Brendon Hartley’s world endurance championship title with Porsche is the crowning achievement in what has been an extraordinary year for New Zealand motorsport competitors internationally. The year also saw Scott Dixon claim his history-making fourth IndyCar championship title, Chris van der Drift winning the 2015 Porsche Asia Carrera Cup Championship, Earl Bamber winning the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans race and Nick Cassidy winning the Japanese Formula 3 Championship.
Hartley, who hails from Palmerston North and drove with Porsche team-mates Australian Mark Webber and German Timo Bernhard to secure both the drivers’ and the manufacturers’ titles in the eight-round FIA World Endurance Championship, is the first New Zealander to win a Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) world championship since Aucklander Wade Cunningham won the CIK-FIA World Karting Championship in 2003. Prior to that, it was back in 1967 that Denny Hulme won the Formula 1 drivers’ world championship. Geraldine’s Hayden Paddon won the 2011 FIA World Rally Production Car Championship, which is a category of the World Rally Championship title.
“It’s been an amazing year for Kiwi motorsport competitors like Brendon, Scott, Chris, Earl and Nick across the world, for GP2 drivers Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway as well as rally driver Hayden Paddon with his three-year contract with Hyundai Motorsport for the World Rally Championship,” says MotorSport New Zealand President Shayne Harris. “On two wheels, we also acknowledge the fine achievements of Wellington’s Bruce Anstey in winning the Superbike division at the famed Isle of Man TT race this year.”
Harris says: “For Brendon to win an FIA world title is absolutely outstanding and on behalf of MotorSport New Zealand, I congratulate him on an incredible season of racing. I’d also like to congratulate the other drivers mentioned – they have truly done New Zealand proud!”
Hartley says, initially, he was overwhelmed with the response to their championship win around the world.
“Seeing how proud my old man [motorsport engineer Bryan Hartley] was hit home as to what we have achieved,” says 26-year-old Hartley, who has recently been confirmed to continue with Porsche for the 2016 season.
“Winning a world championship has been on my mind for as long as I can remember! I think a lot of people were surprised with our performance in Porsche’s return to the top level of sport cars. It was so impressive what the team has achieved in only its second year. I was proud to share this victory with the whole team as I have seen the work that has gone in from every individual and what it means to them. There’s a lot of passion at Porsche!”
Hartley drives one of the most complex race cars on earth in the Porsche 919 LMP1 Hybrid and says one of the “coolest” parts of his job is contributing to the ever-evolving technology of the sports race car.
“Before I signed with Porsche I felt I was driving better and with more confidence than ever before but I was surprised how long it took me to really feel comfortable in such a programme. Going from a small LMP2 or Grand Am team to a huge project like Porsche with close to 300 people is a big step up in many ways. I have been very lucky to be teamed up with Mark and Timo and have obviously learnt a lot from the both of them. As a team we have grown together and have genuinely become best buddies with full trust and respect for each other.”
Harris pays credit to all involved with the Toyota Racing Series, New Zealand’s premier single-seater championship, in helping create the opportunities for New Zealand’s young race drivers to compete against significant international talent and hone their skills.
“Some may recall that Brendon was the first-ever TRS race winner back in 2005. Brendon contested the TRS three times and is a loyal supporter of the proving ground aspect of the series,” Harris says.
“Brendon was the first Kiwi TRS competitor to hit the big time, contesting and winning the 2007 Formula Renault 2.0 series before being accepted into the Red Bull junior driver development programme, and becoming reserve driver for the Red Bull and Toro Rosso F1 teams.
“TRS graduates also include Mitch Evans who was the 2012 GP3 champion and has recently confirmed he is returning for another season in GP2 in 2016 following his recent participation in rookie driver tests for the World Endurance Championship and Audi Sport DTM (German Touring Cars).
“TRS also featured significantly in the career development of Earl Bamber, Chris van der Drift, Nick Cassidy and Kiwi V8 Supercar star Shane Van Gisbergen.”
Of the drivers mentioned all except van der Drift and Dixon have also graduated from the MotorSport New Zealand Elite Motorsport Academy run annually in association with Academy of Sport South Island and the University of Otago School of Physical Education. Almost all have also come through the ranks of the traditional motorsport feeder series such as kart racing, Formula First and Formula Ford.
Harris adds: “The Elite MotorSport Academy prepares young drivers for the mental and physical demands of performing at the top level and the successes of late continue to demonstrate the value of that programme
“The many thousands of New Zealanders who follow motorsport have no shortage of heroes to support and much exciting race and rally action to follow in the year ahead.”
The achievements of Hartley, Cassidy and Evans were also recognised at the prestigious British Racing Drivers Club Awards this week. Hartley received a BRDC Gold Star. First awarded in 1929, the BRDC Gold Star is the Club’s premier annual award which recognises the strongest performance of the year by a BRDC member in international motorsport. The 2014 Gold Star recipient was three-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton. Cassidy was presented with the Bruce McLaren trophy, awarded to the Commonwealth driver who has established the most meritorious performances in international motor racing. Cassidy is currently the only New Zealander in the BRDC’s Rising Stars driver programme. Evans won the Woolf Barnato Trophy, awarded to the highest-placed finishing British and/or Commonwealth driver(s) in a British car in the Le Mans 24-Hour Race.