Hartley: The Allure of Le Mans

“I never got those goose-bumps in F1.  You have worked the whole year for that goal of standing on top of the podium. Lining up on the grid at Le Mans with that atmosphere, I’ve experienced nothing like it in my life.  It is the best feeling you ever get” – Brendon Hartley, 2017 winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2017, double World Endurance championship, ex Formula One driver.

This weekend Hartley joins team mates Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid for the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans that takes place in France.  This year TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will challenge for a third consecutive victory at the 88th edition of the race.

This will be Hartley’s seventh time competing at Le Mans.  It was back in 2012 that he made his debut in a LMP2 Oreca 03-Nissan for Murphy Prototypes with team mates Jody Firth and Warren Hughes completing 196 laps before retiring.

2012 Hartley in a LMP2 Oreca 03-Nissan for Murphy Prototypes

He came back the following year with the team but this time with ex F1 driver Karun Chandhok and Mark Patterson.  They completed 319 laps, finishing sixth in Class and 12th overall.

It was later that year that Hartley’s name was announced as a Porsche factory driver for their return to the World Endurance Championship.  For the next three years he drover with Timo Bernard and ex F1 driver Mark Webber, standing on the podium at Le Mans in 2015 after finishing second.

Fellow Kiwi Earl Bamber, already a Le Mans winner with Porsche in 2015, replaced Mark Webber in 2017 and this time the trio stood on the top step of the podium.  At last, Hartley had a Le Mans win.

It is not just the drivers, ask anyone who has been to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and stayed up all night (a must do for any fan) and there’s a spark in their eye as they retell their experience.  It is the allure of Le Mans.

‘It’s the challenge itself.  It takes place on a purpose-built track as well as country roads.  There is everything – high speed, traffic, weather, night and day and the history.  You feel that history when you are there.

“It is just relentless for all those that are there.  You’re driving flat out at night and you see fans spread-out all around the track. 

“Sunrise is pretty special and then you realise that there is still ten more hours of racing to take place.

“What got me is that Le Mans is all about the team.  As a driver there is a real sense of responsibility.  So much has gone into the preparation (for the race), effectively, I’m just the last piece in the puzzle.

1992 saw Toyota finish for the first time on the Le Mans podium – #33 Toyota TS010

Toyota first made their debut at Le Mans in 1985 entering a turbocharged Toyota TOM’S 85C in the Group C category finishing 12th overall. 

In their seventh attempt at the race, Toyota at last finished on the 1992 podium in second place (Toyota TS010).

Victory was almost certain in 2016 but a sudden loss of power on the penultimate lap thwarted this gallant attempt in the new Hybrid TS050.

Now Toyota have tasted victory twice, in 2018 and 2019 and are now on for a thre-peat in 2020.

“It’s a race where strategy comes into play. You have to remember that there are other races going on within the race with all the different classes.

“There is always traffic and constant decision making about risk and reward, when to overtake and when to wait.”

Hartley is one of a few who have driven for two different factory teams. Having driven the Porsche Hybrid 919 over four season of WEC, he is now in his first full season with Toyota GAZOO Racing.

Both teams are based in Germany and have a similar approach towards racing both at Le Mans and in the WEC. The lap times are similar but that is where it stops.

“I’m very fortunate to have driven two of the most complex and fastest cars in the world. Both are totally different in their hybrid systems and how the car needs to be driven.

“The Toyota has two electric motors. One on the back and one on the front axle, and these harvest energy under braking. Whereas, the Porsche regenerates energy under acceleration via the turbo”.

Despite the complexities of learning an entirely new system, Hartley is excited about return to race at Le Mons. As he says “there is nothing like it”.

Benjamin Carrell

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits talkmotorsport.co.nz. He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!


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