Motorsport: Hartley's built for speed and endurance

By Eric Thompson

Brendon Hartley at the Le Mans 24-hour in a Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03-Nissan LMP2 car. Photo / Daily Sports Car
Brendon Hartley at the Le Mans 24-hour in a Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03-Nissan LMP2 car. Photo / Daily Sports Car

New Zealand racing driver Brendon Hartley has added another string to his bow, this time it's endurance sportscar racing in the hot LMP2 class.

Right from the start of his new sportscar career a few months ago, Hartley has turned heads with his pace for Murphy Prototypes Team in an Oreca 03-Nissan.

He has already set fastest race laps a number of times, and on debut in the Le Mans Sports Prototype category at the tough Spa Francorchamps six-hour event he stood on the podium with co-drivers Jody Firth and Warren Hughes.

If you thought that race was a baptism of fire, two months later Hartley was buckling up for the most well known of all endurance races, the Le Mans 24-Hour. Getting to start at the event isn't about how big your wallet is, and automatic entry is only granted if a team has won it previously, or has won a Le Mans Prototype-based series.

Some second placed teams may be able to enter by right but it's a hard ask. The grid only allows 56 cars to line up come race day. For Hartley to get the gig in his second tilt at sportscar racing was something special.

Within a couple of laps of the team handing the car over to the young New Zealander he was soon setting the fastest times in his class and closing rapidly on the leaders. He then passed the leading car and was easing away at around 10-12 seconds a lap.

Not only was his speed in LMP2 impressive, Hartley was soon inside the top 10 for outright honours and moved up to seventh before disaster struck (broken suspension) and the car had to be retired.

He impressed the respected Irish team so much that he's been signed up for the Six Hours of Silverstone, England, a round of the World Endurance Championship.

"The world endurance champion rounds are very competitive with about 40 cars on the grid," said Hartley, who raced recently at the Donington round of the European Le Mans Series and again finished third "It's a shame the other series isn't carrying on [ELMS] but It's pretty cool I've got another round of the WEC confirmed and the possibility of a race in the Le Petite Le Mans at Road Atlanta in the US.

"So I've got a couple of things going on at the moment, it's another big opportunity."

The Murphy Prototypes Team is a well-organised outfit and Hartley is part of a great driver line up and crew. While these are important factors in having a successful race weekend, Hartley has shown all involved that he can hustle a sports car with the best of them.

The Kiwi has taken to endurance racing like a duck to water.

"It's been going really well. I drove for three hours at Donington among some very experienced drivers in the field. My teammates are fantastic and we were unlucky not to be one or two steps higher on the podium.

"We had a bit of a problem with the front nose and had to come in to the pits and change it twice, which definitely made us miss out on second and possibly the chance of getting the win," said Hartley.

Two podiums from three races is a good record by anyone's standards. Hartley has always been fast in anything he's got behind the wheel of and continues to prove the point. Silverstone will be another chance for him to show just how good he is.

"I definitely think people are starting to take notice of me and I couldn't really ask for a better start in endurance racing. To start with I didn't really know much about this sort of racing but once I get on [the] track everything seems to gel.

"I've set the fastest race laps at times and obviously endurance racing isn't about setting the fastest lap, but I've enjoyed it and I think I've adapted quite well. I'm happy doing it and I enjoy the racing, which is important," said Hartley.

When you are happy in your work things are more likely to go well and so it's on the cards the Silverstone race, August 26, will be another good race for Hartley - maybe a win this time.

* See Eric's weekly QuickChat video here, this week featuring another high velocity young fella.

- NZ Herald

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