Brendon Hartley has emerged as the favorite to replace Fernando Alonso in Toyota Gazoo Racing’s lineup for the 2019/20 FIA World Endurance Championship, amid the Spaniard’s expected exit from the team at the end of the current season.
Auto Hebdo reports that Hartley, a two-time WEC champion, is likely to be confirmed as the Japanese manufacturer’s reserve driver for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, ahead of a full season in the No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid with Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi.
Alonso, who will make his second start in the Indianapolis 500 next month, has been vocal about trying new racing disciples and not necessarily being tied down to a full-season program in the future.
The two-time Formula 1 world champion recently tested a Toyota Hilux truck that won this year’s Dakar Rally and has been linked to other one-off drives.
When asked about his WEC future by Sportscar365 in January, Alonso said there’s a “50/50 chance” he’d return to Toyota for the first winter season campaign.
Hartley is expected expected to be part of Porsche’s lineup in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship next season and told Sportscar365’s sister site e-racing365 that he could “combine” this with a WEC program.
“I still love Le Mans and have a big love for endurance racing,” he said. “I think it’s totally possible to combine two programs which other drivers are already doing.
“I see Formula E as something different from endurance racing as it is bringing racing to the heart of cities.”
A Toyota spokesperson told Sportscar365 that the manufacturer expects to announce its 2019/20 LMP1 driver lineup “pretty soon” although an exact timeline has not been disclosed.
Should Hartley be nominated as a Le Mans reserve, he would need to complete laps at the pre-event Test Day on June 2, with the entry list typically emerging in mid-May.
Hartley will drive SMP Racing’s No. 11 BR Engineering BR1 AER in next month’s Total Six Hours of Spa, as a substitute for the Super GT-bound Jenson Button, and has no further races planned with the Russian squad.