Ryan Hardwick revealed that he and Wright Motorsports chose Jan Heylen over the choice of several Porsche factory drivers to pair with him for his return to full-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition next year.
Hardwick and 2021 Michelin Pilot Challenge GS champion Heylen were confirmed on Tuesday as season-long drivers of the No. 16 1st Phorm-sponsored Porsche 911 GT3 R in the GT Daytona class, replacing the lineup anchored by Patrick Long and Trent Hindman this past season.
Heylen’s performances in both Pilot Challenge and serving as the team’s Michelin Endurance Cup driver helped prove his value as the team’s new lead driver according to Hardwick.
“We all had known that  was going to be Patrick Long’s final season,” he told Sportscar365. “Patrick was real up front to us about that.
“Porsche did offer us several of their factory drivers to run with me.
“I’m a true believer of camaraderie and team and how you work together. Jan and I obviously work really well together.
“Jan is much like Patrick in that he’s a very good teacher and explainer for me. He brings more out of me.
“There’s a lot of great drivers that can drive the race car extremely fast themselves but they’re not so great at pulling an up-and-coming driver.
“Jan and Patrick both fall into that category [of bring great teachers]. I was nervous in going with a new driver that I had never been in the car with that I wasn’t sure that would be a good help for me to improve.”
With his bump from Silver to Gold rating, Hardwick believes that Heylen will be as quick as any other driver in the GTD class next season.
“I know — just from under the veil and the world is going to figure it out quite quickly — Jan Heylen can drive at the level of pretty much any GT driver out there,” Hardwick said.
“Jan will be unleashed. I think you’re going to see amazing things from Aaron Telitz and Trent Hindman as well. We all know the blanket you have to work within if you’re one of these top-performing Silvers.
“The blanket’s going to be pulled off Jan. I truly believe that he will go toe-to-toe with any Gold or Platinum driver in GTD next year.
“I think you saw it with his battles with Bill Auberlen in GS and I have the utmost confidence.
“I know I’m not going to be the fastest [Bronze/Silver] driver. I’ve got a lot of work to do and improve. I’m confident I can get back to where I was in Daytona when I put the GTD car on the pole for the qualifying race at the Roar last year before the GS crash.
“That’s my goal, to get back to being a top-three driver [in Am].”
Hardwick Set for “Hefty” Testing Schedule” to Re-Acclimate to GTD
An intensive testing schedule is ahead for Hardwick, who says that a singular focus on the Porsche 911 GT3 R will pay dividends instead of his initial 2021 plan of jumping between Wright’s GTD entry and Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport that occurred in the first half of this year.
While reaching success with the GS entry, Hardwick said it was always his goal to return to full-time GTD competition.
“I leave in two days to be in Daytona with our GT3 R at an IGT (International GT) event running the entire weekend,” Hardwick said. “The next week I’ll be at Sebring running.
“The good thing as a Bronze driver is that I can test as much as I want; it doesn’t affect our test days. I have a hefty test schedule between now and Sebring. That’s what we’ve plotted out.
“We have two chassis as well. I’m going to be driving our chassis that we finished Petit Le Mans with. After Jan’s accident at Petit Le Mans, we’re building an entirely new chassis for our ‘main’ race car for Daytona.
“That good ol’ backup girl, I’m going to turn some laps, I can tell you that.
“I have a lot of confidence in being able to solely focus on one car that I’m going to be back up to speed and be able to help our team the best we can come Daytona.”