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Russell impresses on ‘surreal’ F1 race weekend debut for Force India

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Mercedes junior George Russell enjoyed an impressive first Formula 1 race weekend appearance with Force India on Friday in Brazil, finishing opening practice 12th-fastest at Interlagos.

Russell, 19, enjoyed his second outing in an F1 car with Force India following a test appearance with Mercedes back in July, having spent the majority of this year focusing on a title-winning campaign in GP3.

The Briton completed 29 laps at Interlagos en route to P12 overall for Force India, lapping six-tenths of a second slower than full-time racer Esteban Ocon.

“First and foremost I want to thank Force India because I really enjoyed today. It’s something I have been working towards for a long time and even though it feels normal right now, it’s a surreal feeling to know I have been driving in a race weekend,” Russell said.

“It’s a huge step up for me, but I have been prepared as well as I could be: I have done days in the simulator with both Mercedes and Force India and I feel that, after my days at the test in Budapest, this was the next step.

“I didn’t know the car or the circuit and I wanted to learn as much as I could to review and take to Abu Dhabi, a track I know.”

Force India deputy team boss Bob Fernley added: “George performed admirably, especially considering he had never driven our car or at Interlagos.

“As we expected after his good work in the simulator, he slotted straight in with the team.”

Russell will return to the Force India VJM10 car for opening practice at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, as well as featuring in the final two races of his GP3 campaign at Yas Marina.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race the No. 3 vs. IndyCar stars in Michigan iRacing

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).