Porsche's return as a factory prototype entrant took another step closer to completion on Friday when it confirmed two of the drivers it has been evaluating for 2014.
As had been expected, 23-year-old Kiwi Brendon Hartley and longtime factory Porsche pilot Marc Lieb, 33, have been nominated for testing duties and are under consideration to partner with Formula 1 driver Mark Webber as the German manufacturer enters a two-car program in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Along with Webber, Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani have been announced for the factory squad, leaving two opening to fill.
Hartley, who competed for Peter Baron's Starworks Motorsport in the Grand-Am Rolex Series and won the Road America round with Scott Mayer, looked set for a career in Formula 1 before turning his attention to sports cars. The New Zealander has ongoing ties with the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team as a test driver, yet with few opportunities to secure a competitive drive, a Porsche contract could provide Hartley with the stability he's been seeking.
“It's an unbelievable opportunity," Hartley told RACER on Friday. "I moved into sports car racing last year with the hope of being recognized by a manufacturer. To think 18 months later Porsche has asked me to test and given me an opportunity, I wouldn't have believed it. It's an opportunity of a lifetime. And I feel really ready for it."
A factory driver since 2003, Lieb has established himself as one of Porsche's most feared GT pilots, earning three class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, including this past June at La Sarthe. As it did with its RS Spyder prototype program in 2005 where Porsche converted some of its established GT stars into prototype drivers, it appears the practice could continue with Lieb.
Few doubt the German's pace, and like Lucas Luhr, Sascha Maassen, Timo Bernhard and others before him, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to faster and more refined Porsche machinery.