Kiwi Hart­ley on cusp of de­but in F1

Kiwi takes pole po­si­tion for drive at US Grand Prix, writes Dale Budge

Weekend Herald - - SPORT -

New Zealan­der Bren­don Hart­ley i s poised to join For­mula One, com­plet­ing an am­bi­tious jour­ney to the high­est level that started half a life­time ago.

There hasn’t been a Kiwi driver in the world’s pre­mier mo­tor rac­ing con­test since Mike Thack­well in 1984 but that is set to change, with Hart­ley, the Le Mans 24 Hour win­ner, tipped for the va­cant Toro Rosso seat at next week’s US Grand Prix. Toro Rosso is a feeder team who groom young tal­ent for Red Bull.

The va­cant seat comes as young­ster Pierre Gasly, a re­place­ment driver him­self, opted to skip the race in Austin to con­cen­trate on win­ning the Asian Su­per For­mula cham­pi­onship at the se­ries fi­nale the same week­end.

Hart­ley, who has enough points to qual­ify for a su­per li­cence to race F1, was named as the lead­ing con­tender for the F1 seat by Au­tosport mag­a­zine.

Au­tosport said the 27- year- old was the favourite to re­place Gasly for the race at the Cir­cuit of the Amer­i­cas track, where Hart­ley won an en­durance race last week­end.

Hart­ley is con­tracted to Porsche in the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship ( WEC). A Porsche spokesper­son told dai­lysportscar. com that “any re­quest [ to race F1] would be no prob­lem”.

It’s also be­lieved Hart­ley was close to a deal to race IndyCars along­side fel­low New Zealan­der and four- time se­ries cham­pion Scott Dixon at Chip Ganassi Rac­ing.

Toro Rosso have an­other standby op­tion in for­mer driver Se­bastien Buemi, who has won the For­mula E elec­tric ti­tle since he last com­peted in For­mula One in 2011.

Hart­ley has fo­cused on en­durance rac­ing in re­cent years af­ter his early bid for For­mula One was thwarted as a teenager.

He was groomed by Red Bull from the age of 14 when he was plucked from Palmerston North.

As an 18- year- old, he tested for the Red Bull F1 team and was their re­serve driver in 2009- 10 be­fore be­ing dropped from the pro­gramme.

He went on to fash­ion a great record in GT rac­ing, in­clud­ing his win with the Porsche fac­tory team at Le Mans this year.

He is part of a trio in­clud­ing fel­low Kiwi Earl Bam­ber and Ger­man Timo Bern­hard that leads the WEC but will be look­ing for an­other drive next year af­ter Porsche’s de­ci­sion to with­draw at the sea­son’s end.

Leg­endary Kiwi driver Kenny Smith, who men­tored Hart­ley as a young­ster, said the ris­ing star had a child­hood dream of rac­ing in F1.

“He i s one of those who is so com­pet­i­tive in every­thing he did, he wanted to be a win­ner and that is what has given him the drive to keep on go­ing,” said Smith.

“I could see that when he was 12 years old driv­ing For­mula Vees, driv­ing off the track and do­ing all sorts of crazy things, he tried so hard — and Bren­don never gave in.

“He was al­ways look­ing to go quicker and look what he has got now. It is a dream come true for a Kiwi to do what he is do­ing.

“It has been so good to be as­so­ci­ated with him over the years.”

Pic­ture / Red Bull

Bren­don Hart­ley is in the box seat to be­come New Zealand’s next For­mula One driver.

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