Bamber back to basics after Le Mans high

SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) - Earl Bamber's immediate focus, only days after winning the Le Mans 24 Hours with Porsche, was to get to grips with his washing.

While German team mate Nico Hulkenberg got back into the Formula One groove, proudly showing off his trophy at the Austrian Grand Prix, Bamber was enjoying a few days at home in Kuala Lumpur.

"Hopefully with this win it makes it a little easier to find more drives and keep racing. I hope that's one thing that will change a lot," the 24-year-old driver told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"But in terms of driving racing cars, it doesn't change anything. I've got a lot to learn. I just want to keep learning and battling.

"And after two months of intense work, it's just nice to come home and do the washing and do some cooking and cleaning at home. It's nice to come back to a normal lifestyle."

Bamber's achievement, as part of the least-experienced of the three Porsche factory crews with Hulkenberg and Britain's Nick Tandy, made him only the third New Zealander to win Le Mans.

The other two, as Ford team mates in 1966, were Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon.

But while Hulkenberg hit the headlines as the most famous name in the winning threesome, Bamber's story is more exotic and more heart-warming as the story of a triumph against the odds.

The man who grew up on a farm in Wanganui is a winner who got to the top on talent, rather than money, and with a bizarre detour through Inner Mongolia.

Bamber had contested several rounds of the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix single-seater series for the New Zealand team and in 2010, without a drive, turned up in the Inner Mongolian city of Ordos to commentate on a SuperLeague Formula race.

'CRAZY WEEKENDS'

When Portuguese driver Alvaro Parente forgot to apply for a Chinese visa, Bamber was in the right place at the right time.

He borrowed a race suit, gloves, helmet, boots and a head and neck support device and finished third in the first race before winning the final to pocket a 100,000 euros ($113,050.00) cheque.

The following weekend he was racing again on the streets of Beijing and collected another similar amount.

"It was just a great two weekends and kept me on the map. Stories like that are completely crazy," said Bamber, who went on to win the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia with the Malaysian Nexus Racing team.

That led to an invitation to compete for a Porsche international cup scholarship shootout, which he also won to secure funding for an entry into the Porsche Supercup -- a support series at Formula One weekends.

Last year, he won that as well and joined the factory lineup.

"It's a real credit to Porsche that you don't need the biggest budget to succeed. I almost started right from the bottom," said Bamber.

"The first year (in Carrera Cup) we didn't have enough money to buy the full allocation of tyres, so we had to sometimes use second hand tyres and we didn't have brake sensors on the car."

On Sunday, as he stood on top of the podium at Le Mans, he could only pinch himself in amazement.

Standing alongside was his childhood friend Brendon Hartley, the Palmerston North driver who shared the second-placed Porsche along with Australian Mark Webber and Germany's Timo Bernhard.

Hartley, whose father used to prepare both their go-kart engines, has been a Red Bull reserve driver and more recently a simulator developer for champions Mercedes in Formula One before switching to endurance racing.

Bamber might once have dreamed of Formula One, and would still like to try out a grand prix car for the experience, but endurance racing is very much the focus now.

"I haven't thought about Formula One for a long time and it's a difficult series at the moment, with the teams and sponsors and stuff like that," he said. "Put it this way; No-one's called me after the weekend."

($1 = 0.8846 euros)

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

Source: Reuters

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