Two-stop strategy allows Hulkenberg to finish fifth

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Nico Hulkenberg has heaped praise upon his team after an inspired two-stop strategy allowed him to finish today’s Malaysian Grand Prix in fifth place.

The Force India driver had qualified seventh in the wet session yesterday, but he did not appear to have the pace to build upon this result during the race on Sunday. A good start saw him move up to fifth ahead of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, but Alonso soon demoted the German down to sixth. By going longer on his tires, Hulkenberg managed to stop just twice whilst every other driver made three changes, allowing him to move up the order and finish the race in fifth place.

“Today was a super team effort and I’m very happy with fifth place,” he explained. “We were the only team among the front-runners to do a two-stop race and we had good pace all afternoon. It shows that the team’s hard work over the winter is paying off and it feels great to be so competitive and fighting up at the front.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is traditionally tough on tires due to the extreme heat, but Hulkenberg – who returns to Force India in 2014 after missing out on a move to Ferrari and Lotus – managed his well. He is now hoping to carry this form over to the next round in Bahrain, which is live on NBCSN next weekend.

“We showed that we could manage the tyres well, although I felt a bit more comfortable on the medium compound tyres than on the hards, but we always had the tyre management under control,” Hulkenberg explained. “So I’m feeling happy that we can take all these positives to Bahrain and leave Malaysia with a good helping of points.”

His teammate, Sergio Perez, suffered from a gearbox problem on his installation lap, meaning that he could not start the race at all on Sunday.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/