New Zealand’s first Formula 1 driver since 1984 has also carved out an impressive career as an endurance racer competing in the top echelons of the sport. Brendon Hartley is a name which will be referenced in decades to come alongside the absolute legends of Kiwi motor racing.
Following in the footsteps of true Kiwi greats on the international stage, Brendon Hartley’s career might easily be defined by the highlight of racing at the pinnacle of motorsport in Formula 1. But that is far from the full story.
Especially where endurance racing is concerned, the numbers tell an impressive tale. FIA World Endurance Champion twice (2015, 2017), two-times winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, winner of the 2017 Dubai 24 Hours and Petit Le Mans, and with multiple World Endurance Championship LMPI race wins, the 32-year-old remains at the peak of his game.
Starting in go-karts at the age of six, Hartley says he took inspiration from his father Bryan who competed in various domestic racing series. A decade after his first forays on the track as a kid (and after competing superbly in Formula Ford and the Toyota Racing Series) the Manawatu native departed for Europe at the tender age of 16 for a seat in a two-litre Formula Renault in the German and European Championships.
The convincing win of the 2007 World Series by Renault saw Hartley invited to join the Red Bull talent pool and receive a coveted Formula One contract up to and including 2013 – first as a tester for Red Bull Racing, then for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team.
While well-regarded in the world of simulator testing, it was his immediate performance in the very real world of long-distance racing that laid out the blueprint for a busy next phase of Hartley’s career.
Competing in the European Le Mans Series, Grand-Am, Bathurst 12 Hours, 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans across three seasons all paved the way to achieving the ultimate goal: the overall FIA World Endurance Championship title in 2015 aboard a Porsche 919 Hybrid with teammates Timo Bernhard and Mark Webber, after several race wins along the way.
In 2017, alongside Bernhard and fellow Giltrap Group sponsored driver Earl Bamber (who replaced Webber at the end of the veteran Australian driver’s career), Hartley would win the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans, on route to lifting Porsche’s second FIA World Endurance Championship title.
Porsche concluding its endurance racing programme at the end of 2017 could have been viewed as a significant setback for Hartley. Yet it proved the first page in the next chapter of the Kiwi’s career in the big leagues.
A call to Red Bull Formula One Advisor Dr Helmet Marko would eventually lead Hartley to secure his maiden Formula 1 Grand Prix start at the 2017 United States Grand Prix in Austin racing for Scuderia Torro Rosso, thus ending a 33-year drought of Kiwi racers competing in Formula 1.
Impressing on debut, Hartley went on to complete the final four races of the 2017 season with Scuderia Torro Rosso, and earnt himself a full season with the team in the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship. As it transpired that remarkable opportunity would be marred by bad luck and frustration, with seven DNFs and a 19th place finish overall in the season’s driver standings.
However, despite being dismissed by Scuderia Toro Rosso after the season’s final race in Abu Dhabi, it wasn’t long before other opportunities came flooding in for the Kiwi driver. These included a return to simulator test duties in 2019, this time for Scuderia Ferrari, along with a resumption of work for Porsche as it bedded in cars for its debut 2019-20 FIA Formula E Championship season.
And with such a track record in endurance racing, it was only a matter of time before another opportunity within the FIA World Endurance Championship would surface. That moment arrived in 2019 when the previous year’s Le Mans 24 Hours winners, Toyota Gazoo Racing, came calling.
As a permanent part of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s frontline driver roster, Hartley helped steer the team to a second-place overall spot in the 2019 season, and an impressive second win for the boy from Palmerston North at the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans.
2021 SEASON RESULTS
Brendon Hartley finished his 2021 campaign on a high in November, with a first-place result in the Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 car alongside co-drivers Sébastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima at round six of the FIA World Endurance Championship in Bahrain.
Earlier, Hartley was buoyed to have taken pole position for the Six Hours of Bahrain: his first WEC pole in the Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 car since 2019.
The two Toyota Gazoo Racing driver teams both had three wins apiece as the 2021 WEC season drew to a close, but the #7 car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez was slightly ahead on points, thereby taking the championship as ultimate victor.
Hartley also narrowly missed out on a third crown at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in August, coming in second (and two laps down) on the #7 car. The one-two win for Toyota helped give the Japanese factory team a conclusive win in the series, 78 points clear of the number two placegetter.
With Kazuki Nakajima retiring from endurance racing at the conclusion of the 2021 season, Hartley’s new teammate for 2022 has been named as Ryo Hirakawa, a long-standing member of Toyota's development programme and a former TDS Racing LMP2 squad member.
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