro class, along­side Alex Macdow­ell and Fer­nando Rees. Fi­nally, GP2 com­bat­ant Mitch Evans fea­tured in the Jota Sport’s — the de­fend­ing cham­pion — LMP2 car with Brits Si­mon Dolan and Oliver Tur­vey.

As any­one with even a pass­ing in­ter­est in motorsport will be well aware by now, three of the four Ki­wis in the field stood on the podium 24 hours af­ter the start­ing lights went out. Rookie Bam­ber won from Hart­ley, Evans fin­ished sec­ond, and Stan­away was robbed of a win by his co-driver Rees, who T-boned an LMP2 car in the morn­ing of the sec­ond day’s rac­ing.

It’s fan­tas­tic that af­ter 49 years, two Ki­wis have em­u­lated the ex­ploits of Chris Amon and Bruce

Mclaren, who won from fel­low Kiwi Denny Hulme in that his­toric Ford GT40 MK.II one–two fin­ish.

For me, though, the best part of the week­end was be­ing able to sit next to Sir Colin Gil­trap with less than two hours to go on Sun­day af­ter­noon, and see two New Zealand names at the top of the leader­board. Bam­ber, Hart­ley, and Evans are all pro­tégés of Sir Colin, and his in­vest­ment of faith, time, and money came to fruition at 3pm French time.

To see Sir Colin smile — let alone dis­play much more emo­tion — is an ex­traor­di­nar­ily rare thing. His ev­i­dent joy lit the pav­il­ion up, and he looked like a small boy who’d just been given the keys to a sweet shop.

“Isn’t that great see­ing those names at the top of the board,” said Sir Colin, “It’s very good to see young tal­ented New Zealan­ders do­ing well here at the 24 Hour.”

The win­ning Porsche 919 Hy­brid at speed

Earl Bam­ber af­ter his stint at around 1am Sun­day – re­laxed and in a good frame of mind

Sir Colin Gil­trap watches the Le Mans tim­ing screen, show­ing two Ki­wis in the top two places

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