Hulkenberg: Gap to field will become clear in Melbourne

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Nico Hulkenberg has remained upbeat despite only getting his first run in the 2015 Force India VJM08 today in Barcelona, some 26 days after the other eight teams debuted their new cars.

The German driver got the first chance to drive the car on Friday, completing 77 laps and posting a fastest lap time of 1:28.412 as he enjoyed a productive afternoon following the roll-out.

Force India is expected to be on the back foot come the first race of the year in Australia, and Hulkenberg believes that it will only then become clear how far behind the team is.

“I guess we’ll only find out once we’re in Melbourne,” he said. “In theory, it’s not ideal, and having had more test time with this car for sure would be better. The situation is as it is now as we know and we’ll just deal with it as good as we can from here.

“I think we have a good crew together and usually we learn quite quickly. In this case we have to learn quickly, and see where we can push ourselves into in Melbourne.”

Hulkenberg was pleased with the car’s initial performance, completing a good haul of laps with the biggest problem being a small puncture following his outlap.

“Just from a pure running point of view I thought it was very good,” Hulkenberg said. “Straight out of the box there was no issue, not one powertrain-wise, car-wise.

“We did 77 laps only in an afternoon. I think that’s quite remarkable. The boys have done a good job, they’re pushing really hard obviously.

“I don’t know what we could have done differently. With our backs against the wall there’s not much we could do. It is as it is now. We’ll just deal with it as best we can.”

Hulkenberg returns to the wheel of the VJM08 on Saturday in Barcelona before handing the car over to teammate Sergio Perez for the final day of pre-season testing on Sunday.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.