Motorsport: All eyes on defending champ Hartley

By Eric Thompson

Brendon Hartley during practice for opening round of WEC at Silverstone, April 2016. Pic supplied.
Brendon Hartley during practice for opening round of WEC at Silverstone, April 2016. Pic supplied.

A star of the small screen may be waving the green flag at the opening round of the World Endurance Championship at Silverstone this weekend, but all eyes will be on the reigning world champions Kiwi Brendon Hartley, Aussie Mark Webber and German Timo Bernhard.

Patrick Dempsey will send the cars on their way at 11pm NZ time tonight, as he has stepped back from full time driving to concentrate on being a team owner and fulfil his filming commitments.

Hartley and co qualified overnight on the second row of the grid behind the two Audis and will have the sister Porsche 919 Hybrid alongside.

"The conditions were very cold and it was even snowing in the morning," said Hartley in a statement.

"I think we made the right call to keep our full wets on the car in qualifying to try and get some temperatures into them. I had some traffic on my last lap otherwise I could have definitely improved although not enough for the front row.

In these conditions Audi was better than us."

The Kiwi is heading into his third season with same driver pairing and feels the three of them - Hartley, Webber and Bernhard - are well suited to race together and have gelled really well. The Herald caught up with the 26-year-old New Zealander on the eve of the opening round of the 2016 season to gauge how he and the team are feeling as defending champions.

"We've a had lot of testing and a full preparation week in the run up to this weekend running through every possible variation.

"We're really prepared and ready to go racing. We have to be a little wary of our competitors as they have completely new cars, whereas we got new bits but they have new technology as well.

"We'll be a bit disappointed if we don't do well at Silverstone as we gained a lot of confidence last year [winning the title]. Having the number one plate on the car does make you a bit of a target though, but everyone's looking forward to the challenge."

What will help Hartley and the team is that they are in known and proven car, have the same line up of drivers and have a bunch of engineers and mechanics who know the car inside out. The WEC is not an easy championship to win and on the plus side the trio in the number one 919 know they can win and will be hoping to continue where they left off last season.

"We haven't backed off, nor has anyone else in the team, from last year and we'll be going just as hard as ever. Silverstone is a track I like, and Mark [Webber] has had a lot of success here as well.

"Last year we took pole and Mark was leading until we had a mechanical issue, and we looking forward to making a better start to the season than last year [no points from Silverstone and very few at Spa]."

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