After fighting relentlessly for European supremacy, Porsche’s Brendon Hartley has certainly achieved it in 2015, claiming the World Endurance Championship (WEC) title alongside co-drivers Timo Bernhard and former Formula 1 driver Mark Webber.
But just 45 minutes into the series finale in Bahrain, the dream came dangerously close to crumbling.
“I was actually out the back eating some food and preparing to get into the car, and I heard on the radio; ‘No power! No power!’ My heart just sunk,” Hartley told Driven during his brief trip back to Auckland this week.
Technical dramas looked to have ended the number 17 Porsche’s challenge for the championship, but a valiant effort from the team’s crew ensured the car would return to the track having only lost eight minutes to the leaders.
The Porsche 919 Hybrid in action in Japan. Picture/Supplied.
In a story that will no doubt become WEC folklore for years to come, the crew managed to bounce back to fifth place, and — with their teammates in a fellow Porsche taking the race victory — snatch a memorable championship win.
Try as he might to deflect praise, the 26-year-old played a healthy part in the comeback. “If I’m honest I try not to read about myself, I’ve learned that from the past. I love what I do, it’s not about being famous.
“Even having only been back in [New Zealand] less than 24 hours, I’ve had a few people come up to me, enthusiastic motorsport fans or Porsche people saying ‘love your work’, ‘love what you’ve done’, ‘my kids are following it’.
“People will look back in 10-15 years and realise that this was potentially a golden era, because there were so many of us doing well at such a high level, and — not saying it to big myself up — I’m one of the many.
“It’s pretty incredible for a little island nation on the other side of the world. I get asked all the time ‘why are so many Kiwi drivers doing well,’ and it’s always a tricky question to answer.”
Though others may use their successes to try to vault themselves to taller heights or higher-paying drives, Hartley is happy at Porsche — returning with the German marque in 2016 to try and defend his title. “I wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else. I definitely feel like I’m part of the Porsche family, and that’s genuine.”
The spotlight is on Hartley’s 2016 campaign, but he is not the only one firing shots in Europe, with Mitch Evans, Richie Stanaway, and Hayden Paddon also among those to make their presence known on what is arguably motorsport’s most prized stage.
BMW Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters’ Tom Blomqvist. Picture/Supplied.
Another name emerging in the mix is Tom Blomqvist, a factory BMW pilot in Germany’s DTM touring car series. But the British-born driver, who spent the majority of his childhood in New Zealand, isn’t so quick to fly the Kiwi flag.
“I moved here when I was only 6, so there wasn’t much that I knew beforehand. I started my schooling here, did all my go-karting here, and the majority of my friends are from New Zealand. I always see this place as home,” he said.
“But I never really had that much support from New Zealand, so I felt it was always a bit awkward to say ‘I’m Kiwi’, because it felt like I had more support from my European roots in England. I guess motorsport over there is so much bigger.”
But over 2015, Blomqvist has given us every reason to want to claim him once and for all, having taken a maiden victory in the class that some label the best touring car championship in the world, on his way to securing the award for rookie of the year.
“I had a secret ambition [to get a win] in the back of my head, thinking it’s got to be possible. But then, I did the first couple of races and I realised, ‘this championship is not easy’. Then I thought I’d be definitely happy with a podium or getting a top five.”
BMW Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters' Tom Blomqvist, in action, was named Rookie driver of the Year for the 2015 season. Picture/Supplied.
Blomqvist’s career path bears some resemblance to Hartley’s, having initially pushed for a spot in Formula 1. But, like Hartley, Blomqvist had to surrender his initial dream. “My first two years in Europe were really good. I managed to win the Formula Renault UK championship, and everything was looking pretty hunky dory.
“[But] I was still quite young and naive, and didn’t understand the full complexity of the sport and how much funding was required. So it became quite difficult, and [Formula 1 became] less realistic over the last couple of years, so I started to look elsewhere.”
The role at BMW was presented to Blomqvist after the honorary Kiwi impressed the Bavarian manufacturer during its annual rookie test in late 2014 — a test partaken by both Stanway and Evans over 2014-15.
But unlike Hartley, who is four years his senior, Blomqvist is far more open about his future — the Le Mans 24 Hour and the Bathurst 1000 are among the classes he would “love to do“.
“I watched the majority of the [V8 Supercar series] this year, they’re always on at crappy times obviously when I’m in Europe. I knew Shane [van Gisbergen] and Fabian Coulthard through my dad and things like that, so I’ve got a reason to watch it as well,” said 22-year-old Blomqvist.
“I get on well with Mattias Ekström [former DTM champion], and he was actually the one who told me ‘if you think these [DTM cars] are difficult, go and try one of those V8 Supercars in Australia’.
“But for now the short-term ambition is the DTM, and I’d like to see what I can achieve.”
As Blomqvist, Hartley, Evans, Stanaway, Paddon, van Gisbergen, Coulthard, McLaughlin, and the many other Kiwi racers overseas cool off this holiday season, 2016 looks to be yet another memorable year.
“As Kiwis, I think we get a lot of respect. The fact of where we’ve come from, and that people know that we’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices to follow our dreams, to move away from home at early ages,” said Hartley.
“People have to be dedicated as Kiwis to pursue their dreams in motorsport. So I think we get a lot of respect from that, and that makes us hungry.”