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Hartley’s Star Is Rising At Starworks Motorsport

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, August 16 2013

Brendon Hartley, who got a lift in Victory Lane from co-driver Scott Mayer, logged a statement win at Road America last weekend. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Rolex Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Starworks Motorsport team owner Peter Baron looks the part of pretty laid-back guy. Walking the Grand-Am paddocks at Kansas Speedway in wrinkled work pants that at one time must have been white, and a gray, very loosely tucked polo shirt, he looks like he just got done mowing the lawn.

He smiles from underneath a lightly subbled face quite a bit, too.

But on Thursday at Kansas – site of Saturday night’s SFP Grand Prix – he showed the side which is needed to win sports events. The serious side.

No matter that one of his team’s cars is leading the Daytona Prototype point standings, that one of his cars won the prestigious Brickyard Grand Prix a couple weeks back, or that his other car is coming off a victory last weekend at Road America. A couple things are bugging Baron this week.f

First, there are a couple of technical bulletins issued by Grand-Am officials – one, issued a couple weeks ago which trimmed 150 RPMs from the BMW M3 engines that one of his cars uses, and another issued Wednesday which grants Ford engines and additional 200 revs.

But it was a headline he read earlier this week that, from the sound of it, tweaked Baron’s blood pressure even more. It was a headline that referred to the victory that his No. 8 BMW/Riley earned in Elkhart Lake last weekend.

“I was offended when I read the headline about Starworks pulling off  ‘a shocker’ at Road America,” Baron said, no smile in sight.

Offended, he said, because nobody should be shocked that the No. 8 Starworks car is fast, and especially that the team’s young up-and-comer, driver Brendon Hartley, could earn a trip to Victory Lane.

The kid, Baron said of the 23-year-old New Zealander, can drive. And not just theoretically.

“He’s had a lot of open wheel success over there (in Europe),” Baron said, beginning a lengthy countdown of Hartley’s racing accomplishments. “He was in the Red Bull driver program, he was a reserve driver for Toro Rosso, he’s now with the Mercedes (Formula 1) testing program. Over there, he’s recognized. Just not so much over here.”

That likely changed last week when he teamed up with veteran Scott Mayer to win at the ultimate American road course.  The victory gave him his third straight top-five finish and his first in Grand-Am, but Hartley said he was not all that offended by the headline that burned Baron.

Hartley said he was unburdened by the win.

“It was a massive relief to get the win,” Hartley said. “The Starworks car has been incredible all year. It’s been quick. We’ve had quite a few fastest laps. But for everything to finally come together, it was a real special feeling. I was awful disappointed at COTA (Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas). I felt like we had the race in the bag and I made a mistake in GT traffic and that was hard to take back then and to finally get the win was a massive relief and a kind of redemption. It was pretty sweet.”

It was also secured in memorably impressive fashion.

Co-driver Mayer was in 10th place when he handed off to Hartley, who quickly started moving to the front. He took the lead on Lap 56 at the 2:12 mark and held on the rest of the way, finishing 70 laps in the timed event with former Indy-car star Christian Fittipaldi’s Action Express Racing Corvette DP 4.3 seconds behind.

While the end of the race offered relief for Hartley, the final laps offered tension.

“Leading the last 15 laps, I was like, ‘Here I am. I’m going to win this race. It was tense. It hasn’t been tense at all but in the last 15 minutes, it was tense, I have to say,” Hartley said. “It had been a long year with out a win.”

The Starworks ride is Hartley’s second in sports cars as he drove an LMP2 car for Murphy Prototypes for a couple races the last two years.

A life-long open-wheeler, he says he loves the sports cars. He says he doesn’t know what the future will bring, saying a return to single-seaters is always an option.

For now, Hartley is enjoying life as a Grand-Am driver. A winning Grand-Am driver.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, August 16 2013
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