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Brendon Hartley says when his #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid was forced into the pits for an hour early on in the Le Mans 24 Hour the team ruled itself out of fighting for victory, only to charge from 55th to victory against the LMP2 challengers.

The New Zealand driver is celebrating his maiden Le Mans 24 Hours win alongside fellow countryman Earl Bamber and German co-driver Timo Bernhard after scything through the Le Mans pack having been dropped to almost last in the opening four hours due to a front axle problem which restrained the #2 car in the pits for an hour.

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After returning to the track down in 55th and the last of the LMP1 factory efforts, Hartley says his team was only focused on getting back up and running and ruled out a victory charge until the race turned on its head as the LMP1 cars ahead of them all hit mechanical woes.

"When our stop happened we were gutted as we thought that was the end of our chance of victory or maybe even a podium but the mechanics worked their backsides off," Hartley said. "Their overalls were completely drenched as it was the hottest part of the day inside the garage.

"We owe this to the team, it was incredible, and when we saw the situation and were told there was a good chance to get ahead of the LMP2 cars - it was really tight from the calculations we made it was going to come down to the last lap potentially - and in truth our predicted pace wouldn't see us past all of the LMP2 cars.

"We pushed as hard as we could for the remaining 18 or 19 hours and that was our focus. We quickly forgot about missing the chance for victory and completely focused on going as quick as we could."

When the race began to turn in the #2 car's favour Hartley admitted it came with mixed emotions seeing both rivals Toyota drop out in rapid succession and its Porsche sister car retire with a 14-lap advantage.

"My heart sunk for Toyota, I have to say, when I saw both Toyotas drop out I felt quite sad and especially after last year as it is a brutal race," he said. "I know how hard everyone at Porsche has worked for this one day, one 24 hours, and I know Toyota would be working as equally as hard. That was brutal.

"Then I saw our sister car and I had mixed emotions when I came across it three or four hours from the end. I saw it running very slow and that was when I understood we were fighting for the victory.

"The first three stints after that were potentially my best three stints ever. I attacked as hard as I could and my race engineer was telling me it would be tight. They didn't expect us to be fighting for even the podium. I know some LMP2 cars hit some trouble too but that was a real fight. You can't write these stories - as it is Le Mans - and sometimes you can't believe it but it did.

"I'm happy to share this with Earl who I have been racing with since I was seven years old and Timo who isn't here - he is doing a doping control - so maybe he is having stage fright I don't know, but this is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life."