It’s hard to forecast too much ahead of the new FIA World Endurance Championship season without much testing and before the Prologue, but one of this year’s defending World Championship-winning drivers in Brendon Hartley is optimistic in Porsche’s progress over the winter.
Hartley, who at 26 has risen rapidly from his junior open-wheel career to Porsche factory driver and now a World Champion, is already fully focused on defending his title with Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard.
This month is the first since the dramatic Six Hours of Bahrain season finale at the end of November where the focus can be fully on 2016 for him.
December featured the round of awards ceremonies and January saw him make his now-usual cameo appearance in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He finished fifth co-driving with Andy Priaulx, Alexander Wurz and Lance Stroll in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford DP.
“Yeah my first test (of the new year) is in February,” Hartley told Sportscar365. “There are a few drivers we filter through, so we don’t all do every test.
“It’ll be quite a test program before the start of the year. We had some really successful tests in November and December so things are already looking pretty positive.
“But Audi has a new car, Toyota has a new car and new engine, and at the moment no one really knows until we turn up at the first race. We know what we’ve done. The team’s worked very hard and it’s been a very positive test.
“It’s very difficult to comment on much more anything at the moment because we still haven’t seen our competitors on track. But we’re making some good moves in the right direction. We don’t have a new car coming and other teams do.”
One of the areas where what had been the No. 17 crew – they’ll now take on the No. 1 for their Porsche 919 Hybrid next year – will seek to improve is in the opening two races.
A drivetrain failure at Silverstone produced the team’s lone DNF of the year, and third place at Spa was still behind the team’s sister car and the No. 7 Audi.
“[A good start] is not necessarily a bad or good thing. It’s difficult to say,” Hartley admitted.
“Last year the first two races didn’t go well for our car. We were on the back foot, but from there we made a huge recovery.
“Sure it’s nice to go to Le Mans having a good first two races, but it’s a long season and in endurance racing so many things happen. Also the development is so fast for these projects, so we have time to react as well.”
The 2015 season was only Hartley’s third full season in sports cars, having first been spotted by Peter Baron of Starworks Motorsport and Greg Murphy of Murphy Prototypes prior to his Porsche appointment ahead of 2014.
Yet the reality that he is now a World Champion so early in his career, while Webber has only just secured his first World Championship himself at 39 years old, is definitely beginning to sink in.
“Yeah I definitely enjoyed the moment,” Hartley said. “And yes, Le Mans is definitely on the list for this year!
“With the World (Endurance) Championship – there’s two parts of the year. One is Le Mans, and the other is the World Championship. You can almost put them on equal terms.
“This last year, I grew within the team. We grew fully as a lineup. Since I started at the end of 2013 with Porsche, I’m very proud to be a part of that growth in a very short space of time.
“It’s not easy to do what we achieved, and I’m proud to play a small part in that.”