Brendon Hartley: the magic of Le Mans… and Taupo
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New Zealand drivers have long been part of the legend of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, and Kiwis have occupied the top place on the winner’s podium six times in the 98-year history of the event. That tally includes the movie-inspiring win of Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren back in 1966, a victory that has been followed up by the double-wins of Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley in far more recent times.
Bamber became the first Kiwi to win Le Mans this century in 2015 while swapping driving stints with Nico Hülkenburg (Germany) and Nick Tandy (United Kingdom). He then repeated the win while sharing a similar Porsche 919 LMP1 with fellow Kiwi Brendon Hartley and German driver Timo Bernhard in 2017. Then Hartley equaled Bamber’s tally of two wins in 2020, this time while driving a Toyota TS050 LMP1 with Switzerland’s Sébastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Kobayashi. As things stand, both Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley can claim to be New Zealand’s most successful drivers at Le Mans, with two wins apiece.
For Hartley, the demanding 13.6km Circuit de la Sarthe, a mix of closed sections of public roads and dedicated racetrack where the race is held every June, generates a special magic.
“The whole Le Mans event was just so magical from the moment I first went there and stood on the grid - there was all that electric energy with 250,000 people there on race day, and I just fell in love with the event.
“It was the whole thing I really loved and then I got signed by Porsche; I was an outsider and I grew into that job. I became very, very close with my teammates Timo Bernhard and Mark Webber and we’re still pretty close now.” Listen to Brendon share more about this experience in the Heart to Hartley podcast, with host Sam Wallace.
Webber and Hartley have been sharing racecars and racetrack space for years, and last summer the former Australian F1 star visited and stayed with Brendon and his wife, Sarah, at their first New Zealand home at Acacia Bay, near Taupo. The house, destined to become the place that the Hartleys will call home when they eventually move from their apartment in Monaco, was built with the support of Brendon’s personal sponsor, Altherm Window Systems, who supplied the innovative roof windows and Metro Series ThermalHEART 2.4m high stacker sliding doors that bring high levels of natural light to the interior and permit wide views of the lake, Mount Tahara, and Taupo township.
“Mark lives in Monaco and he’s still one of my best buddies. He was actually here with me in New Zealand that first summer after finishing the house at Acacia Bay. He was there for New Year’s with me. You become like brothers, you become so close sharing moments like we did winning World Championships (Webber, Bernhard, and Hartley won the 2015 World Endurance Championship together). Also, the tough times (the same three Porsche 919 hybrid drivers finished 13th in the 2016 24 hours of Le Mans after a water pump failure robbed them of victory).
“You go through such a roller coaster together, you become really close to your team members and teammates.”
For the Hartleys, the house at Acacia Bay proved to be sanctuary when the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed Brendon’s racing. He and Sarah made a quick dash back to New Zealand and got here in the nick of time.
“We came back to New Zealand during the lockdown last year so the moment we learnt things were gonna be put on hold, Sarah and I made the decision to jump on a flight and get back to New Zealand, which proved to be the right choice.
“I think the day we arrived it was announced we’d have to do a self-quarantine in the house. I didn’t even know what that meant. We got back to the house in New Zealand, where we had space and could enjoy the outdoors. We were chatting to our friends in Monaco, they were stuck in their apartment for one or two months.
“We ended up spending three months in New Zealand in the house. We effectively ended up being stuck but then during that time pretty much every single racing driver in the world ended getting involved in sim racing, including me. I’ve done plenty of sim work in the past as my job but I’ve never got into the gaming side of things so we rented a simulator, and put it in the garage.
“It connected a lot of drivers during the lockdown and I could race them from my house in Acacia Bay. A lot of them are still doing it and I’m quite keen to get involved again. At some point I might be able to convince Sarah that we need to install a sim back in the garage again, especially now that my Dad is racing on a simulator as well. One of the rooms that was a potential simulator room is gonna be turned into a baby room soon (the Hartleys are expecting a baby daughter in January).
As an aspiring Formula One racer, Hartley was surprised by how much he enjoyed endurance racing once he signed with Porsche.
“You’re forever coming up on a lapped car, where the closing speeds can be a hundred kilometres per hour. You have to constantly weigh up the risk and reward – can I dive in up the inside? Has he seen me?
“Even driving in the night; that was something else that I absolutely loved. Going to Le Mans the first time, turning on the headlights, with everything feeling like in warp vision, my eyes popping out of my head.”
Brendon says experience is everything in endurance racing and that he should be an active participant in the World Endurance Championship for several years to come.
“I’m 31, about to be 32 and as a racing driver with the amount of experience I have, the career can go on into the 40s.”
No matter how long he keeps racing, the house at Acacia Bay will be there to welcome him and Sarah back to New Zealand again.
This content was created in partnership with Altherm Window Systems.