Hulkenberg surprised by Force India mileage in Barcelona

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Nico Hulkenberg has admitted that he did not expect Force India to complete so many laps with its new car following its debut on Friday afternoon in Barcelona.

The VJM08 was subject to a number of delays, meaning that the team could only roll it out on track for the first time on Friday with Hulkenberg behind the wheel.

However, in the past day-and-a-half, the German driver has managed to complete 234 laps, with 157 of them coming on Saturday.

Speaking to the media after his running had finished, Hulkenberg admitted that he was surprised by the mileage that had been completed and the lack of problems on the new car.

“I think that’s a surprise even to myself,” Hulkenberg said. “It’s very good that we brought it here and shook it out of our sleeve like this. That was a surprise I think to me, to the team and to everybody.

“But obviously that’s what we needed and helps us a little bit. I think we’ve achieved a lot today. I think everybody is as happy as they can be at the moment. Going back now, there’s a lot of data.

“Tomorrow is another day with Checo [Perez] in the car so hopefully there will be a lot more data and the engineers will have a lot of stuff to go through between now and Melbourne.”

Having debuted its car some 26 days later than the rest of the field, Force India heads into the new season playing catch-up. As a result of the limited running, Hulkenberg is unsure where the team will lie in the pecking order come the first race of the year on March 15.

“I think it’s impossible to judge that right now,” he said. “It’s going to be tough. We can be sure about that, it’s not going to be an easy one in Melbourne. A big challenge for us, but to be honest I’m very relaxed and open-minded.

“We go there as prepared as we can be with this limited running, and we’ll just make the most of it. We still have a lot of work in front of us. I can already see and identify some of the problems again this car has, but also some positives.

“I think overall we just need to stay focused and keep working hard in trying to develop this car.”

Sergio Perez will close out pre-season testing for Force India in Barcelona on Sunday in what will be his first run in the VJM08 car.

Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.