At the age of just 27, New Zealander Brendon Hartley is already a veteran at driving Porsche race cars in the top LMP1 class at Le Mans. The 2017 season marks his fourth year of driving the 919 Hybrid. To date, the 2015 racing season remains his best, as it was the year he, together with his teammates Timo Bernhard and Mark Webber, won the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) Drivers’ Title. At the age of only 25, he was the youngest driver ever to hold such a title. For Porsche, it was their first endurance championship since 1986.
Hartley’s success in endurance racing at such an early age came as a surprise to some. His early driving career—like that of so many youngsters—was geared towards racing in formula cars, with the ultimate goal being a drive in Formula One. Like many of Hartley’s contemporary colleagues, he started with go-karts at the age of six years old. A mere six years later, he began competing in his first full-scale race championship in Formula First New Zealand.
Progressing through his early years, the young Kiwi managed to gather a lot of experience: at just 13, Hartley won New Zealand’s Formula Ford Festival in 2003. His triumph gave him a starting chance in the Formula Ford Championship, where the young Palmerston North (Palmy to the locals) driver won two out of the four races he entered. Another benchmark was soon to follow.
On January 8, 2005, the teenager took part in the first race of the Toyota Racing Series, a class of single seater racing in New Zealand that was to arouse international interest. Hartley managed to be the fastest of the 17-strong field, outperforming his then tutor and veteran driver Ken Smith who came second. Such success would not go unnoticed.
In 2006, Hartley moved to Europe to compete in Formula Renault. One year later, he won the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 championship and was signed to serve as a test driver for Red Bull’s Scuderia Toro Rosso Formula One team. His path to F1 seemed to be falling into place in 2009 when he was promoted to the role of test and reserve driver for both Scuderia Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing.
Hartley’s F1 hopes were dashed, however, when Toro Rosso chose Jaime Alguersuari instead of him to replace a fired Sébastien Bourdais. Hartley maintained a test and reserve role with Red Bull and Toro Rosso in 2010 and then with the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team from 2011-2013 while he also raced in Formula 3. During this time, though, it became clear that an F1 race seat would not become available to him.
Needing a new avenue to pursue, Hartley switched his focus to endurance racing. Having run some WEC races in the LMP2 class and some Grand-Am events in 2012 and 2013, he reached out to Porsche about possibly joining the then newly-established 919 Hybrid program for its maiden season in 2014. To his surprise, he got a seat.