Hartley tips his helmet to mentor Kenny Smith

Stuff.co.nz

Porsche works driver Brendon Hartley is happy to applaud the little guy, Kenny Smith, for playing such a big part in his career.

Outside Formula 1, having a works drive for the huge German manufacturer is almost as big as it gets in professional motor racing.

Hartley is home for a week after testing the latest Porsche 919 Hybrid for the 2015 FIA WEC car at Bahrain for the FIA world endurance championship.

The break allowed him to get to Manfeild for the New Zealand Grand Prix meeting at the weekend and to be reunited with one of his old mentors, 73-year-old Aucklander Smith.

“When I started in Formula Vee he was helping, then in Formula Ford we were team-mates,” Hartley said.

“He put me in a race car and helped me out financially. We’re still very good friends.”

Hartley, now 25, was only 13 when he started in Formula Ford and turned 15 when he had his first Toyota Racing Series (TRS) race in 2005.

So at the weekend it was a nostalgic moment when he saw those classes racing again, almost as if nothing has changed.

He got a thrill out of seeing Smith blatting around Manfeild in his red Lola cleaning up all three Formula 5000 races.

Hartley knows the world scene and couldn’t think of anyone anywhere who is Smith’s vintage and still competing – and being quick to boot.

“A guy like that is a Kiwi hero. I was very lucky to have him as a mentor.

“It was the first grand prix I had been to for a while and it was good to catch up with so many familiar faces.”

Hartley spent 1 1/2 years in the TRS and credits it directly for getting his break in Europe with Red Bull.

He said the series has a strong reputation in Europe, now known as a pace where young hopefuls can gain experience. He noticed there were drivers from Red Bull and Ferrari at Manfeild.

In his first year in the series there were a few internationals. Now the grid almost completely filled with overseas drivers, 17 of the 21 this summer.

Meanwhile, in Bahrain, Hartley was among five Porsche drivers testing the second-generation endurance 919 car, seeking to make little improvements.

He and Mark Webber (Australia), Romain Dumas (France), Nico H├╝lkenberg (Germany) and Marc Lieb (Germany) put the car 5118 kilometres in strong, sand blowing winds off the desert. One night they drove until two o’clock in the morning.

For the first time they had data from last year’s car for comparisons.

“Last year it was a brand new team and car,” Hartley said.

“It was good to put that number of kilometres in the car. We were testing performance with the car which was very reliable.”

Hartley tips his helmet to mentor Kenny Smith

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