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Nico Hulkenberg echoes the past as current F1 racer lines up at Le Mans

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Nico Hulkenberg echoes the past as current F1 racer lines up at Le Mans
Jun 10, 2015, 11:54 AM

In the 'good old days', F1 drivers used to race the Le Mans 24 hours every year and take part in regular sportscar races, but the tradition died ou...

In the 'good old days', F1 drivers used to race the Le Mans 24 hours every year and take part in regular sportscar races, but the tradition died out in modern times. Nico Hulkenberg is winding back the clock and racing for Porsche at Le Mans this weekend in between the Canadian and Austrian Grands Prix. Today he is driving in practice.

The 27 year old German is having a season to forget in F1 so far, with results way short of expectations for the Force India team. THe 2015 car was late due to problems with suppliers and they've not matched their performances last season; Hulkenberg picked up an 8th place finish in Canada on Sunday, his team mate Perez took 7th in Monaco.

They hope that situation will turn around with the B spec car due to appear at Silverstone next month. But in the mean time he's amusing himself with Porsche at Le Mans.

Nico Hulkenberg

"I just want to do my best and have fun," he said at the weekend. "Driving at Le Mans is fascinating. It's an old track for 'real men'. The straights go on for ever, I was surprised how quickly you go on them, the corners are exciting. And there is the unknown of the slower cars to navigate around - you have to really pay attention!

"We have a great car, but a 24 hour race is so unpredictable; you need a lot of luck."

He had a warm up race at Spa last month and finished sixth.

In the 1950s and 1960s all the big name F1 drivers would be at Le Mans; Hawthorn, Fangio, Moss, Clark, they would all combine their F1 programme with sportscars. 1961 world champion Phil Hill won Le Mans the same year with Ferrari. Graham Hill won the 1972 event while still an F1 driver and there are many other examples from those times.

More recently Johnny Herbert won in 1991 with Mazda in a season when he did 8 Grands Prix with Lotus, but full time F1 stars have got out of the habit of racing at Le Mans, partly because of the longer F1 seasons, partly because they didn't need the extra money like the early era drivers did. But also the practice petered out because of the risks of Le Mans; the large speed differentials between the elite cars and the privateers are huge and so are the accidents.

F1 teams are reluctant to release their valuable stars if there is a risk they'll be hospitalised.

Which is a shame, because it is one of the world's great races and the World Endurance Championship is in good shape at the moment, arguably a more natural home for hybrid turbo engines, creating heavy cars that need 'managing' over a race distance, than F1, which should be all about lightweight, thoroughbred sprint cars.

The most recent one-off like this was Sebastian Bourdais, who did the race in 2009 while at Toro Rosso. He finished second.

Force India owner Vijay Mallya supported the move and is rumoured to be going to view his driver at Le Mans this weekend.

Hulkenberg lines up for Porsche against the mighty Audi and Toyota squads. Audi are hot favourites again for the race, but the Porsche is faster and is expected to take pole. Former F1 star Mark Webber is getting to grips with WEC racing with Porsche, now in his second season. He's quite old fashioned in many ways and has done Le Mans in the past before his F1 career took off. He took off, literally, in the Mercedes in 1999.

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Drivers Nico Hulkenberg Shop Now