WEC: Hulkenberg impresses on debut, finishing sixth

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Nico Hulkenberg enjoyed a successful debut in the FIA World Endurance Championship on Saturday at Spa-Francorchamps by fighting back to finish sixth in the no. 19 Porsche alongside Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy.

Hulkenberg has decided to combine his duties in Formula 1 with two races in the WEC for Porsche in 2015, taking part in the 6 Hours of Spa and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

After months of testing, the German enjoyed his first endurance start at Spa on Saturday after qualifying in second place on the grid as part of a Porsche 1-2-3 at the front of the grid.

Tandy took the start in the no. 19, but dropped down the order following a crash with Porsche Team Manthey GT driver Kevin Estre in the first hour of the race.

Hulkenberg took over after 34 laps, and remained in the car for over an hour as Porsche looked to bring its car back up the order. The German doubled stinted his tires before handing the 919 Hybrid car over to Earl Bamber, who managed to lift the car up into sixth position after both Audi and Toyota hit trouble.

At the front of the field, Porsche’s no. 18 crew once again fought for the win with the no. 7 Audi, but was unable to catch up in the closing stages of the race, eventually crossing the line 13.4 seconds behind in second place.

Capping off a good weekend at Spa for Porsche was the no. 17 car of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard in third place. Hartley had been leading for the team in the early stages of the race, but an electrical problem and time penalty dropped the car down the order before fighting back to P3 at the flag.

“That was an extremely exciting and turbulent race for us,” Fritz Enzinger, Porsche’s LMP1 vice-president said. “At the beginning we had a one-two-three lead before an unlucky accident, but with the two podium finishes and sixth we have achieved our target to finish the race with all three cars.

“We were absolutely up to speed. The result speaks for itself when first and the second are separated by only a few seconds after a six-hour race. We also once again made progress in terms of reliability. We are on the right path for Le Mans and look forward to the great challenge.

“I take my hat off to the entire team – especially to the third crew and our three new drivers. They integrated themselves into the team very well and were competitive right from the beginning.”

Hulkenberg will now return to action in Formula 1 with Force India at next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.