There’s been little to learn for Toyota Gazoo Racing at this year’s Le Mans Test Day, the Japanese marque topping the times comfortably with its already proven TS050 HYBRID, unchanged since the start of the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’. But, today has given the team the chance to try out the newest full-season driver to its roster at the Circuit de la Sarthe: former Porsche LMP1 man Brendon Hartley.
The New Zealander (pictured above leading his teammates checking out the track on bikes prior to Test Day) is making his full-time return to LMP1 racing next season, after a challenging 2018 spent racing in Formula 1with Toro Rosso. He found out he wouldn’t be returning to the F1 paddock after the final round of the season, and didn’t get his Toyota deal sorted until late February. But he’s ready to go now, with a deal in place and some early running with the team already completed.
“It’s been great so far,” he told RACER. “I feel so welcome in the FIA WEC paddock. I know all the Toyota guys well, particularly Sebastien (Buemi), who I lived with at one point.
“I found out late, after the final round in Abu Dhabi, that I wouldn’t be continuing in Formula 1. But I always said I wanted to come back to Le Mans. I didn’t know it would be so soon, but I contacted Toyota quickly after I knew I wouldn’t be in F1 anymore.
“I’m still under contract with Porsche, but they have been very fair and I disclosed with them early on I was looking to do Le Mans again. This was the best possible outcome for me.”
The 2017 Le Mans winner’s first run in the TS050 HYBRID was at Spa-Francorchamps during a test, the Kiwi getting a nice amount of laps in behind the wheel.
“At Spa we did a shakedown for parts — we didn’t have correct tires, we couldn’t use curbs, but I got about 20 laps in,” he explained. “That allowed me to get used to the steering wheel — these modern LMP1 hybrids are so complicated and have completely different drivers’ manuals. I felt at home straight away.”
Today Hartley got a quick run in during the morning’s running at the Le Mans Test Day. He won’t be at the wheel during race week, but will still be in attendance at the event with the team as part of his preparations for next season.
“It was a real pleasure popping into the TS050 at Le Mans today — these 1000hp beasts are made for this circuit,” he exclaimed. “The plan was a short run — I wanted more but that wasn’t the case. I got a taste, though, and it’s good to be back!”
As for next season, which starts at Silverstone in August, Hartley has high expectations. Understandably, he’s aiming for the WEC title and another Le Mans win, as Toyota should be a dominant force against the non-hybrid privateer LMP1s, even with the proposed ‘Success ballast’ system being explored by the organizers in an attempt to make the racing up front in the championship closer.
“It’s been strange to get a taste of Le Mans today knowing I probably won’t be driving here later this month,” he said. “But everything is good. It’s early days — I’ve been mainly watching and listening here at Le Mans, and I will do that too during race week.
“In terms of results next year, I want to do the best job I can, Le Mans win and a world championship is the target. But first I have to get up to speed with the team.
“I have faith that the FIA WEC will continue to grow. There are rumors that some teams will pull out, and some teams will join, but I think the draw of Le Mans is so big that I’m sure things will turn around here soon. I’m happy to be back here — the future looks bright.”