Team75 Bernhard is located in Bruchmuhlbach-Miesau, in the district of Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, about 90 miles (144km) north west from Stuttgart. The team was founded in 2010 by Timo and his father Rüdiger Bernhard. Timo’s father Rüdiger, was himself an enthusiastic racing driver, and participated in numerous events preparing his race cars himself. The team includes one further Bernhard family member, that of Timo’s mother, who assists with the running of the team. Completing the team is Klaus Graf, a very experienced endurance racing driver, and his skill in managing the team includes the responsibility for structures and processes.
Timo, of course, needs little introduction with two overall Le Mans titles to his name, and being a Porsche works driver since 2002. A list of Timo’s achievements and driver CV can be found here.
Porsche Road & Race asked Timo, just ahead of the 2017 Spa 24 Hour race, what it was like to act as team owner when he is also an active endurance factory driver for Porsche:
This is a big step, a big commitment, when did the idea of creating your own team first emerge?
My dad has been a passionate racer since his early days and motorsport used to be a hobby for him. He started racing back in 1975 and took part in various hill climbs, slaloms and rallyes. Together we had over 40 years of motorsport experience and setting up our own team was a bit like ‘going back to the roots’ because motorsport has always been a big part of our family trips. In 2010, we founded Team75 (the name dates back to the year my dad started racing) with myself as a driver. We were able to win a few races and claim some overall rallye wins with the Porsche 911 GT3, and then in 2013 we decided to get involved in the German Porsche Carrera Cup.
How will this interfere with your Porsche factory commitments, or is this not a problem?
My main job clearly is to be a Porsche factory racing driver, and that will always take priority. My dad, my mum and Klaus Graf run the team on a day-to-day basis and update me on what’s going on. If my schedule allows I will be attending the races as I love being at the track and being able to bring in my experience.
How can you reconcile the responsibility of running your own team with that of being a Porsche factory driver?
I have a great team of people who helped me to build the team and run it. First of all, my parents – without them it wouldn’t have been possible. And our team manager, Klaus Graf, a former pro driver colleague, has got a ton of experience when it comes to racing, and we both complement each other very well. At the moment, the priority is my own racing career and the LMP1 project which demands my full commitment and focus. I support the team as best I can when my own schedule allows it and I trust my dad and Klaus 100% with running the team. Our success in the past proves that the set-up is working well and that we have the right people in place.
What is Porsche’s involvement in your team?
We are still a customer team but we have technical support from Porsche, especially at the 24 Hours of Spa where you cannot run competitively in the PRO category without the support of a manufacturer. Porsche have provided us with the top driver line up of Michael, Laurens and Kevin for our long-distance debut. For sure one of our goals for the future is to become a full factory team, but to build up a team doesn’t happen overnight, it needs to be done step by step and cannot be rushed. It is similar to building a career as a professional racing driver, it’s a marathon rather than a sprint.
At the races, how do you find it standing back and letting the others race? In some cases, these are your fellow factory drivers.
I can of course relate to what the drivers will go through. To oversee a 24-hour race from the pit wall will be a completely new experience for me. My dad, Klaus Graf the team manager and myself will share duties over the 24 hours and I’m actually really looking forward to it. It will for sure be a tough gig as well, and certainly something I need to adjust to. We have three top class drivers who all have loads of experience. (Endurance) racing is teamwork and everyone has their part to play. I will focus on my job and I fully trust the team and our drivers that everyone does the best job they possibly can.
What is your role in the team from a practical point of view?
As team owner, you need to have a 360° view on how the team is progressing and you need to have a plan where the team is heading. You try to give the right input to support and motivate everybody and to guide people into the right direction. And you need to know exactly what your team stands for – we see ourselves as ‘Racers’! And ultimately of course I need to make decisions about our future.
How many staff do you have in KÜS Team75 Bernhard?
At the GT Masters races, we have a team of 17 people for both GT3Rs including drivers and of course we have staff from the industry, from the different suppliers.
What plans do you have to expand, perhaps into other race series, and what is your goal for the team?
The goal for Team75 Bernhard has always been to race in the endurance category which we will finally achieve with our entry in Spa. It is a huge effort and operation to enter a 24-hour race and we want to learn as much as we can, do a good job and see the chequered flag. One of our goals for the future is to become a full factory team. We have to see how our debut in the long-distance racing scene goes, and take it from there. It takes time to put everything into place to run a team competitively and we are in no rush.
Do you want to eventually run your own team in the WEC or at Le Mans?
I love the WEC and I love Le Mans. As a driver and team owner I’ve gained a lot of experience in my career and it is hugely appealing to run a team in the Endurance Championship and at Le Mans. Both require a huge deal of commitment and dedication. We are only at the beginning with our venture into the long-distance category, so we are now focussing on our first race.
What was the biggest challenge in setting up your team?
Definitely the start. The question I got asked most was simply: Why? And that motivated me even more. My parents were the initiators of the project, especially my dad who always had great skills in preparing a race car and having this gut feeling to know exactly what is important and what to spend money on. And in a way, I wanted to provide him with a platform to showcase what he is capable of. He is the reason I became a racing driver and both my parents have always been there to support me on my journey from day one. If you’re new to this business, even if people knew me before, you have to earn their respect. When we started in 2013 it was a tough time and a steep learning curve which was necessary to set us up for our future path. We had to learn fast. After we won two races in the German Carrera Cup in 2014 with Earl Bamber, people started to take us seriously which helped a lot.
What is the biggest challenge in taking your own team to the Spa 24H, because this is quite different from arriving to drive?
It will be our very first 24-hour race in this set up. The biggest challenge is the preparation for the event and the prepping of the car and to know what’s important and what to focus on, how to set your priorities. You need to make sure to take a measured approach to motivate and guide the team through this process. It is a similar challenge to being a factory driver but of course as a team owner you have to take a wider view and look at the overall picture. I believe we have a lot of individual experience with long distance racing but there are lots of unknowns when you enter these kinds of races. In the end, we can only prep as best as we can and give it our best shot!
Will you attend all of your team’s races in the 2017 ADAC GT Masters this season?
My schedule is pretty full with my races, sponsor commitments and training and I’m not able to come to all the races of my team. However, whenever I get the chance I’m at the track to support them. I certainly follow the races when I’m busy myself. Through the internet and social media, it’s easy to keep an eye on what’s going on when I can’t be there myself. I’m planning to attend my home races at the Nürburgring and Hockenheim.
In your one car at Spa 24H you have three very experienced drivers (Christensen, Estre and Vanthoor), while in the GT Masters you have two cars. How will this work?
We are very fortunate to have Michael, Laurens and Kevin as Porsche factory drivers in our car for the 24 hours of Spa. That’s a brilliant driver line up and all of them have a great deal of experience. In the GT Masters, we have Michael Ammermüller who is a very experienced, top driver and Mathieu Jaminet, a Porsche young professional, who has great speed and potential in our #17 car. In our second car we have Chris Friedrich, a young driver coming up from club racing, and Adrien De Leener who gained a lot of experience in the Blancpain GT driving for WRT in previous years.
Why do you like Porsche? What drew you (personally) to drive Porsches in the first place?
My first memories of Porsche are the Rothmans 956 and Stefan Bellof which I watched on TV, that’s when my admiration for the brand first started. Back then it was a dream to be racing one of their cars one day. In 1999 I got taken up as a factory driver and over the last few years we’ve had a lot of success together. It’s an honour to fight for Porsche at Le Mans and in the World Endurance Championship in the top category LMP1. I live and breathe Porsche. To have won the World Championship title and Le Mans together was my dream come true.
This was the first 24-hour endurance race for the Team75 Bernhard team and crew, and as the 23rd hour came up, the #117 Porsche was leading the field. But due to pit stops throughout the race, the Porsche had one more stop to make which put it behind the top three cars in fourth place. This is the way it all finished one hour later, as the #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard Porsche claimed fourth spot, finishing 67 seconds back on the same lap as the winner. In one sense this is an excellent and commendable result at their first attempt and the team will return to its HQ much wiser. There will no doubt be much to discuss and a lot of data to analyse, but make no mistake, the KÜS Team75 Bernhard will return in 2018 with plans of victory uppermost in their minds.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Gruppe C GmbH