Hulkenberg: Unfair to compare Formula 1 and WEC

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MONTMELO – Following his first endurance race at Spa-Francorchamps last weakend, Nico Hulkenberg has said that it is unfair to compare Formula 1 with the FIA World Endurance Championship, believing that both series can learn from one another.

Hulkenberg is balancing his F1 commitments in 2015 with two races for Porsche in the WEC – 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and the 24 Hours of Le Mans – and finished sixth on debut last weekend.

When asked by MotorSportsTalk about his first weekend in the series, the German was upbeat and pleased with what he learned.

“It was good, generally quite positive,” Hulkenberg said. “Obviously the race was a bit of a shame, to have the clash early on which then took us out of the race and not fighting at the front with the Audis and the other Porsches, but otherwise, we learned a lot.

“A lot of first impressions and primers for everything there. I’m happy with how it went.”

One of the biggest differences between F1 and endurance racing is tire management, with less onus being placed on it in the WEC, allowing the drivers to push more throughout the race.

“When you think of endurance racing, people think ‘ah it’s cruising, you’ve got to look after everything’, but it’s actually pretty full on pushing,” Hulkenberg said.

“I was quite impressed with that and didn’t expect it quite like this. Tires are pretty consistent, you don’t have to think about it constantly. They also have traction control systems which also help you a great deal because they kick in when you overdo it with the throttle.”

Hulkenberg believes that a longer lasting tire may be beneficial in F1, as it would allow drivers to push throughout the race instead of holding back.

“I wouldn’t mind, from a driver point of view yes, you’re quite happy if you can push all the way through,” he said.

“You don’t have to worry so much. From a driver’s point of view it’s something that is very welcome, yes.”

The rapid rise of the WEC in the past few years has led many to compare it with F1, given the latter’s ‘closed door’ nature in the paddock and in terms of fan engagement. Hulkenberg does not believe it is a fair comparison to make, though.

“I know what F1 is like, I’ve been in this environment for a few years now, and this was completely new,” he said.

“Of course people are tempted to compare, but I think you shouldn’t always necessarily compare them, because they’re two different things at the pinnacle of motor racing. For me, both are fun.”

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Thermal, and Grosjean (who was fourth fastest on Day 1) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”