Following a banner 2015 season that delivered four wins and the World Championship, Brendon Hartley is looking to continue the momentum this year as the Kiwi returns to a largely unchanged, but evolved, Porsche Team for the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Hartley again teams with Timo Bernhard and Mark Webber in what is now the No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid, as the trio seek back-to-back titles, with their bid beginning with this weekend’s season-opening Six Hours of Silverstone.
Sportscar365 caught up with Hartley to get his thoughts on the season ahead and the improvements to the Porsche 919 Hybrid.
You’re returning as the defending World Champion. Does that come with extra pressure?
“Everyone keeps asking if we have more pressure or expectation, but I guess the expectation was already pretty high last year.
“We ended on such a high from the last five races. We took so much confidence from every department that I think we’ll carry that forward for the first few races.
“I think everyone has an err of confidence but also we very much respect our competitors, as we see from looking at the Audi and Toyota, they’ve all been working very hard on their cars.
“We know that we’ve made improvements in the right direction. The thing we don’t know is how much the other cars have improved.”
Where do you find the improvements, after what was considered a very strong package in 2015?
“It was actually similar from 2014 to 2015. We’ve had steps in every area. There’s been no huge redesign of the concept but there’s been an evolution on every department.
“There’s new suspension, drivetrain, electric engines, batteries, the combustion engine has been tweaked… Underneath, there’s a lot going on.
“Visually from the outside, it’s quite a similar car to what we finished at the end of last year.
“But we have aero steps coming and a lot of [updates] underneath. There’s been small steps in a lot of areas.”
How important has the chemistry been between yourself and Mark and Timo?
“We finished on such a high, with such confidence between the three of us. Whether it was setups [or something else], there’s so much confidence and trust in the entire team.
“We’re going to carry that forward. I think that’s the whole advantage of having an unchanged driver lineup and team.
“You take all those things you’ve learned over the last few years and you take that forward to the next season.”
Do you think it will be a tougher battle this year considering Toyota and Audi have new cars?
“It was a tough battle last year. Although we took four victories in a row, none of them were easy.
“There were times that Audi actually showed better stint averages than us in the race but we put the better races together and we did the better job, actually.
“It was already tough last year and we know we won that championship in a very tough environment. I’m sure Toyota will be closer; last year they struggled a little bit.”
What are your personal goals for the year?
“We need to keep doing a good job. I felt like I was on really strong form at the end of last year so I want to keep that going.
“Obviously we’d love to see some champagne and standing on the top step of the podium again.
“Le Mans is the big one. We’re all dreaming of standing on that podium again, but on a personal level, one step higher would be fantastic.
“But in the end, we just want to do the good for Porsche, as that’s the main target.”