A little more than two months ago, Timo Bernhard became a member of an exclusive group of drivers to have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice. The German driver, victorious in 2010 with Audi and in 2017 with Porsche, shares his thoughts on the legendary endurance race.
His first participation: "I was still very young, I was just becoming a Porsche factory driver. I won for my first attempt in the GT class (Porsche 911 GT3-RS, Ed.) which is something that made this race unique for me. Once I left this race the first time in 2002, I said I have to make it as an overall winner because it was the biggest goal of my career. And it happened!"
His first overall win at Le Mans (2010 at the wheel of the Audi R15 Plus with Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller): "A lot of emotion, I mean it's something you work for for years and then it happened. I think the first time you cannot realize what happened, it's what I always tell myself, I want to feel it one more time to really make it stick because it's something you cannot imagine on this podium with tens of thousands of people in front of you. It's something very unique. It's the top of the line race for me in the world."
His worst memory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans: "This track has some danger involved. In 2011 (Audi R18 TDI, Ed.) we were fighting for the victory in the night and one of my teammates, Mike Rockenfeller, had a very big accident. In the first moments we were not sure how he was, so in the beginning we believed the worst. That is my worst memory because it's something I don't wish anybody to feel and I don't want to feel it again. Together with my teammate Romain (Dumas, Ed.), we really worried about what happened to Mike. Then we were glad, he was mostly unhurt, so that was a good relief to see that."
His favorite teammate: (laughs, Ed.) "I have to say there are many, I mean there's one I've had the most success with and that's Romain Dumas definitely, we drove the longest together that's for sure. But I would have to say with Mark Webber and Brendon (Hartley, Ed.) there was something unique that stuck us together and it's such a pity this combination never made it to a Le Mans victory...because I think the last three years (from 2014 to 2016, Ed.) we kept losing and of the three of us, Mark would have definitely deserved it."
His 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans (#2 Porsche 919 Hybrid with Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber): "Everything was going good in the beginning up until we had the mechanical problems with the hybrid system. We were not thinking about the position, we just focused on the job (when the car started again in 56th position and went on to win the race, Ed.) and do the maximum of what we can do, there was traffic but we had to make up time, we were really going hard to get a positive result."
The win in 2010 or in 2017: "The first one always stays, but the second victory is always special. It was something great to achieve. I mean, I am very fortunate to have achieved [two wins] with different manufacturers (Audi and Porsche, Ed.). You don't say it's better because it's not true. I mean to win Le Mans once already is something very, very big. In your racing career it's amazing, but to win with Porsche was just very special."
The image of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in Germany: "It is a very high one. It's the one that has the biggest reputation of all the races I do every year. It's when all the media in my region and in my country, it's when they have the most activities or broadcasts about me as a driver. It's always the highlight of the year. I have a neighbor I have to say, she's 86 years old, and she came two years ago, she called me to the fence and she said, 'ok congratulations for P2 overall but I have to say I was awake for the whole night, you made me watch the whole night on TV because I wanted to see where you are, so next time you have to win to make it up to me.' It is just nice to see how people, from an 86-year-old lady to a young kid, they all know Le Mans. The reputation of the race is special."
Before heading to Mexico for the fifth round of the World Endurance Championship (FAI WEC), Timo Bernhard will switch helmets to serve as the team manager for his own team, KÜS Team75 Bernhard, entering a Porsche 991 GT3 R at the 24 Hours of Spa next weekend with three factory drivers: Michael Christensen, Kévin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor.