Hartley: WEC LMP1 return was high priority after Toro Rosso F1 exit – WEC

Brendon Hartley says returning to the World Endurance Championship was one of his priorities once he knew Toro Rosso would not retain him for the 2019 Formula 1 season.

SMP Racing announced last week that Hartley would replace Jenson Button for the next two rounds of the 2018/19 WEC superseason at Sebring and Spa in its #11 BR Engineering BR1-AER.

Next month’s Sebring round will mark Hartley’s first WEC outing since Bahrain 2017, the final race for Porsche’s LMP1 programme.

Speaking about how his deal to join SMP came about, Hartley – who has also landed a Ferrari F1 simulator role – told Autosport: “I was looking at a broad spectrum outside of F1, also with the intent of keeping the foot in the door, which is what has happened.

“At the end of last year I started reaching out to a few of the known teams that could be potentially looking for drivers, especially in the WEC. SMP was one of the teams that I contacted.

“One week ago, or maybe slightly more, SMP contacted me again and said actually we have a possibility for the next couple of races in the WEC and [asked] if I was interested.

“I have great memories and history in the WEC and getting back into endurance racing was something that was very high on my priority list, and this was really a perfect way to re-enter the WEC.

“It’s a proper team, a proper project with fantastic team-mates [Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin]. So I see it as a big opportunity and also a really nice entry back into endurance racing.”

Given the dominance of the two Toyota TS050 HYBRIDs at the first five 2018/19 rounds last year, Hartley said he would be targeting a repeat of SMP’s first on-the-road podium at Shanghai in Sebring.

He added he was “looking into” the possibility of contesting the Le Mans 24 Hours, although he would need to look for an alternative berth to contest the race as Button is set to return to the #11 SMP car.

Hartley also said he is involved with Porsche on its Formula E project, but has no fixed plans for racing beyond his two scheduled WEC outings.

“I am definitely working on future projects,” said Hartley. “The WEC season is coming to a close, so there is definitely scope to start looking for the next season.

“I am still involved with Porsche as well, and I’ll be helping with the development of their Formula E project.

“I am keeping my eyes open, but at the moment it’s great to have these two races [Sebring and Spa] confirmed.”

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