Hartley ‘on verge of securing Le Mans return’

Former Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley looks set for a return to the scene of his greatest racing triumph.

The 29-year-old New Zealander is close to completing a deal to race for the British RLR MSport team in this year’s iconic Le Mans 24 Hours endurance event, according to Motorsport.com.

Hartley was part of Porsche’s LMP1 factory team that won the race outright in 2017. It was after this triumph that he was contacted by Dr Helmut Marko about a race seat with Toro Rosso in F1.

Hartley went on to compete in 25 Grand Prix races, with his best result coming in the United States last October when he finished in ninth place.

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Despite that success, Hartley was let go by the team at the end of the season in favour of an all-new driver line-up of Daniil Kvyat and Alexander Albon, leaving the Kiwi looking to new horizons in 2019.

The two-time FIA World Endurance Championship title winner has since opted to head back to sportscars, and has already announced a deal to join the SMP Racing LMP1 team for the next two rounds at Sebring and Spa-Francorchamps.

He will be replacing another former F1 star, Jenson Button, who is opting to focus instead on defending his Super GT title and his new media duties with Sky Sports.

For Le Mans, Hartley seems to be on the brink of lining up an Oreca 07 LMP2 drive with RLR MSport, the Bolton-based squad with whom he raced in 2012 soon after he was originally dropped from the Red Bull junior driver programme.

It will be RLR’s maiden Le Mans under its own name, having secured an automatic entry for winning last year’s ELMS LMP3 title.

Even so, Hartley hasn’t given up on hopes of a return to Formula 1. He will be keeping his hand in after accepting the job of simulator driver at Ferrari, sharing test duties at Maranello with Pascal Wehrlein, Antonio Fuoco and Davide Rigon.

©ToroRosso

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto said that the “four undoubtedly talented drivers” possessed “innate feeling, with a strong understanding of race cars and tracks” was essential to simulator work.

Hartley admitted last month that his time in F1 had been “one of the best years – and I truly mean that – of my life” and that he was saddened that it had come to such a premature end.

“When I was little, I dreamed about what it would be like to be a Formula 1 driver,” he told the official Formula 1 website. “I never thought about the end.

“And now – at least for a while – it’s over. I’m not a Formula 1 driver any more,” he continued. “I will miss it. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But I’m excited for whatever is next.

“The F1 door is definitely not closed and the experience gained from a year at the top of the sport means I will arrive more prepared and stronger for whatever opportunities come.”

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