Kiwi pumped up for Le Mans

By Eric Thompson

Hartley thrilled by Porsche drive in 24-hour event

Brendon Hartley(below) will be co-driving a Porsche 919 Hybrid.
Brendon Hartley(below) will be co-driving a Porsche 919 Hybrid.

In the 1971 movie Le Mans, Steve McQueen uttered the famous words, "Racing is life. Everything that happens before or after is just waiting." And for the drivers of the 55 cars for this weekend's famous 24-hour event, the wait is over.

Porsche have been waiting 16 years to be back amongst it at the Le Mans prototype racing (LMP1). There's a certain symmetry for the 16-time race winner coming back after a 16-year hiatus, even more so in the knowledge a New Zealander will be behind the wheel of one of the new 919 Hybrid cars.

Brendon Hartley will be co-piloting the number 20 car with former Red Bull Racing Formula One driver Mark Webber and 2010 Le Mans 24 Hour winner Timo Bernhard.

The second Porsche LMP1 car, number 14, will be driven by Romain Dumas, who won with Bernhard in 2010, Neel Jani, a former A1GP winner and the 2011 Le Mans Series champion, and Marc Lieb, who won the GT category at Le Mans in a Porsche GT.

The 919 Hybrid is an all-new car with impressive technology and has already tasted success at the opening rounds of the World Endurance Championship (WEC), despite being in Le Mans trim for both races. Hartley has raced at Le Mans twice before with Murphy Prototypes in LMP2 and has a best finish of seventh.

"I love driving at this circuit, there's something magical about it," he said. "Just to drive Le Mans again is very special and to be able to see that little Porsche badge in front of me is something I can't really put into words.

"We've had Le Mans in mind since the first WEC race and the car feels really good. The car's been designed for the long straights and fuel efficiency and it feels good around the circuit.

"Driving around Le Mans in any car is amazing but in the 919 it's something else. My first time at Le Mans was pretty special, but to come back as a Porsche works driver is just as good. I think, though, any time I race at Le Mans is going to be special, and has become a real passion for me now."

Brendon Hartley.
Brendon Hartley.

There is definitely an emotional element about going to Le Mans. Any driver will talk about the history, the track, the passion and the atmosphere of racing at the oldest sports endurance race in the world.

"I have developed a massive passion for endurance racing and Le Mans is a big part of that," said Hartley. "At the track I'm trying not to think too much about what it's like to be here and just concentrate on what I have to do in the car.

"Obviously that's pretty hard when you've got the history, the huge presence of the race and all the fans. For sure, it's the biggest race of my life going there as a factory driver, but behind the wheel it's business as usual."

Hartley and his fellow drivers had an official test day on June 1 and had a substantial list of things to run through, all of which were ticked off. It was too early for any mention of lap times as the day was all about gathering data, but the 919's speeds are not far off the Audis and Toyotas.

"Testing went really well," he said. "As well as completing the test list the idea was to get as many kilometres done in the cars as possible. We did somewhere around 190 laps between the two cars and had a trouble-free day. There's still a little bit of potential to unlock in the car but it's all going according to plan for us."

It's going according to plan for Driven as well. We will be at the Le Mans 24 Hours for Porsche's comeback, and of course to follow the progress of Brendon Hartley and fellow Kiwi Earl Bamber who is racing in the support Carrera Cup category Saturday morning. Go to the Driven website for regular updates.

- NZ Herald

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