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New Zealand driver Brendon Hartley will make his F1 debut at the US Grand Prix next week, Toro Rosso confirmed on Friday (Saturday NZ Time).
Hartley, this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours winner and a world endurance champion, will be the ninth Kiwi to get behind the wheel of an F1 car and the first since Mike Thackwell in 1984 when he replaces French rookie Pierre Gasly at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) track in Austin, the Red Bull-owned team said.
“What an amazing feeling,” Hartley, 27, said in a team statement. “This opportunity came as somewhat of a surprise, but I never did give up on my ambition and childhood dream to reach F1.”
“I have grown and learnt so much since the days when I was the Red Bull and Toro Rosso reserve driver, and the tough years I went through made me stronger and even more determined.
“I want to say a huge thanks to Red Bull for making this a reality, and to Porsche for allowing me to do this alongside the World Endurance Championship. COTA is a track I really enjoy and one I have raced at recently. I’m trying not to put too many expectations on my F1 debut, but I feel ready for it.”
The most successful of the previous eight Kiwi F1 drivers were the late Bruce McLaren and 1967 world champion Denny Hulme.
Hartley, the Red Bull official reserve driver in 2009 and 2010, completed one test for the team in 2008 and two for Toro Rosso in 2009 before being dropped from the team’s junior programme.
He also took part in a young driver test at Magny-Cours for Mercedes in 2012, as well as spending time in the team’s simulator.
With enough super licence points to race in F1, Hartley is currently contracted to Porsche and competing in the World Endurance Championship, where he could win the title this weekend at Fuji, Japan. He won at Le Mans with Porsche and also won the World Endurance Championship in 2015.
It is also believed Hartley is close to a deal to race for Chip Ganassi in IndyCar next year, alongside fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon.
The New Zealander will be the second driver to debut with the Italy-based team this season after Gasly was drafted in for the Malaysian and Japanese Grands Prix in place of under-performing Russian Daniil Kvyat.
Kvyat will be back for Austin because Spaniard Carlos Sainz moved to Renault after last weekend’s race in Japan, with Toro Rosso still to confirm their definitive lineup for 2018.
“Scuderia Toro Rosso is very pleased to announce that Brendon Hartley, who has been part of the Red Bull family for a long time in different classes, as well as the test and reserve driver for Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso, will now be back racing for us in Austin,” team principal Franz Tost said.
“Brendon is coming as the reigning 24 Hour Le Mans winner and he’s also leading the current FIA LMP1 World Endurance Championship, which he won in 2015 as well. We are really happy to have him back in our team. With all the racing experience accumulated over the years, we are convinced that he will do a fantastic job for us.”
Toro Rosso is sixth in the constructors’ championship, 14 points behind Williams in fifth, with four races to go.
Gasly has clashing commitments in Japan, where he will be trying to win the Asian Super Formula championship for the Mugen Honda team, but is set to return for the final three rounds of the F1 season.