Motorsport: Rookie Hartley leads way home

By Eric Thompson

Fast, smooth driving style gives Kiwi driver the edge

Brendon Hartley leads the pack at Road America. Picture / Getty Images
Brendon Hartley leads the pack at Road America. Picture / Getty Images

Brendon Hartley's perseverance in America has paid off, putting him and co-driver Scott Mayer on the top spot of the podium at the Road America race in Wisconsin

It was the first win for both drivers in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car series and proved that Hartley's flashes of brilliance and raw speed in his rookie season in the championship could be harnessed and turned into a winning formula.

In an inspired move, the team decided to leave Hartley on the track during a second full course yellow flag with less than an hour to go. Switching to his reserve fuel tanks, Hartley consolidated the lead to cross the finish line 4.2s ahead of Joao Barbosa.

"It felt like a little bit of redemption after the race at the Circuit of the Americas earlier this year," Hartley said.

Always the high achiever and wanting to constantly win, Hartley is a little hard on himself considering he's a rookie in the championship and, at 23, still a novice to sports car racing.

"To finally get the win was a huge relief and there's a lot of emotion flying about. It was a really special one for the team who have been great all year. It was a really cool day.

"Scott my teammate drove a really good race and kept us on the lead lap and we got a safety car that brought us back into contention.

"When I jumped in the car we were P12 and the car was great and I made a few passes.

"The team made a good strategy call at the end that put us at the front. It all finally went according to plan and we won."

Hartley is rapidly getting his head around racing endurance events and is developing a fast yet smooth driving style that is allowing him to seek out the best fuel mileage in any given circumstance. This growing ability to set race-winning lap times while at the same time conserving fuel should put the New Zealander in high demand in the coming years.

His next race is this weekend at the Kanas Speedway.Lester's Japan dramaNew Zealand endurance driver Jono Lester's hopes of securing a win at the Fuji 7 Hour race in the Japanese Super Taikyu Series came unravelled when a fan belt quit the game, ending their race for the lead.

Piloting the Petronas Syntium Team Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3, Lester, with co-drivers Tatsuya Kataoka and Fariqe Hairuman, qualified fourth in the 53-car field only to be pinged with a post-qualifying penalty.

The team were pushed back to eighth on the grid because of an infringement in qualifying where Lester was found to have crossed the blend line when entering pit lane.

But after just over an hour's racing the team were back at the front of the pack.

Starting from the outside of the fourth, former Super GT Champion Kataoka brought the team right back into contention at the 70-minute mark before handing over to Hairuman. The Malaysian consolidated the lead before Lester took over for his stint behind the wheel, building yet more of a gap over Nobuteru Taniguchi.

"I stretched out our lead further, and an hour into my stint, leading comfortably, we were slapped with a 20-second stop-and-go penalty for having too many personnel on the car during the pit stop.

"Re-joining in third, I chased down and passed the car in second and started to focus on the leader who was within reach, around 15 seconds ahead," said Lester.

With the leading car in sight the fan belt broke, causing some worrying moments as coolant was dumped on the rear tyres.

Lester managed to hobble back to the pits. "We lost 18 laps, about half an hour, meaning from here it was just a case of circulating and hoping some cars in front of us fell off," he said.

Matters didn't improve when a storm turned the Fuji International Speedway into a skating rink with thunder and lightning adding to the spectacle.

Taking the position that discretion is the better part of valour, the team decided that by being so many laps down it would be better to complete only the 160-lap minimum to be classified as a finisher and so crossed the line in 40th place.

The next round of the series is the Three Hours of Okayama on August 31 and September 1.

- NZ Herald

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