Motorsport: Kiwi's big-time endurance test

By Eric Thompson

Brendon Hartley gives the 919 hybrid Porsche LMP1 a workout at the Paul Ricard circuit.
Brendon Hartley gives the 919 hybrid Porsche LMP1 a workout at the Paul Ricard circuit.

Porsche factory Le Mans Prototype driver Brendon Hartley, from New Zealand, is in the United Kingdom at the Silverstone track for the opening round of the World Endurance Championship this weekend.

The talented young bloke from Palmerston North has negotiated a rocky road in international motorsport, experiencing the highs and lows of being a Formula reserve driver one day, and the next being out of a job.

At 24, Hartley is one of the youngest drivers to get a full-time drive in prototype endurance sports car racing, let alone be handed the keys to a new 919 Hybrid LMP1 in Porsche's return to the top level of World Endurance Racing.

He may be young for endurance racing, but Hartley has a pedigree in Le Mans Prototype racing, having spent a season racing for Murphy Prototypes in a LMP2 Nissan Oreca in Europe, and driving a Daytona Prototype for Starworks Motorsport in the American Le Mans series.

Winning races in both championships would have helped Hartley register on Porsche's radar, and his youth would also have helped.

In the past, endurance racecar drivers had usually been around the block a few times, but things are changing and the Kiwi is at the vanguard of the new breed of racers.

"I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure I'm a Porsche factory driver," said Hartley.

"It feels very special to be involved in this new car, along with everyone else involved, and to finally be able to line up on the grid at Silverstone this weekend is going to be a special day for me and everyone else."

Hartley, and his fellow drivers in the number 20 car, former F1 Red Bull Racing pilot Mark Webber and Le Mans 24 Hour race winner Timo Bernhard, arrive at Silverstone knowing they have a good car.

Despite all the intensive development in getting a highly complicated hybrid car ready to race, Hartley managed to set the fastest outright lap time of all the cars and drivers during recent testing at Paul Ricard, France.

"Every time we get in the car we're moving forward and making progress," said Hartley. "The car is unbelievably complicated but very satisfying to drive. At Paul Ricard we had a top speed of 340km/h so it's quick.

"Everyone has high hopes for the weekend but we are very much aware of our competitors' pedigree. We're taking a cautious approach to the weekend and the first goal is to get the car to the finish. Anything on top of that will be a bonus.

"But I'm a little bit optimistic, especially since we had such good pace in testing."

The Porsche LMP1 team have ticked off one milestone by getting two cars through arduous pre-season testing and race simulations, but the heat of racing is another story.

The hybrid approach at the cutting edge of prototype racing is an ambitious move by Porsche but early signs are that it might have got it right.

"There's a lot of history within the team and I have a lot of faith in the team and how they go about things. I feel confident going into the weekend as a factory driver having such a big team behind me," Hartley said.

"It's exciting times and I love Silverstone as a track, but unfortunately so does everyone else. It's a real driver's track and all of us in the car know it well, especially Mark [Webber] who has won Grand Prix around there.

"I'm trying not to think too much about Porsche returning to top category of Le Mans racing, and am concentrating on doing my best as a driver."

- NZ Herald

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