After narrowly missing out on a podium spot in 2018, works driver Earl Bamber arrived in Macau last weekend determined to make up for last year’s disappointment. “I had a very fast car last year, especially in the race, but there was no chance to overtake on this tight and fast circuit, which prevented me from getting to the very front. This year we need to do everything we can to achieve a better grid position in qualifying.”
In formation with his Rowe teammate, Laurens Vanthoor, the pair worked hard to make that vision a reality, securing third and fourth place on the grid in Friday’s qualifying session: Bamber circulating the 6.1-kilometre Guia Circuit in just 2:16.066 minutes with Vanthoor just 0.129 seconds behind.
World sports car champion Kévin Estre was less fortunate, however, with his No. 912 GT3 R requiring extensive repairs after sustaining damage in an earlier practice session. This set back placed him towards the rear of the grid for the following day’s Qualifying Race, while his Absolute Racing teammate, Imperatori, secured a respectable ninth place grid spot.
Saturday’s 12-lap Qualifying Race was, in typical Macau style, fraught with accidents and multiple safety car phases. Mercifully, none of these incidents involved Bamber and Vanthoor, the pair making up one place each in the first lap. The two reigning IMSA champions then proceeded to put the leader under pressure, posting the fastest lap times in their 911 GT3 R racers.
However, due to the Guia Circuit’s tight and technical layout (being just seven metres wide at points) the leader, Raffaele Marciello, proved to be unassailable, leaving Bamber and Vanthoor to cross the line in second and third position respectively. Meanwhile, further down the field Estre demonstrated his world champion credentials, by making up nine positions over the course of the race, putting him in an incredible eighth place by the time the chequered flag was unfurled. Teammate Imperatori in car No. 911 put in a flawless drive to finish sixth.
By the time the 18-lap blue ribband event came around on Sunday, it was clear that Bamber and Vanthoor were ready to take the fight to the leading Mercedes. Almost immediately Vanthoor with his superior race pace overtook teammate Bamber, setting his sights on the leader. However, just like his Kiwi colleague had experienced the day before, finding a way past the wide-hipped Mercedes proved virtually impossible.
On the 12th lap, Vanthoor gave up his position, giving Bamber a chance to pile the pressure on Marciello. Bamber metronomically posted one record lap after the other, setting him up for one final passing attempt on the last lap. Unfortunately, it was to be in vain with the Mercedes hanging on to take the win.
Bamber, meanwhile, showed the fans that the Bamthoor bromance is still alive and well, by easing off the gas before the chequered flag to hand a well-deserved second place back to Vanthoor.
Earl Bamber (Porsche 911 GT3 R No. 98): “That was an exciting and intense race. Our car was really fast, particularly in the corners. Unfortunately we had no chance to overtake on the straights. Our team worked perfectly together. After Laurens had tried everything to get past the leader, he let me past to have a go and I tried as well to the flag. We weren’t far off, I was on the bumper of the leading car but there was just no way past. Unfortunately we have to wait for our first Macau victory, but podium spots aren’t bad either.”
The race was an altogether less successful affair, however, for Absolute Racing teammates Estre and Imperatori – Imperatori retiring after coming together with Estre at Lisboa, while shortly after Estre crashed out at the fast Mandarin turn on lap four. Until their early retirement, the pair had put in a strong drive with thrilling duels.
Kévin Estre (Porsche 911 GT3 R No. 912): “My start was good and I managed to make up one position. I was then behind my teammate Alex. Unfortunately there was a misunderstanding and our cars made contact while overtaking. My car was fast and I wanted to get ahead. I took a big risk and I overdid it slightly in the Mandarin corner: I hit the inside of the kerb, veered too wide and landed in the barrier – and that was the end.”
So, that’s the end of another thrilling race weekend at Macau, but we thought we’d leave the final word to our Vice President of Motorsport Fritz Enzinger: “At the end of the day, it was anything but a bad weekend for Porsche with two podium finishes on Saturday and Sunday. We’re satisfied, but we still have a score to settle in Macau.”
Same time next year, then?