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Hartley called Red Bull’s Marko after learning of Porsche LMP1 exit

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Brendon Hartley has revealed he pitched himself to Red Bull Formula 1 advisor Helmut Marko after learning of Porsche’s plans to close its LMP1 program at the end of 2018, leading to his surprise grand prix debut with Toro Rosso this weekend.

Hartley was part of Red Bull’s junior program until 2010 when he was dropped by the energy drink giant, prompting him to shift focus to sports car racing.

Hartley joined Porsche’s new LMP1 program in 2014 to race in the FIA World Endurance Championship, winning the drivers’ title in 2015 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier this year.

Porsche announced back in July it would be quitting LMP1 at the end of 2017 in order to turn attention to Formula E, leaving Hartley without a full-time drive.

The New Zealander was confirmed to be making his F1 debut in this weekend’s United States Grand Prix after Pierre Gasly was ruled out due to a clash with Super Formula, coming as a surprise to the racing world.

However, Hartley has revealed he was quick to call Marko, a key decision-maker for Red Bull’s motorsport interests, after finding out about Porsche’s plans to quit LMP1.

“When it was announced Porsche would stop Endurance racing in LMP1 for next year, I called Helmut Marko and I said: ‘I’m a different driver, I’ve learned a lot and if there’s ever an opportunity I’m ready’,” Hartley said.

“He didn’t say much. He just said he got the message and three months later I got the call and this happened very quickly.

“I didn’t know about it much sooner than the press did so it’s been quite a whirlwind of a couple of weeks to arrive here. I’m pretty relaxed at the moment, all things considered.

“Obviously I’ve had quite a bit of time to chat to the engineers and go through some data, little bit of time in the sim and looking forward to Free Practice 1 and seeing how comfortable I feel, and looking forward to the race now on Sunday which is important for me.”

Hartley had been poised to make a switch back to single-seaters for 2018 with Chip Ganassi Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but his Toro Rosso debut has fuelled speculation he could be in the running for a full-time F1 drive next year.

For now, Hartley is only confirmed for the USGP weekend, and is not thinking much about any further run-outs beyond that.

“I’m just focussed on the weekend to see how it goes and what comes from it,” Hartley said.

While there are no clashes between F1 and WEC between now and the end of the season, it would create a brutal run of seven straight race weekends for Hartley were he to be kept on by Toro Rosso through to Abu Dhabi.

MRTI: Juncos signs Carlos Cunha for Pro Mazda campaign

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Juncos Racing continued to bolster its entries in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires by signing Carlos Cunha to pilot a third Juncos Pro Mazda entry for 2018. Cunha, who finished third in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season on the back of seven podium finishes, joins Rinus VeeKay and Robert Megennis in Juncos’ Pro Mazda lineup for 2018.

Cunha previously tested with the team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in October and joined Juncos for the Chris Griffis Memorial test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November, testing cars for both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams.

“It’s great to become a part of Juncos Racing,” said the 18-year-old Cunha. “I am really excited to start the 2018 season with Juncos Racing. This fall we did some testing together and from there I was able to see how focused everyone on the team is and I even felt like I became a part of their family in no time. I am confident we will get great results together next year and I look forward to learning and growing more with the team. It will be a huge pleasure and also a great responsibility to carry the number one on my car, thanks to (2017 Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni) and I hope to deliver it back to the team at the end of the year!”

Team owner Ricardo Juncos added, “We are excited to add Carlos to our Pro Mazda lineup. From the moment we started testing with him in early October, we knew he would be a great fit for our team. Carlos has been very quick in testing and even had an impressive showing in the Indy Lights car at the Chris Griffis test back in October. He had a great run this past season in the Pro Mazda series and we are confident he will carry that momentum into the 2018 season.”

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