Hulkenberg reflects on “amazing experience” in Le Mans


For Nico Hulkenberg, racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans was arguably the experience of a lifetime, let alone winning the thing on his first crack.

And it is one that truly stands alone from his more recent and current experience in Formula 1, now with Sahara Force India.

While he was easily the most recognizable name on a worldwide scale of the three drivers in Porsche Team’s third Porsche 919 Hybrid, the No. 19 car he shared with Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, Hulkenberg made sure to give proper credit to his two teammates.

The German was the one tasked with bringing the car home in the final stint, and reflected on his emotions as it happened.

“It was so weird to go slower, so I wouldn’t do one more lap,” Hulkenberg said in the post-race press conference. “I slowed right down… we got the nice finish and picture.

“When you see the thousands of people here, it’s an amazing experience. It’s so amazing and great to get to do it.

“I’m really happy I’ve done it, and to do so with these two legends (Tandy and Bamber) straight away.”

Hulkenberg said he didn’t mind working through traffic, but he appreciated what drivers in endurance racing have to do on a consistent lap-by-lap basis.

“There was no major concern, but it is a massive task,” he said. “It’s very easy to have an accident in traffic. So many things can go wrong. You hope to stay clean.”

Later on, Hulkenberg was inevitably asked an F1-related question, and whether F1 should learn from Le Mans.

Ever the politically correct diplomat, Hulkenberg darted around a direct answer like he did around GTE cars during the race.

“There are some good things here. There are some things in F1 that can be worked on,” Hulkenberg said.

“I’m fortunate to have both of these opportunities.”

Asked whether he’d be able to come back next year, Hulkenberg simply said “we’ll see,” but you’d have to figure that Porsche will be keen on having its now Le Mans-winning lineup back with a chance to defend, assuming schedules allow.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”