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It’s a Brendon Hartley revival

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A great year for Brendon Hartley revives his motorsport stature

We are in the age of travelling across the world to chase your dream.  When your dream is motorsport, the passion is strong but success is difficult.  New Zealander Brendon Hartley is one person who travelled across the world to pursue his racing dream.  He has reached to the lofty heights of F1, experienced highs and lows and finds himself pursuing new options in his motorsport career.

Brendon joined the European racing scene at 16, flying over from his native New Zealand to try his hand at the centre of motorsport.  It was something that many try but few succeed.

New Zealand has a great motorsport culture and a lot of history with the likes of Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon and more recently Scott Dixon.  But for any driver coming from a small country like New Zealand the odds are stacked against you.

Brendon came over with success in the Formula Ford New Zealand, Formula First New Zealand and Toyota Racing Series New Zealand but as a 16 year old going into Formula Renault in 2006, such successes doesn’t mean much.  You’re a new name in a new environment and ultimately, a very small fish in a very big pond.

“It was a big adventure and in the beginning I didn’t know what to expect.  While in the beginning I was telling everyone I wanted to be the Formula 1 World Champion I realistically never knew how that could happen.”

“I was given the opportunity by Red Bull to come over and it was an adventure.  When I came over, I really didn’t know how the single seater system really worked and neither did a lot of Kiwis – so it was coming into the unknown.  In  a sense, I think I have set the path for other Kiwis to come over – they saw what I was doing and a path to take.  Before that I was just a New Zealander.  It is a big scary world over here for a 16-year-old kid without his family.  I learnt a lot from that – and I am still learning.”

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Coming over to Europe with the support of Red Bull and their motorsport program which had mostly funded his European career. After a difficult season in Formula Renault 3.5, he parted ways with the Red Bull program leaving him without funding, his reserve F1 role and F1 testing with Red Bull teams.  He notes though that while his time with Red Bull without an F1 race drive, his career with them was invaluable.

“It was hugely important and I wouldn’t be over here without Red Bull.  I was with them for four and half years – a reserve F1 driver for two seasons.  Testing F1 on three separate days along with straight-line tests and simulation.  What they gave me in terms of my CV – it has got me to where I am now for which I am very thankful for.”

“Unfortunately at a time when I needed to deliver I was having a bit of a down period – something I think all sports people have a some point.  I was also young and a bit burnt out as well.  It is nice to look back to see what happened and to know what happened so I can avoid it happening again.”

“Things are looking good right now – I have my foot in the door in F1.  I am quite confident I have long career ahead of me.”

Many were surprised when he drove an F1 car again at the young driver test with Mercedes in 2012.  Without massive funding, drivers don’t normally get chances like this.  Along with his initial F1 test and first wins, Brendon rates this as a highlight of his motorsport career.

“It was quite a surprise for many people to see me back in an F1 car at the test.  The last time I was in an F1 car was in 2008 in a Red Bull and 2009 in a Toro Rosso.  Back then I was less prepared, the quickest car I had driven was an F3.”

“This time I was more prepared.  Saying that nothing can quite prepare you for the speed and forces an F1 car can put you through.  I don’t think your brain can quite comprehend that a car can go that quick.  It all went really well and after five of ten laps I felt at home.  It is an amazing experience and I know it isn’t something many people get the opportunity to do.  It is hard to put into words what it is like.”

“I don’t know if there are more plans for F1 tests – I hope there are more, my fingers are crossed!”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bInqqxeKN8c

Following on from his Red Bull experience, Brendon found himself outside of a major company – which sacrificed financial stability in his career but brought him freedom to choose what he did next.

As we know, part of that was Mercedes F1 but the other part was sportscars and historic racing.  He raced a Ford GT40, McLaren M1C, a Mini, a Mercery Cyclone, a Lotus 15.

“It is weird to jump back into these historic cars as they are quite alien to me but you do learn something by driving them.  I am enjoying life and it is fun to drive them.”

Brendon pulls out the McLaren for special mention – homage back to his countryman.

“I was driving a McLaren M1C at a Spa 6 Hour event.  It was nice to drive a car that Bruce McLaren designed and drove.  It does 175mph – pretty scary.”

Stepping away from the Red Bull stable and looking further afield, Brendon has had a season of success in sportscars   A year in endurance racing– specifically with Murphy Prototypes and the European Le Mans Series has opened eyes, particularly his own.

“At the beginning of the year I didn’t know what I was going to race.  Single seaters have been my life and passion.  I took a view that I should explore other options.  Options in single seaters are hard to come by and there is always a lot of money involved – which I don’t have.”

“I went to the test at Paul Ricard to have a look at prototype racing.  I was really surprised as it is not something I have followed before.  I am really enjoying it and it isn’t something I would be doing as I wasn’t in total control of my own career.”

“I have a good support team back in New Zealand and I always have people that offer advice. I am really happy – I made a call to try something different and I think it has worked out for the best.  Outside F1, I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d want to be other than Le Mans prototypes.”

“I have a good support team back in New Zealand and I always have people that offer advice. I am really happy – I made a call to try something different and I think it has worked out for the best.  Outside F1, I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d want to be other than Le Mans prototypes.”

“People enjoy a long successful career there – it’s a lot of fun with quick cars and it is professional.  I am trying to keep my options open too – I don’t know where my career will take me.”

Brendon made the trip for the first time to Le Mans in 2012.  A driver who had been to many-a-F1 race in the past was blown away by what sportscar’s biggest race.  It was a strong debut for Brendon, though the results did not go the way he and the Murphy Prototypes team had hoped for.

“It’s not fair to say that [we didn’t have a strong race].  We were probably the strongest team out there.  We led for a time during the night, had the quickest lap – we were looking very strong.  We had a mechanical failure, which was upsetting but we all left happy with the job that we did.”

“It was an amazing experience – the Le Mans 24 Hours is probably the biggest race on the planet and I hope I will be doing it many more times.”

The strength the Murphy and Brendon showed at Le Mans and the previous ELMS rounds didn’t translate into success when they showed at the World Endurance Championship at Silverstone.  The team looked strong but had one of those weekends.

“Silverstone was a bit of a nightmare – all the races we had done before that we were really strong and we were looking coming out with a win.  At Silverstone everything that could go wrong did – unfortunately but that happens.”

That experience didn’t dampen his attitude to the WEC – its future and where it is currently.

“The Series is great.  You walk down the pitlane and every team you see there are professional and you don’t see that much anymore.  There are also a lot of professional drivers and while there are amateur, they are good amateur.”

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Looking to the future for Brendon, sportscars is a good option but funds continue to be an issue.

“At the moment I am not in a position with unlimited funds.  I don’t have the answer to what I am going to do in the future.  I would love to be in F1 and I have the chance with Mercedes – I have been able to test the car.  I hope that will lead to more opportunities but I will take it one step at a time.  I have always had the approach of not planning too far ahead – it’s just not possible in racing.”

The rest of 2012 though is close enough to plan for and the direction that the European Le Mans Series has taken led to a great opportunity for Brendon.

“I have Petit Le Mans coming up which I believe – in terms of endurance racing – is one of the biggest, a huge event which I am looking forward to.  After that, I don’t have a lot planned, as it is the end of the season.  It will be preparing for next year and jumping on the right opportunity.”

As Brendon said at the start of the article, the current world of motorsport has been opened, if only slightly, to other New Zealand drivers.  To prove their success, we saw Mitch Evans take the GP3 title in 2012.

“Of course we know each other well and I was thrilled to see him win the Championship.   I don’t see him every day though but there are a lot of other kiwi racers over here too.  I have friends now spread all around Europe and the world.”

A season that started out as mystery ended up as a great season.  Race wins, F1 tests and wider horizons that what he had before.

“I’ve had a really good year, a lot of racing, a lot of time on the simulator and of course the Formula 1 test.  In terms of mileage I’ve had I’m content and if anything comes up I’ll jump at it.  I’m confident that I have had a good enough year that I’ll be racing something in 2013.”

We’ll have to wait to see what Brendon can jump into for 2013 – as by his own admission, the life of a racing driver is never stable and deals are not done until February or March but we hope to see him in something – as whatever it is, he’ll be at the front.

Article and interview by Sam Tickell, October 2012

Photos and videos supplied.

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