Meet the world champion set to storm Supercars

The Red Bull Holden Racing Team is excited to announce that Earl Bamber will join Shane van Gisbergen as co-driver in the no. 97 Commodore for the 2018 season of endurance. Bamber replaces van Gisbergen’s 2017 co-driver Matt Campbell, whose overseas racing commitments prevent him from joining the six-time Bathurst 1000-winning squad for a second year. The Red Bull Holden Racing Team are currently working towards having Matt drive Triple Eight’s V6 twin-turbo wildcard entry at the 2018 Bathurst 1000.

For now, get to know the sportscar star who will partner Shane van Gisbergen at the Red Bull Holden Racing Team for next year’s Supercars enduros…

For someone who’s suffering through a hellish pre-Christmas version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Earl Bamber is in a remarkably good mood when we finally track him down in, of all places, Doha. The Kuala Lumpur-based Kiwi’s trip to China from Europe has been delayed by snow in Frankfurt and a missed connection in Qatar, and the best route into China now looks to be through Kathmandu. It’s a scenario Bamber sighs is a “nightmare”, but one he’s not overly fussed about.

Why the glass half-full approach? The affable New Zealander can finally lift the lid on his driving plans for next year, and for the two-time Le Mans 24-Hour winner, it’s a plan that sees him trying something new, and something with a link to his past.

On Tuesday, the 27-year-old was named as a co-driver for the Supercars season of endurance for 2018, meaning Bamber gets to tackle Sandown, the Gold Coast and – most importantly – Bathurst for the first time. Even better, he gets to team up with good friend and compatriot Shane van Gisbergen in the Red Bull Holden Racing Team number 97 entry, with the old karting rivals from across the ‘dutch’ keen to conquer the Great Race for the first time in the same car.

For those not completely au fait with Bamber’s CV before his first Supercars stint, we’ll give you the (very) abridged version: he won the 24-Hour with Nick Tandy and F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg for Porsche in 2015, and doubled up with Timo Bernhard and 2018 Toro Rosso F1 driver (and fellow Kiwi) Brendon Hartley again this year, the trio winning the World Endurance Championship to boot. After Porsche announced it was ceasing its LMP1 program at the end of the year, Bamber will race for its GT squad in 2018, and will be back at Mount Panorama in February for the Bathurst 12-Hour, a race he’s already won the GT3 class of twice (2014 and 2016).

There’s plenty more we could tell you about Earl’s past, but what of his future in Supercars? Turns out a delayed flight or three is a good time to talk to Earl, your travel schedule sounds like a bit of a shocker, so we won’t complicate this first question. Why Supercars, and why now? 

Earl Bamber: To be honest, the Bathurst 1000 and going to Australia to do that race as a co-driver has been on my radar for a long time. Porsche has known I’ve wanted to do it, and 2018 is the first time where we haven’t had a calendar clash for the past three or four years. So as soon as I saw 2018 could be a possibility, I started to do some research. Shane is a good friend of mine, so we swapped some text messages and things started from there. (Race engineer) Jeromy Moore, who used to be at Triple Eight and is now in our Porsche team, he and I would always talk about Supercars. I was planning on coming down to Australia to be at one of the races to check it all out, but as it happened (Triple Eight boss) Roland Dane was at Fuji in Japan (for the WEC round this year), so we had a chat there. I had a gap in my calendar to come down to the Gold Coast and see things first-hand. At that stage, me racing one of these was just an idea, nothing more. But things obviously moved on from there, and here we are.

The category is just so cool. I watch every race no matter where I am, and if I can’t watch it live I have a social media ban so I can catch up with it later on and watch it ‘live’ without knowing what happened.

Shane van Gisbergen of Red Bull Holden Racing Team during the Vodafone Gold Coast 600, at the Surfers Paradise , Gold Coast, Queensland, October 20, 2017.

Getting a chance to race for an organisation like Triple Eight and for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team – it’s a great opportunity, but one that comes with plenty of expectation …

EB: The goal for me was that if I was coming down to do Supercars, I didn’t want to make up the numbers just to say I’ve done it. The goal was to be in a car that’s in contention to win, and being at Red Bull HRT, there’s no better team for that. You’re in the top seat, you have the biggest chance to win, and that’s a big incentive as well as a responsibility. Between Shane and Jamie (Whincup), they have two of the top guys on the grid, so the goal internally is to win the big races, and especially Bathurst. That’s what I wanted. They run such a good operation, and watching them up close at the Gold Coast, it’s a team of proper racing people who love to go motor racing. There’s big shoes for me to fill because Matty (Matt Campbell) was doing such a good job, and that car will hopefully be fighting for a championship by the time the endurance races come around. I’ve got a lot to learn from Shane and the team and the learning curve will be very big, so I can’t wait to sit in one of the cars and start that.

Getting a chance to drive with Shane in a Supercar must be a bit surreal in some ways, given how far you two go back? 

EB: It is funny to think we raced go-karts against each other as kids back home, Formula Fords … 15 years later we’re together, which is kind of crazy. To think me, Shane, Brendon, we were all kids in New Zealand that grew up racing karts together, and now we’re all around the world driving these race cars, and Brendon is in F1 next year. So yes, surreal. It’s a golden era for Kiwi motorsport at the moment.

How long do you need to wait to get some seat time in a RBHRT Commodore? 

EB: The truth is I’m not 100 per cent sure yet, but I know Roland and Shane are onto it to try to get me as much seat time as possible, and as early as we can. I’ve told them that if there’s any chance for me to drive anything, let me know and I’ll be straight down there. I actually have driven a Supercar before, many years ago when Shane was at Stone Brothers. It was actually Scott McLaughlin’s DVS car, so we’d be talking five, six years ago. I remember it being an awesome beast, really good fun, so I can’t wait to sink my teeth into one of the new cars as soon as we can find the time and a chance to.

Shane van Gisbergen of Red Bull Holden Racing Team during the Vodafone Gold Coast 600, at the Surfers Paradise , Gold Coast, Queensland, October 22, 2017.

The Bathurst 1000 will be the big one for you next year come October, but you’re back here for the Bathurst 12-Hour again in February – will it feel a bit different this time, knowing you’ll be back for the biggest Supercars race of the season? 

EB: We want to go there in February and try to win the race, for sure, but also for me, it’s part of my build-up. Be there on the grid, get the laps, get the miles, look at it from a different viewpoint. It’s going to be one of the most exciting things on my calendar for next year and it’s so new to me, so it’s a process I’m looking forward to it. I’ll also need time at Sandown, and Gold Coast too because I’ve not driven those tracks before. I’ll be more prepared for Gold Coast this time, because this year was my first time there, and I didn’t even bring a jumper to wear when the weather went nasty! Gutted! Bit of a rookie mistake …

By Matthew Clayton for