Hulkenberg, Force India off to flying start in Bahrain

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The “why is he not in a top seat” narrative for Nico Hulkenberg may continue fully into the 2014 Formula One season. But if he and Force India’s preseason testing pace is anything to write home about, perhaps his position in the Silverstone-based squad may become “a top seat” on its own.

Hulkenberg set Wednesday’s fastest time at 1:36.880 at the Bahrain International Circuit, which eclipsed the fastest race lap (1:36.961) set by Sebastian Vettel in the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix.

But while the time was nice, the extending running was a better note to emerge out of Wednesday’s testing, as the Mercedes-powered cars continue to hold an early reliability edge over Renault.

That was the takeaway Hulkenberg had on the day, as he continues to reintegrate himself back into the Force India mold after a year away at Sauber.

“Time in the car is very valuable at the moment and so it feels good to cover so many laps and even complete two long runs at the end of the day,” Hulkenberg said, via the team’s official website. “That gave me a chance to see how the car behaves and to start getting a feel for it, which was not something I was able to do in Jerez.”

An even more telling quote was the fact that for the first time this winter, the team was able to work on actual setup of the car rather than sorting through installation, mapping and other bits and pieces to make the new car run.

“It’s great that we’ve already done some set-up work and started to improve the driveability of the car,” he said. “But it’s still very early stages; we are learning with every lap and we face a very steep learning curve in the coming days. ”

Team chief operation officer Otmar Szafnauer said the team completed successful aero running in the morning, with the setup evaluation including various Pirelli tire compounds, ride heights and balance occurring in the afternoon.

Hulkenberg tests again on Thursday, with Sergio Perez taking over on Friday.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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