Brendon Hartley says despite the reduction in LMP1 entries for this year's Le Mans 24 Hours he feels Porsche has a tough task holding on to its crowns after Audi and Toyota closed the performance deficit.
The reigning World Endurance champion, along with team-mates Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard, says the trio are 'desperate' to win Le Mans this weekend after being forced to settle for the runners-up spot last year to Porsche's third entry.
Even though Hartley says he celebrated with the team the New Zealander is out to step up a place on this year's rostrum. Despite the slimming of LMP1 entries to nine (after Audi and Porsche withdrew its third car entries) the Porsche driver sees the field much tighter in terms of competitiveness.
“I think it will be closer than last year, particularly in qualifying specification, a lot of people said we had a big advantage in qualifying and at points we did,” Hartley said. “The dynamic has changed this year particularly with some of our competitors going down similar routes this year in terms of technology and batteries.
“Last year it was a six-car battle mostly between the Audi and Porsche but as Toyota have closed the gap it is still six cars at the front.
“There is no hiding the fact that we are desperate to win this race. Me, Mark and Timo in the #1 car but we have to focus on ourselves and not be desperate in the car. We are so prepared in the car the engineers have done a fantastic job and we have so much trust in them.”
After Porsche streamlined its Le Mans commitments back to two LMP1 entries Hartley feels it is much better prepared for the prestigious 24-hour challenge – admitting the team must've been fairly well prepared last year having grabbed an historic one-two – and having reverted to last year's battery configurations after reliability worries sparked earlier this year he is confident of another strong performance with the 919 Hybrid.
“From a driver's point of view we have more seat time as there is only six drivers rather than nine, so we've got more mileage in testing,” he said. “We are definitely more prepared than last year, even though we took a one-two last year, we've come here much better prepared.
“We've had the best endurance test we've ever had and reliability. I guess there is less stress bringing through two cars rather than three on the team. Three cars at Le Mans is a big test especially for those who understand what it takes to get an LMP1 car on the grid in terms of technology and how many people you need. It is hard to say if it is a positive or a negative.
“We obviously took a one-two last year and that would be the dream again this year. But it is not going to be easy. In one part you reduce you're stakes because you've got on less car on the grid and it is easier on the team to manage.
“In 24 hours so many things can happen so you've got to keep an eye on what you're doing and be the best you can. It hasn't really changed and I can't see anyone running off with it.
"It will be tight. There are a couple less cars in LMP1 which is a shame but the racing is going to be just a fierce.”