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‘A big responsibility’: Earl Bamber prepares to debut

Shane van Gisbergen’s teammate is ready to throw himself into his first race with the Red Bull Holden Racing Team at Sandown this Sunday. 

By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com

 

There’s busy, and then there’s Earl Bamber busy. Between when we caught up with Shane van Gisbergen’s co-driver for the upcoming Supercars enduros last week to when you read this, Bamber completed a test day for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team at Queensland Raceway, flew to the US the next day to take part in the IMSA Sportscar Championship at Laguna Seca driving for Porsche (where he finished second with teammate Laurens Vanthoor), and then flew straight back to Melbourne to get ready for this weekend’s Sandown 500.

That, by the way, was after he’d driven at Suzuka in Japan in late August, and then made a pit stop in Germany en route to Australia. Hectic doesn’t even begin to describe it. But Bamber wouldn’t have it any other way. “No chance to get bored, is there?” he shrugs.

The two-time Le Mans 24-Hour winner has waited a long time for his maiden Supercars race weekend; Bamber signed on last December to partner compatriot, former rival and good mate SVG in this year’s enduros, which start with Sandown before Bathurst (October 4-7) and Gold Coast (October 19-21) round out the biggest six weeks of the Supercar season. It’s a debut that has been months in the making – and the preparation.

“I came down to Australia in February and did some Development Series running, and that was when I went to the workshop to meet everybody, mainly because I wanted to be at Winton for the co-driver session in May and didn’t want to introduce myself as some random guy then,” he explains.

“Winton was good, even if it was raining. I’ve had limited experience in these cars, obviously, so to do some wet running means I have a sense of how these cars perform if it rains before I actually have to do it.

“Besides that, I’ve been in touch with Shane all year, and with the team too. No matter where I’m racing somewhere else in the world, I always watch the Supercars races, and live if I can. So I feel like I’m on top of the season and the story that I’m about to step into.”

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Bamber has proven himself to be more than capable of driving whatever he slides his backside into, but the Holden Commodore ZB is entirely different beast from his regular Porsche 911 RSR mount. Which is where extra laps – and repeatedly picking the brain of his Supercars championship-leading teammate – comes in handy.

“There’s a lot of differences, obviously, but for me it’s more trying to work on braking, trying to stop the thing well,” he says.

“Being able to use Shane as a reference for that is quite a high benchmark. Other than that, it’s learning how the tyres wear, how to use them the best way on a long run … that’s quite a special thing with these cars, a particular thing. But driving here for this team, I can imagine it would be easier than driving for other teams because the car is so well sorted before you even get in it. They’re so on top of their game with everything.

“Shane has so much experience in this category that he can tell you all the little tricks and fast-track me along the way. It’s a massive help, to be able to bounce things off him and use that bank of knowledge he’s been able to build up over 10 years.”

Bamber has done plenty of laps at Bathurst as a regular in the annual 12-Hour at Mount Panorama the past four years, but has never turned a wheel in anything at Sandown. With SVG leading fellow Kiwi Scott McLaughlin by just 19 points in the standings with eight of the 31 races remaining, there’ll be plenty of pressure on the co-drivers across the three enduros to perform for themselves in isolation, but to keep their main game teammates in the title hunt. In an unfamiliar car on an unfamiliar track, that’s no easy task.

As Bamber sees it, the pressure would be there regardless of whether SVG’s car carried the orange number 97 (denoting the series leader) or not at Sandown.

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“It’s a tough one for everybody, the co-drivers, the main drivers … to have someone come in for the middle of the season and for three such big races shakes it up a lot,” he admits.

“But it’s the same for all of us who come in for these three events. The performance of the co-drivers … we have a big responsibility.

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“I’m not thinking about there being any added pressure just because Shane leads the championship. There would be the same pressure and the same expectation regardless of whether Shane was leading or not, because this team wants success. Say he was 10th … there’d be the same pressure from (team principal) Roland (Dane) to win Sandown, to win Bathurst, to win Gold Coast. Which is good, and it’s why I wanted to come here.

“When everything was signed for me to do this last December, there was a pretty clear expectation of what was required and what the goals were. That’s why I so wanted to come to this team. Just because Shane’s car has the orange number on the side for Sandown, it doesn’t change much. My goals now are what they were then.”