Ryan Hardwick will add a European Le Mans Series GTE effort to his racing program this year, with the Bronze-rated driver set to pilot a Proton Competition-run Porsche 911 RSR-19 in the six-round season.
It comes in addition to Hardwick’s previously confirmed debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, courtesy of securing an automatic invite by winning IMSA’s Bob Akin Award last year.
He explained the newly added ELMS program will help him prepare for his debut in the French endurance classic with the mid-engined Porsche.
“My real focus is on Le Mans,” Hardwick told Sportscar365.
“This is my first year actually going so I’m putting a lot of effort into it, with it obviously being the 100th anniversary and the final year the RSR is racing, I not only want to go but I want to go and try and compete as well as I can.
“I’m doing that with Proton and Chris Ried and his team and I’m looking forward to it.”
Hardwick said his co-drivers for the ELMS and Le Mans are still being determined and has been in dialogue with Proton team owner Ried as well as Porsche, which could supply a factory or contracted driver.
“We’re still working on the lineup and working with Porsche,” he said. “They have a lot of great drivers but also a lot of programs now with the prototype.
“Hopefully pretty soon we’ll be able to get the driver lineup sorted for Europe.”
While confirmed for the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races this year in Wright Motorsports’ Porsche 911 GT3 R, Hardwick said he’s excited at the prospect of competing against his peers in the ELMS and at Le Mans due to the category’s driver ratings requirements.
ELMS GTE and FIA World Endurance Championship GTE-Am regulations require at least one Bronze-rated driver, teamed with a Silver and either a Gold or Platinum-rated driver.
“That’s what really has me excited about finally going to a series where I’m going to compete amongst my peers as a Bronze driver,” Hardwick said.
“There’s been much written here in IMSA about the GTD category rules with Silver to Bronze [plan that was reversed for 2023].
“I love the competition in IMSA and I love competing against the best in the world but it will be refreshing to compete against only other Bronzes over in Europe.
Hardwick added: “In ELMS, I really like the rules. When I watched the race in [Portimao], a lot depends on the Bronze.
“The Bronze has to qualify, the Bronze drives the most amount of time of the race, so if you have a slow Bronze, it doesn’t matter how good your Silver or Gold/Platinum are… you’re out of the race.
“I really respect guys like Ben Keating. I look up to him. And you look at how successful the Iron Dames have been. If you have a strong Bronze over there, you can really dictate a lot of the result.
“Where in IMSA, the Bronze plays the smallest role. We have the least drive time. If you have a terrible Bronze, maybe there’s a way for your Gold and Platinum drivers to bail you out.
“I want to go and compete where not only am I adding to the team, If I perform well, we’re going to do great. If I don’t perform well, I’m going to be terrible.
“That really intrigued me about the rules over there and that was my driving force of really wanting to go there.”
Sebring Double Header Ruled Out WEC Effort
Hardwick said the prospects of contesting two races over the ‘Super Sebring’ weekend deterred him away from contesting the FIA World Endurance Championship instead of an ELMS program.
“I considered it but for me I was really committed to our IMSA program here and the Sebring round was a tough one,” he said.
“I had an opportunity to do the WEC but ultimately I decided when I drove the RSR, driving that thing and a GTD car in the same weekend would be really challenging for me.
“Maybe other drivers could do it but the cars are so different, it would be a real challenge for me to drive the 1000 Miles of Sebring on Friday and then the 12-hour in a GTD car on Saturday, that would be too much.
“Maybe in the future, it’s a goal of mine, I’d like to do WEC at some point, especially with the GT3 cars going there in the future.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report