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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: Toronto digest

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Last year’s visit to the streets of Toronto for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires proved to be a pivotal point in the championship chase that year.

Kyle Kaiser swept both races in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and doing so gave him firm control over the championship, and he all but clinched it ahead of the season finale at Watkins Glen – Kaiser needed to only start that event to wrap up the title.

And in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while Parker Thompson swept the weekend, Oliver Askew was caught up in a crash in Race 2. Combine that with a second place finish from 2017 title rival Rinus VeeKay – VeeKay also finished third in Race 1 – and it kept the championship within reach of VeeKay, who took it all the way to the finale at The Glen.

The 2018 visit north of the border will likely be remembered for a similar impact on the MRTI championships, both in Indy Lights and USF2000 and, maybe most significantly, in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

A look at big stories to emerge from a wild weekend on the streets of Toronto is below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia scored a much needed win in Race 2 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia’s championship hopes were teetering entering the weekend – he was 49 points out of the lead and had been vastly overshadowed by title combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta for most of the season. But, his Race 2 victory combined with a second place in Race 1 to close him to within 40 points of O’Ward for the championship lead. He’s still a bit of a long shot, but his chances look much brighter leaving Toronto than they did entering.
  • More significantly, Colton Herta’s title hopes may have taken an enormous hit. After crashing in Race 1 qualifying, just after grabbing the pole as well, Herta suffered a thumb fracture that he aggravated again after crashing during Race 1. It forced the team to recommend Herta essentially sit out Race 2 – he pulled off after running only a couple laps and finished sixth – and he dropped to 18 points behind O’Ward, who won Race 1 and finished second in Race 2. The margin is hardly a commanding one for O’Ward, but with the next stop at the ultra-physical Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Herta’s injured hand could remain a factor in the coming races and allow O’Ward to widen the margin.
  • One can’t help but feel bad for Victor Franzoni. Coming off the high of winning his first Indy Lights Race at Road America, Franzoni’s season took a turn for the worse. He crashed in Race 1 and then pulled off in Race 2 in order to conserve finances and resources – Franzoni detailed afterward that the budget is tight for him this year and crash damage from Race 1 does him no good. It would be a genuine shame if Franzoni’s season was derailed by funding issues, as the likeable Brazilian has made great progress all year and has the potential to make it as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver. He just needs the backing to get there.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay now trails Parker Thompson by only seven points in the Pro Mazda championship. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • No Mazda Road to Indy Championship was shaken up as much as Pro Mazda. Parker Thompson entered the weekend with a sizeable lead of 46 points over Rinus VeeKay. He exits the weekend only seven points ahead after finishes of eighth in both races – he was involved in a crash in Race 1 and made an unscheduled pit stop after thinking he suffered suspension damage in Race 2. Meanwhile, VeeKay dominated the weekend, winning from the pole in both races. It all means that what was once looking like a possible runaway has been all but reset. And we might see a genuine duel between them all the way to the season finale at Portland International Raceway.
  • There are few words to describe the relief everyone felt in seeing Harrison Scott walk away unhurt after his frightening airborne crash in Race 1. This was the first major crash test in a race for the Tatuus PM-18, and it aced it. And big kudos should also be given to the AMR Safety Team, who were already tending to Scott barely a few seconds after his car had come to a rest. Scott did start Race 2, but pulled off with a mechanical problem…which seems minor in comparison to what could have happened in Race 1.
  • Oliver Askew had his best race of the year in Race 2, finishing second to VeeKay for his second podium of the season. It’s been a tough year for Askew and Cape Motorsports after winning last year’s USF2000 title, and getting a podium under their belt could be just what they needed heading into the season’s stretch run.

USF2000

Kyle Kirkwood continued his USF2000 dominance on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • After another weekend sweep, Kyle Kirkwood has one hand on the USF2000 championship. He leads Kaylen Frederick by a staggering 131 points – that’s over four road course races worth of points. He may well leave Mid-Ohio as the USF2000 champion. And even if he doesn’t, it would take something unheard of to keep the championship from his grasp.
  • Kaylen Frederick sits second, only three points up on Igor Fraga. Fraga had his best race since Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg, when he finished second, and he nearly outdueled Kirkwood for the win in Race 2. Both he and Frederick have caught fire of late, and their battle for second is very evenly matched.
  • Don’t count out Rasmus Lindh in the battle for second in the championship either. The Swedish driver is seven points behind Frederick and scored his third podium of the year by finishing third in Race 2 at Toronto. Second is well within his reach.

The Mazda Road to Indy is off this weekend before heading to Mid-Ohio, where Indy Lights and USF2000 again have double headers, while Pro Mazda will enjoy a triple header.

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