Hulkenberg feels prepared for opening race

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Nico Hulkenberg feels well prepared for the Australian Grand Prix in seven days’ time following a good winter testing period for Sauber.

“In terms of competitiveness, the final Barcelona test showed we are quite well prepared but still have some homework to do, and that we still have room for improvement in certain areas,” he told the official F1 website.

“But I’m confident the baseline is good.”

Hulkenberg left Force India at the end of last season to join Sauber, and with Ferrari and Red Bull rumored to be interested in him for 2014, the German driver will want to impress them from the start of the season. The Albert Park circuit in Melbourne is one of Hulkenberg’s favorites, and he is looking forward to the challenge next Sunday.

“I’m really looking forward to this race, as Australia is always one of my favorite Grands Prix, and Melbourne has a very special atmosphere, so I’m keen to be there. I also like the track which is not a permanent circuit.

“The track itself is very challenging for the drivers. It has got a lot of bumps and you have to know how best to deal with them.”

The opening round will also reveal the pecking order for the season ahead, and Hulkenberg is looking forward to finding out where his rivals stand.

“I’m really looking forward to racing against the usual grid and finally get a clear picture of where everybody stands with regard to performance.”

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.