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The Porsche “twins” that have appropriated Audi’s best

The Porsche "twins" that have appropriated Audi's best

“They called us the twins in the American Le Mans Series,” says Timo Bernhard of his long and fruitful collaboration with Romain Dumas, “because we were the same height. I always said he had a nicer face, he thought differently! “

It’s rare for two drivers to have success in so many different cars and environments for as long as Bernhard and Dumas. Together they took four wins at the Nurburgring 24 Hours between 2007 and 2011, won the Le Mans 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours, and claimed two ALMS class titles in the LMP2. The partnership also started fittingly, with Petit Le Mans GT pampering on their first pair in 2003.

That longevity means current Glickenhaus World Endurance Championship racer Dumas narrowly shadows another high-scoring teammate Bernhard, Mark Webber, although the DTM team boss only emphasizes “by a fraction of a percentage” over the ex-Formula 1 man.

Bernhard considers Webber, one-third of Porsche’s 2015 WEC LMP1 title-winning lineup with Brendon Hartley, a team player from whom he “learned a lot” and in particular cites his “feeling for a car with super-fast speeds beyond 270, 280 [km/h]Webber’s presence in the team gave Bernhard “this feeling that we get extra”.

“And with Romain it was a similar feeling,” explains Bernhard, who also has an outright victory at the Daytona 24 Hours in 2003. “In the end it’s only a fraction of a percent more than Mark. Probably because of the number of years, and also the different championships and types of cars, I would choose Romain.

“With Romain it was a logical match; the same height, the same seat and huge success in all areas, in all championships; shorter races, longer races. He was more aggressive than me, but it just matched really well. Probably in that era we have the strongest link.”

Their ALMS giant-killing displays featuring Penske’s “light and nimble” Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 car, a common thorn in the side of the more powerful but heavier Audi R10s that culminated in unmitigated glory at Sebring in 2008 with Emmanuel Collard, meant that there was a lot of demand for Bernhard and Dumas. Loaned as a pack to Audi’s R15 LMP1 program, they took top honors at Le Mans in 2010 with the redesigned R15-plus when they were joined by another longtime Porsche hand, Mike Rockenfeller.

Bernhard and Dumas switched from Porsche to Audi together and claimed Le Mans loot with Rockenfeller in 2010

Photo by: Dirk Klynsmith / Motorsport Images

After a reliability disaster for the faster Peugeot 908s, they set a new distance record of 397 laps yet to be beat, with Ingolstadt going 1-2-3 over Audi’s next golden trio – Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer. The leading line-up of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello had to settle for third after Kristensen was forced by Andy Priaulx’s BMW at the Porsche Curves and damaged the rear bodywork.

“I think at that time we were really at the peak of our capabilities, but also of our strength as a couple,” says Bernhard. “We were smoking the Audis in the ALMS, so we were all dialed in. When? [Audi] given the chance, they asked at Porsche if they could have us – for this pairing. That’s why they kept us at Audi as a couple.

“I think we could have performed individually by splitting up, but they saw the strength and said, ‘We have to keep them together’.

“He rides by feel and he has his ability to make something out of nothing. That was one of his strengths, so I wasn’t worried at all with him on the Nordschleife.” Timo Bernhard

“We have Mike Rockenfeller, who was also from this Porsche school, so it was kind of a Porsche car within the Audi team. It was the car I think during the week at Le Mans [in 2010] was the strongest trio to be honest, and in Audi it was also kind of a running joke that the Porsche car won within the Audi team. They saw the success and the functioning team we had, they really appreciated that.”

Racing the unforgiving, often bumpy and narrow circuits frequented by the ALMS – like Sebring, “where you need to be a little freestyle” – suited Dumas down to the ground. And it also served as a useful preparation for him to ringmasteras he won his first 24-hour race at the Nurburgring in 2007 when he and Marc Lieb joined 2006 winners Bernhard and Marcel Tiemann in their Manthey Porsche.

Bernhard and his Porsche bosses “pushed for him” before team boss Olaf Manthey gave in and chose to get the Frenchman on the field from the start of his first VLN race, for which Bernhard had qualified on pole.

“He said all the first lap he wasn’t breathing properly, his eyes were wide open!” Bernard chuckles.

Dumas helped Manthey achieve four at the trot by winning on each of his first three starts between 2007 and 2009, adding a fourth win in 2011 when Bernhard Tiemann and Pedro Lamy equaled his record of five wins.

Dumas and Bernhard won the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring four times together between 2007 and 2011.

Dumas and Bernhard won the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring four times together between 2007 and 2011.

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

“He didn’t have much time to adapt, but I knew he had the speed and ability to adapt quickly,” said Bernhard of the Pikes Peak Hillclimb record holder aboard VW’s ID.R electric beast, who also has two Spa 24 Hours wins from 2003 and 2010 to his credit. “He can also live with a bit of freestyle, not puzzling every detail of every piece of data together.

“He rides by feel and he has his ability to make something out of nothing. That was one of his strengths, so I wasn’t worried at all with him on the Nordschleife. He does rallies, he does all this crazy stuff so he knows how to survive in these environments.”

Where Bernhard was “probably more data-driven” of the pair, he appreciated that Dumas had complete confidence in his input.

“There was so much confidence on both sides,” he says. “He would look at it, ‘Okay, Timo told me so it must be true’. He followed that and in the end it just fit like a winning combination. Where you see these days [Kevin] Estre/[Michael] Christensen, this is something that has been built up over the years.”

Their long-standing partnership was broken up by Porsche motorsport boss Andreas Seidl on Weissach’s 2014 919 Hybrid LMP1 program, the end of an era Bernhard recalls “was certainly not easy”.

“Eventually they split this up to amplify both cars, to split the experience between both cars,” he says. “It was a tough decision he made, it was a bit of a sad point at the end. I remember after this phone call with Andreas we called each other to say, ‘Okay, it’s a bit of a difficult moment’. both felt the same that it was like an end of an era in a way.”

Dumas won a second Le Mans in 2016 alongside Neel Jani and Lieb following Toyota’s famous late implosion and secured the WEC title, with Bernhard adding his second title in Porsche’s swan song the following year with the 919 Hybrid alongside Hartley and Earl Bamber .

They reunited once in 2018 to share a 911 RSR GTE at Le Mans with Sven Muller, but their race was curtailed by suspension issues. But Dumas has driven for Bernhard’s GT3 squad, most recently at the 2019 Kyalami 9 Hours, so don’t rule out further collaborations between Porsche’s “twins” in the future.

Dumas and Bernhard have won Le Mans twice each, their mutual trust and complementary skills make their partnership a formidable one

Dumas and Bernhard have won Le Mans twice each, their mutual trust and complementary skills make their partnership a formidable one

Photo by: Drew Gibson / Motorsport Images