Perhaps not one of the most popular racing drivers in Germany, Timo Bernhard is surely one of the most successful German motorsport racers in the 21st century, having won many prestigious races in various competitions.
Most recently, he won the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship title, together with Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber. It's his second FIA WEC title. Previously, he was a champion in 2015. Bernhard is also a two-time overall winner of 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 2010 with Audi R15 TDI and in 2017 with Porsche 919 Hybrid. Back in 2002, he was GT class Le Mans 24h winner in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
Bernhard is also among the record-holders with five wins at 24 Hours of Nurburgring.
A start in open-wheel racing
Bernhard was born on February 24, 1981, in Homburg, Saarland region. He made his racing debut in karting as a 10-year-old boy and immediately achieved good results, becoming a German junior champion while finishing fifth in the FIA World Championship.
It was obvious that he had a lot of potential, and he proved it in the following years as he always was close to the top of the standings.
Finally, in 1998, Bernhard stepped up the ranks and moved to Formula Ford series, finishing sixth both in the German championship and Euroseries. Next year was Bernhard’s last in open-wheel racing and was marked with third place in German Formula Ford championship.
Porsche Carrera Cup champion in 2001
End of the millennium brought new beginning to Bernhard as he debuted in Porsche Supercup as a UPS Porsche junior driver and at the end of the season he was third. Results achieved in the following year definitely proved that Timo Bernhard will become a world class racer.
He won Porsche Carrera Cup championship title and made a debut in American Le Mans Series, driving for Alex Job Racing. Partnering Randy Pobst and Christian Menzel, Bernhard finished second in GT class at 12 Hours of Sebring.
2002 - GT class wins at Daytona and Le Mans
The stage was set for Bernhard to start his string of successes. The start of 2002 was perfect as he won the class at 24 Hours of Daytona for the Racer’s group, then finished second at 24 Hours of Nurburgring, this time with Alzen Motorsport, while the top of the crop was GT class victory at 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing the seat with Kevin Buckler and Lucas Luhr.
In the meantime, Bernhard also competed in the ALMS in which he was fourth overall, and in the Porsche Carrera Cup where he was third at the end of the season.
ALMS GT champion in 2004
Driving Porsche 911 GT3-RS, Timo Bernhard again won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2003, while in the ALMS he won three races together with Jorg Bergmeister, finishing the season as the runners-up in the overall standings. Their partnership proved to be even better in 2004 as they clinched six wins in nine starts of the ALMS and won GT class championship title. In the 24 Hours of Spa, Bernhard finished fourth overall and second in the class, and for the third-year-in-a-row secured podium finish at 24 Hours of Nurburgring, driving Manthey Racing Porsche.
For the 2005 ALMS campaign, Bernhard joined Romain Dumas. They scored four class wins driving a Porsche, but that wasn’t enough for clinching another title, as they finished second. At 24 Hours of Le Mans, Bernhard finished second in the GT2 class, driving for Petersen Motorsports.
Joining Team Penske in 2006, winning ALMS titles in 2007 and 2008
Bernhard was ready for a new challenge in 2006 when he joined Team Penske, driving the new Porsche RS Spyder. The season didn’t go as good as they expected, but overall victory at Mid-Ohio and LMP2 class win at Petit Le Mans left them third at the end of the year. Interestingly, victory at Mid-Ohio was the first overall win for the LMP2 class car.
And again, Bernhard triumphed at 24 Hours of Nurburgring, sharing the seat with Mike Rockenfeller, Lucas Luhr, and Marcel Tiemann.
Success at Nurburgring was repeated in 2007, while in the American Le Mans Series, Bernhard was more successful than in the previous year. With his second season with Team Penske, Bernhard took six victories and won the overall title. Timo Bernhard’s supremacy continued in 2008 as he defended his ALMS title, scoring four race wins, including 12 Hours of Sebring, and again was the winner of the famous endurance race at Nürburgring.
Switch to Audi and victory at 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours
Next station in Bernhard’s career was Audi. Together with Dumas, Timo joined the well-known Joest Racing which ran the new R15 TDI. The first year with the new team could be described as one to be forgotten, but in the second season, things improved.
Driving with Dumas and Rockenfeller, Bernhard clinched an overall win at 24 Hours of Le Mans. This was the first win for either driver and set records throughout and after the race, including breaking the 1971 distance record as they drove 397 laps and 5.410,713 km. In 2010, Timo Bernhard was voted ADAC sportsman of the year.
Return to Porsche and WEC title
Another victory at 24 Hours of Nurburgring was scored in 2011, again driving Manthey Racing’s Porsche, but in 2012 most notable results were second place at 12 Hours of Sebring and two podium finishes in VLN championship. Driving Porsche GT3 Cup for his father’s Team 75 Bernhard, Timo won ADAC Saarland Rallye.
In 2014, Timo Bernhard did his first full-time season in the FIA World Endurance Championship, driving for Porsche Team. He scored three podium finishes and was ninth overall. That was the overture for the next season in which Bernhard was brilliant.
Driving the #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid alongside former Formula 1 ace Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley, he won four consecutive races, adding two podium finishes, which was enough to secure the WEC title five points ahead of Audi Sport Team Joest.
2017 - third win at Le Mans and second FIA WEC title
Despite having four wins and other two podiums driving alongside Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley, the season of 2016 wasn't perfect for the German driver of Porsche Team as he finished 4th in the FIA WEC standings.
He stayed with Porsche in the following year but the start of the season again wasn't excellent. However, the situation overturned after victory at Le Mans 24 Hours when Bernhard was behind the wheel of #2 Porsche together with Hartley and Earl Bamber. After that, they scored three more consecutive wins and secured the championship title even before season's finale.
Racing with his own team in 2018 and 2019
In 2018, Timo left Porsche FIA WEC programme, becoming more involved in the operations of Team 75 Motorsport which competes in various GT racing championships. In 2018, he spent full season with his team in the ADAC GT Masters, running two cars. He was driving the #17 Porsche 911 GT3 R to one victory, sharing a car with Kevin Estre, to finish 11th in the points.
A year later, he finished ninth in the ADAC GT Masters final classification, sharing a car with Klaus Bachler. They were race-winners once, at Nurburgring.
Outside GT Masters competition, he joined Mazda Team Joest in four endurance races of the 2019 IMSA SportsCar Championship.