Ryan Hardwick is targeting a debut in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans although admitted that a number of pieces still have to come together to reach his “new goal.”
The Bronze-rated driver has secured an auto-invite from IMSA for winning this year’s Bob Akin Award as the highest-placed gentleman driver in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class.
Hardwick — in his first full GTD season — finished second in the class standings alongside Porsche factory driver Patrick Long in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
Their campaign was highlighted by class victory in last weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, marking Hardwick’s first in the series in the car he shared with Long and Jan Heylen.
“It’s a goal of mine to compete at [Le Mans] at some point. It will really be what program and kind of deals and seats are available next year,” Hardwick told Sportscar365.
“I’m going to look at it. I would love to do it this coming year. I’d love to do it with Pat.
“I know our sponsor, Andy Frisella at 1st Phorm, loves the race, so much so 1st Phorm sponsored the Risi Ferrari this year.
“Andy really wants a 1st Phorm car running around Le Mans.
“I’m going to try to make it happen but it will really depend on the team, the budget and the seats available.”
Having gotten his start in motorsports six years ago, Hardwick has been on a rapid progression through sports car racing, initially in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America before making his GTD debut in 2019.
A knee injury from an accident last year forced him out of the cockpit for nearly six months, prior to joining forces with the John Wright-owned team for the 2020 season.
“When I started [racing] cars my big lofty goal was just to drive in IMSA and Daytona and Sebring and all of that,” he explained.
“Once I got to where I obtained that goal, just like in business, you move onto another goal.
“It really wasn’t until about a year ago when I was accomplish that. So the next thing is Le Mans. It’s been a new goal of mine.
“It’s the next target, just being able to compete.
“And I’d want to do a program that I’d be able to compete at a high level, in GTE-Am with a good team, good co-drivers and all of that.
“It’s a little early now [to talk about it].
“Our main goal is having our Wright Motorsports program buttoned up and then look at Le Mans from there.”
Hardwick Anticipating Unchanged IMSA Program for 2021
While yet to formally announce the team’s plans, Hardwick indicated that he and Long intend to be back for a full-season effort in GTD.
The 40-year-old former professional jet ski racer has praised Long’s ability as a driver and communicator as being a key player in his development as a driver.
“I think we worked great together,” Hardwick said.
“There’s a lot of factory Porsche drivers looking for rides and seats, and truth be told we could have probably picked any of them.
“But I want to be back with Pat and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Having come off a strong first season, Hardwick said he’s bullish on 2021, particularly January’s season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“Truthfully, I think we’ll go into Daytona as a pre-season favorite to win that race,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a really strong driver lineup for that particular race.
“Post-Daytona, I’ve got some improving to do, and get us where I can qualify us more towards the front than what I did this year.
“I’ve still got some work to do but I think I’ll get there.
“There will be other strong cars and it will be tough. But going into Daytona with what I think our driver lineup will be, there’s going to be some people that will have to pack a lunch.
“We’ll go heads up against anybody at Daytona.”